for National Geographic News
Starbucks does it. Chocolate companies do it. Now pet stores are brandishing the "fair trade" label.
Groups hope to convince aquarium owners to buy eco-friendly, fair-trade fish as a way to save part of the Brazilian rain forest (interactive map: Amazon rain forest).
The flashy red-and-blue-striped cardinal tetra fish provides income for rural communities in the Rio Negro region, near the city of Barcelos.
Using hand-paddled canoes and small nets in flooded, forested areas, the low-tech fishers have kept regional stocks healthy for more than 50 years.
But commercial fish farms in Florida recently learned to breed the finicky cardinals in captivity. Now some conservationists fear the tank-raised tetras will lead to a degradation of Rio Negro livelihoods and consequently its ecosystems.
"If this threat is untended, it could result in the collapse of the Rio Negro industry," said Scott Dowd, senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dowd acknowledged that most ornamental freshwater fish are raised by fish farms, but he hopes to keep the cardinal tetra from that fate.
Dowd and others have a plan to certify the Rio Negro cardinals as eco-friendly. They'll try to persuade aquarium owners to buy the Brazilian fish instead of their farm-raised cousins, which will likely be cheaper.
"Aquarium hobbyists are environmentalists—they use money out of pocket to have a little ecosystem at home," Dowd said. "We want to convince them that purchasing these fish are good for the environment in the Brazilian rain forest."
(Related: New Aquarium Fish's Supply Dwindling Just Months After Discovery [March 21, 2007].)
Buy a Fish, Save a Tree
The Forest Stewardship Council, based in Bonn, Germany, has agreed to do the certifying, but funds must be found first.
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