Finding Nemo Spotlights Dark Side of Pet-Fish Trade

By John Roach
for National Geographic News
May 30, 2003

As a young clownfish named Nemo enchants moviegoers with his epic adventure from the ocean to a fish tank and beyond, the actor whose voice brings the animated character to life is urging protection for tropical fish and coral reefs.

"Practically the whole world depends on coral reefs, so if the coral reefs get all killed, then the ocean will start going out of whack, and if the ocean goes out of whack something might happen on land," said Alexander Gould, the nine-year-old actor who is the voice of the namesake character in the movie.

Finding Nemo

The dark side of the aquarium trade is the use of cyanide by some collectors to stun tropical fish, making it easy to scoop the fish up. The very poisonous chemical also kills smaller fish, irreparably harms the corals, and is dangerous to divers, according to conservationists.

Gould, who lives near the beach in Southern California and is passionate about the oceans and coral reefs, has teamed up with the Honolulu-based Marine Aquarium Council to promote sustainable practices in the aquarium trade.

The council's certification system enables consumers to know that the fish they buy for their home aquariums were collected, handled, and transported according to a set of internationally-approved "best-practice standards."

"There are good guys and good practices and bad guys and bad practices," said Paul Holthus, executive director of the Marine Aquarium Council.

The council awards certificates to those in the aquarium trade who practice the good. Pet stores that carry fish that were properly collected and transported carry the council's label.

Nemo Craze?

The certification system is just a few years old and the council is hoping to capitalize on the anticipated boost in interest in the aquarium trade generated by Finding Nemo to raise awareness.

In the movie, Nemo is kidnapped from his home in the Great Barrier Reef and plopped in a fish tank at a dentist's office in Sydney. One of the tank residents, a butterfly fish named Gill, tells the newcomer that "fish aren't meant to be in a box, kid. It does things to ya."

The movie then follows the adventures of Nemo's father, Marlin, and a cast of friends as they hatch plans to rescue Nemo, who has a few escape plans of his own.

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