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Boycott the Princess Parrotfish

This article tells you about Boycott the Princess Parrotfish. While this fish is readily available to aquarists, its high captive mortality combined with its ecological function, make it a poor choice for the home aquarium.

Boycott the Princess Parrotfish

The Princess Parrotfish (Scarus taeniopterus) is a western Atlantic fish that ranges from Bermuda to Brazil. Because it rarely exceeds fourteen inches in length, it is one of the most common parrotfishes seen in the marine aquarium hobby (most get much larger). Unfortunately, despite the fact that retailers of marine ornamental fishes refer to it as a “hardy” fish (“This is a hardy fish,” according to Marine Depot Live, although they do note it “is a high maintenance fish”), this princess parrotfish, like most parrotfishes, has a very high captive mortality rate.

As Bob Fenner, author of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist points out, “due to better collection, holding and shipping more [queen parrotfishes] arrive in good condition and live.” Unfortunately, he adds that, despite better collection, holding and shipping practices, “most are dead within a month of collection.”

For this reason, combined with expanding knowledge about the species’ role as a primary algae-grazer on degraded tropical reefs, conscientious aquarists ought to boycott the trade of this fish (and all other parrotfishes) until more is known about their functional role in the wild and their husbandry requirements in captivity.

Expanding Knowledge of Ecological Niche

Dr. Peter Mumby is a Professor of Coral Reef Ecology at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Much of his research focuses on factors determining the resilience of coral reefs and generating tools for use in conservation planning. Mumby’s paper “Thresholds and the resilience of Caribbean coral reefs” (November 2007 issue of the journal Nature), presents, according to Mumby, the first concrete evidence that herbivorous fishes are essential to the health of coral and, in turn, the tropical reefs built by coral.

Leading Mumby’s list of herbivorous fishes most important to the resilience of coral reefs are the parrotfishes. “Herbivorous fish, chiefly parrotfish and surgeonfish, are the major herbivores on coral reefs,” explains Mumby in a spring 2008 interview with Blue Zoo Aquatics. “The diet of parrotfish and surgeonfish is mostly focused on fine algal turfs that provide a highly-productive and rapidly-replaced food source. A number of parrotfishes will also consume small amounts of live coral and, in some cases, significant amounts of fleshy macroalgae or seaweed.”

Prevention of Fishing Leads to Healthier Reefs

Not surprisingly, recent research has shown that removal of herbivorous fishes from reefs leads to prolific algae blooms. “In the Caribbean,” Mumby says, “we have shown that prevention of fishing—which mostly affects the largest fishes—can have a sufficiently large impact as to reduce the amount of seaweed in marine reserves.”

Algae blooms are a problem for tropical reefs because they prevent coral populations from thriving, and, in the case of degraded reefs, they prevent coral populations from recovering effectively. “Thus,” says Mumby, “it is important to maintain a surplus of herbivores in order to facilitate coral recovery after disturbance.”


Mumby is concerned that the wild capture of fishes for the marine aquarium trade is not based on maintaining sustainable populations of herbivorous fishes. “By sustainable,” Mumby says, “I don’t mean that the fishes are prevented from becoming locally-extinct; I mean sustainable from an ecosystem perspective.”

In order to understand what sustainability from an ecosystem perspective looks like, more research is needed. According to Mumby, “we need to know how much grazing, or herbivory, is needed in order to maintain a healthy reef and then ensure that sufficient grazing is carried out on the reef after fish are removed for food or the aquarium trade.”

Self-Regulation Through Boycott

Until that research is conducted (and better captive husbandry practices are established), it is best for marine aquarists to voluntarily self-regulate the aquarium industry by removing any demand for parrotfishes, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is a grassroots boycott.

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