Cardinal tetras help conserve the rainforest

by Owen James

Cardinal tetras are good community fish

The cardinal tetra fishing industry protects trees in the Amazon

For years, the capture and export of cardinal tetras from the Amazon has helped preserve sections of the Brazilian rainforest, since the government accepts that cardinal tetras need the trees for shade.

Fisherman working the Rio Negro in Northern Brazil have sent millions of cardinal tetras and other tropical fish abroad since the 1950s, with 60 percent of the region’s population reportedly dependent on the business.

But successful fish farming now threatens the cardinal tetra harvest, and thus this rare good news story:

Mega-retailers of home aquariums, such as PetSmart and Wal-Mart, prefer the farmed fish because they can live at a neutral pH level, unlike the acidic conditions of the wild tetras. The changing markets mean that Brazilian fishermen are facing a dwindling customer base.

“All this is very counter-intuitive,” says biologist Scott Dowd. “You would think biologists would not want to take fish out of the rainforest. But the fish are the key to miminizing deforestation. The people’s other economic options – timber harvest, cattle ranching and gold mining – are environmental disasters.”

“Things look grim,” he adds. “The local fisheries look like they are headed for collapse. But there’s hope that this threat can be addressed. If you ask fish hobbyists if they care about the environment, a very high percentage say they care about it deeply.”

Check out Katy's Tropical Fish Guide for more aquarium info.

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