The lionfish (Pterois volitans) was the 29th most popular species imported in 2005 with 63,284 individuals.
Current rules state that all live fish for the aquarium trade can be declared MATF (Marine Aquarium Tropical Fish) on the import paperwork. Thus these declaration forms will list both lionfish and clownfish as MATF. To get a better picture of the number of species and individual fish being imported, researchers Dr. Michael Tlusty and Dr. Andy Rhyne, with the help of students at the Roger Williams University and funding from National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, analyzed 8,000 invoices from marine fish shipments in 2005 to determine how many fish of each species were being imported and from what countries they originated.
The clownfish (either Amphiprion ocellaris or A. percula), was the 5th most popular species imported in 2005 with 425,279 individuals.
Results of this unprecedented study have just been published, and Drs. Rhyne and Tlusty found a higher degree of biodiversity in the trade than previously thought. They catalogued 1,802 species entering the US, and these species came from 39 different countries. In all, 11 million individual fish were brought into the country in this single year. They also determined that the current reporting system for marine tropical fish was correct only 52 percent of the time, but overestimated the number of fish imports by 27 percent.
Drs. Rhyne and Tlusty are funded to collect five years of data. Ideally their research will develop a system to monitor the trade in aquatic wildlife in real time to a species level. This work will also help assess the true value of biodiversity in coral reef ecosystems, and can help the trade work toward responsible management of these small scale fisheries which can provide a sustainable income source for small island economies.