View Full Version : Working Conditions of the Collectors

04/03/2016, 06:05 PM
Hello everyone,

I am a designer working on environmental and social sustainability projects in developing countries. There is a shift towards sustainable production and consumption in many sectors. For example, specialty coffee got popular as an alternative to commodity coffee due to its quality and fairness to the farmers. Unfortunately, such innovations in supply chains haven't happened much in the marine ornamental trade. The livestock collectors in developing countries are underpaid and the working conditions are very problematic. Many risk their lives everyday, as there is no safety regulations. In addition to that, consumers in the Western countries are very detached from the reality of the collectors. Thus, we are not able to make very conscious decisions when buying a new coral or fish.

The project I am working on at the moment aims to build a community centre for the collectors in Bangaii Island where they can discuss issues related to their jobs, can collectively share equipments, get training from experts on safety and handling of the livestock. Eventually, our aim is to add tanks for collectors to safely stock their fish and design a system for captive breeding of Bangaii Cardinalfish. Transition from wild-catching to mariculture or aquaculture is vital for the collectors as everyday more and more reefs are dying. Captive breeding would also help improve the working conditions of the collectors, help them get more income for their work.

I wanted to start this thread to hear you opinions about our project as fellow reefers. How much are you aware of the working conditions of the collectors? What do you think needs to be done to raise awareness? Do you think us consumers are too detached from the reality of these communities? After all, this hobby wouldn't be possible without them.

04/04/2016, 02:58 PM
The biggest problem is there is a demand for pretty fish, people who will pay the lowest bidder to collect such specimens. The poor who collect said specimens are mainly out to make a couple dollars to feed their families possibly uneducated and may not care for the environment due to said education. Many countries do not enforce regulations or are paid off easily. So unless you can end corruption in these countries, encourage sustainable entrepreneurship through education programs and start up programs then illegal procurement of species will not end. It its the same way as the diamond business. Slaves, uneducated people and those just looking for a way to survive.

04/04/2016, 03:34 PM
Yes, this happens in many sectors; diamond, coffee, tea, palm oil, cacao... However, lately people started to innovate socially sustainable supply systems which doesn't put the labour at the bottom of the chain. Smallholder farmers are trained to produce high quality products and directly sell to the Western markets by eliminating the middlemen.

Our idea is to try a similar approach with the marine aquarium industry. It is possible to turn fish collectors into smallholder mariculture or aquaculture farmers who produce high quality fish/corals and directly export them to selected shops in the Western markets. Hobbyist, who would prefer to buy ethically cultured animals can buy these. Of course, this also needs raising awareness between hobbyists.

04/04/2016, 04:59 PM
Yes I would to and I make a point to buy frags and try to get fish locally. Looking to get some local clown fish soon.

04/05/2016, 08:11 AM
I know some importer have set up a MAC system. This is where a group of people go to collection sites and work sites. They review them. If both show up as being held to a moderate standard of quality it gets an approval. The wholesaler then sells those fish/corals at a slight mark up to the LFS. So, there is action being taken. I really am surprised that even happened. I also dont anticipate it ever going beyond that.

So helping some collectors breed fish is great, and i wish you the best of luck. Let us know how it goes. I thought collecting wild bangaii was illegal but i could be wrong.

I think the community is aware and cares to an extent, but there are more problems that are more pressing to them and me.

The thing is your trying to do something noble, I salute you and encourage you for that. Good luck to you and them.

Reef Frog
04/05/2016, 11:16 AM
I have read about "assistance projects" of this type before in Coral Magazine. I can't recall seeing long term follow up stories to see if the projects were successful and sustainable over the long term.

I've always imagined that a key ingredient to success would be easy access to a large market like the USA or Europe - a very difficult thing to pull off if you're an islander somewhere in Oceana. Cutting down on middlemen, some of whom may be corrupt or exploitive, would probably help the collectors. Maybe your organization could help forge deals with some of the major wholesales & distributors.

It might help to create a "brand" with a web site & social media presence and in store materials explaining the practical & environmental benefits of buying on site captive raised ornamental fish. A booth at some of the major shows to spread the word might be within your budget.

Personally I like buying non wild collected fish. Sustainability is a good thing for sure, as is the enhanced welfare of the local people. But it's the practical benefits of higher survival rates & less chance of some diseases that will probably make them competitive in the marketplace. Wild collected B. cardinals can be tricky to keep, and I imagine many people would gladly pay more to increase their odds. But these facts need to become more "common knowledge" in the hobby IMO.

Best wishes in your endeavor!

04/05/2016, 01:22 PM
I think there is still a lot of corruption and poor education so these illegal practices will continue. If we encourage workshops to help them and then went after the corrupt people maybe we could see some change. It all boils down tot the consumer only wanting to pay the least amount. We can teach the local people who sell the fish and encourage them but if consumers don't care where their fish came from then there is not much purpose.

04/06/2016, 08:21 AM
I agree, I think it is actually much easier to improve things on the producer part than consumer part. We need to raise awareness to social and environmental problems caused by our hobby and take the responsibility.

I was thinking of producing a book while I am in Indonesia to showcase the people the challenges coastal communities face who are involved in the ornamental marine industry.

04/16/2016, 11:23 AM
UPDATE: 16.04.2016

We had a meeting with one of our partners in Indonesia; Yayasan Alam Indonesia Lestari (LINI) aka Indonesia Nature Foundation. They are one of the only non-profit organisations in Indonesia with a social and environmental sustainability focus to marine ornamental trade. They have an Aquaculture and Training Centre in Bali where they give training to the local communities and also do research on breeding species for the aquarium trade.

Their activities are very important as they also give training to the local communities how to handle the caught fish/corals, how to ship them and so on. Thus, they help us get healthier animals. At the moment they have a captive breeding program for bangaii cardinals and recently they shipped 400 cb bangaiis to UK. One of their biggest challenges is that they don't have much connection with the consumers. Thus, their captive bred bangaiis are sold to exporters where they get mixed up with wild-caught ones.

Based on the LINI Aquaculture and Training Centre, we decided to design a similar but much smaller model that is cost-effective and scaleable. LINI Aquaculture and Training Centre has a great impact on the sustainability issues of our hobby. However, at the moment it is located only in Bali and it would be very expensive to replicate the same model. We want to research and design a new model that;
- meets the needs of the local collector communities (quarantine, holding tanks, shared equipments, etc.)
- becomes a platform where they can exchange ideas and find collective solutions to their problems
- becomes a community training centre (through local NGOs and universities)
- becomes an aquaculture research centre (shift towards captive bred)

As Indonesia and many other countries where aquarium fish are collected consist of thousands of small islands, it is necessary to design a low-cost and scalable model. Aquaculture is of course our ultimate goal but initially we aim to create an empowering space within every community based on knowledge sharing.

04/16/2016, 12:02 PM
Some photos from the LINI Training and Aquaculture Centre in Bali:





05/02/2016, 08:19 AM
I will post all updates under this thread, however you can also follow us on Facebook to receive news about the sustainability issues of marine aquarium industry.

05/03/2016, 09:28 AM
Awesome, thanks for posting