Sustainable management of aquarium harvesting operations in Fiji


The islands of Vitu Levu and Vanu Levu, Fiji, central west Pacific.

Management Authority

Division of Environment and Department of Fisheries, Government of Fiji

Demographics statistics

Currently there are more than 500 village level collectors in the aquarium industry in Fiji, mostly around Viti Levu. This activity results in significant, and often the only economic input into the relevant villages. The industry generates foreign exchange earnings valued at approximately F$12m annually. The return to the villagers does not necesssarily reflect or track the market value of the product. Safety standards are lax and no safeguards are in place to take care of injured divers. Injuries are often debilitating.

Objective/Purpose of the project

The major objective of supporting this project under ICRAN is to ensure the sustainability of coral trade industry in Fiji. If this is achieved, coastal communities will be able to share fairly the benefits of a flourishing industry without compromising the health of their ecosystems. Moreover, the Fijian case study will be a demonstration project will be replicable in other Pacific Island Countries engaged in the trade.

The Aquarium Industry in Fiji: Fiji is the major exporter of aquarium products, especially coral, in the Pacific outside of SE Asia. Projected exports for coral for the year 2,000 were in excess of 2600,000 pieces. Little information is available on fish and other invertebrate species. Exports of dead stony corals for the curio trade and live rock are also significant. The exportation figures for coral are as followed for the years 2001:

Table 1. Total Exports of Aquarium Products and Curio Coral for Jan.-April1 2001 with Annual Estimates

CategoryProductQuantityAnnual est.
CurioDecorative coral41,683 pcs.125,049 pcs.
Medical coral (some trans-shipped)13,712 kg.15,000 kg.(2)
AquariumLive Rock (Coral Base)662,552 kg.1,987,656 kg.
Coral pieces367,308 pcs.661,154 – 1,101,924 pcs.(3)
Fish103,699 pcs.311,097 pcs.
Invertebrates733021,990 pcs.
Clams16,63139,893 pcs.
Sand20,94162,823 kg.

Pcs: number of pieces shipped
1. April figures have been estimated by the Fisheries Division
2. The annual estimate is the result of intermittent shipments
3. The seasonality in market demand indicate that the estimated annual figure is probably closer to the lower figure. This was arrived at by considering the reported exports for the busiest four months were 2.5 times for the same period for the rest of the year. The high figure is clearly too high.

At the moment, all species of coral can be collected and there are no limitations on size and number. Guidance on collection of species, forms and collection techniques comes from the exporters rather than the managers.

Legislation and Policy Support: Fisheries Department issue licenses for the extraction of live coral and any living organism that lives within the aquatic ecosystems. This same licence is issued to take finfish for commercial purpose under the provision of section 5 of the Fisheries Act (Cap 158). Fishing licenses to collect live coral and fish are granted to individuals, who in most cases are villagers. Coral Traders or Companies are not issued with any license since they are not directly involved in collection of the resources.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Permits are also required to be issued for traded products that are endangered/threatened, e.g stony coral and Tridacna. CITES requires that a sustainable harvesting plan be in place. This has not yet happened in Fiji. The Fisheries Division sometimes inspects coral shipments. As there are few limitations on collection, the usefulness of inspection is minimized.

Management Structure

Fisheries Division Guidelines were developed in 1984 in response to the beginning of the curio trade but are not enforced. A management plan was proposed in 1999 for aspects of the coral harvesting (Lovell and Tumuri, 1999) but not implemented The Department of the Environment is required to impose quotas as part of their CITES responsibilities. This has yet to be done as the necessary field assessment has yet to be carried out.

Major issues regarding impacts of the industry

  • Volume extracted: volume extracted is alarming as the total estimated of exports is approximate and wastage, though not known, is thought to be high.
  • Extraction methods: impacts of extraction methods are not monitored and have never been studied properly.
  • Volumes of coral exported and recorded in exports permits are not being checked or verified.
  • Price paid to villagers or resource owners: the price being paid to villagers indicates a clear trend of exploitation for a long time. It is not known what kind of contract exists between traders and license holders and between license holders and villagers. The Fiji


  • To carry out a detailed study of the aquarium trade industry in Fiji: companies involved, type of trade they are involved in, type of contracts existing between companies and collectors, type of products sourced from each area, volume exported, wasted, method of coral extraction employed etc.
  • To implement long-term monitoring programs in collection areas in order to improve knowledge on impacts of coral and fish removal from reefs.
  • To institute a management plan to be implemented by government and review it after three years.

Stakeholder involvement and participation: This project has been requested jointly by the Ministries of Tourism, Fisheries and Environment in Fiji. Local and locally based international NGO’s (WWF, IMA, FSP) will assist with the socio-economic aspects of the project. The University of the South Pacific will oversee the resource and industry assessment components. The project will fund a Masters Scholarship for a Pacific Island National in the area of coral reef ecology and assessment, with a specialisation in coral identification and classification. The recipient will be involved in all phases of assessment in order to build his/her capacity in this area.

Financing mechanism

Project will be wholly funded by ICRAN with in-kind support from Government of Fiji, WWF, IMA and FSP. Monetary support to the Masters Student will also be provided by USP.

Major Needs

To ascertain the total volume of products exported each year, as it seems unclear at the moment.

To identify species of corals and aquarium fish exported and the volume of each species to ascertain likely impact of continuous removal of each species from the wild based on an assessment of the status of wild stocks.

To make a proper economic analysis of the industry to ensure that there is equity between the percentage of revenue paid to resource owners and the government as compared to financial returns to the traders.

To carry out monitoring programs to assess the impacts of coral and fish removal on the reef.

To implement a management plan in order to institute measures that would ensure the economic and ecological sustainability of the industry.