Ornamental fisheries in the EA, SA &O region

The study on ornemental fisheries presents the results of an assessment of marine ornamental fisheries in Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.  The study was also part of a broader regional assessment of ornamental fisheries in the EA, SA & IO region.

The E€OFISH Programme has as objective the “Contribution of Sustainable Fisheries to the Blue Economy of Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region” and aims to conduct a suite of interventions leading to the “Formulation of a regional strategic framework for responsible and sustainable development of recreational and sport fisheries as part of an update on the Regional Marine Fisheries Sub-Sector Strategy for the EA-SA-IO region” As such, this study aims to provide a detailed situational analysis necessary to build an in-depth understanding of the prospects and challenges, barriers and constraints, lessons and best practices at the national level for integrating this component judiciously into the Regional Marine Fisheries Strategy and Business Plan for the EA-SA-IO region.

The trade of marine ornamental fishes in the island countries appear to have commenced relatively late in the Indian Ocean, most probably in the early 1980s. However, only Mauritius and Madagascar have developed ornamental fisheries so far. Seychelles decided to pursue the mariculture of ornamental fish rather than collect from the wild, and Comoros is yet to develop a fishery. 

The extent of ornamental fisheries in each country under review are not reported anywhere, except through the trade data (imports and exports). Moreover, the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWOIFC), an FAO regional fisheries body in the South West Indian Ocean, does not report on the ornamental fisheries as part of its fisheries reporting requirement.

The combined value of the exports of marine ornamental fish in 2018 for the IO islands (i.e., Mauritius and Madagascar) was 196,000 USD. Mauritius exports are limited to 13,500 units, and Madagascar exported 7,938 units in 2019. As such, the fisheries are considered very small. The main markets are the EU and the US. The average cost of fish exported per kg (2016-2019) was estimated at 524 USD for Mauritius and 618 USD for Madagascar.

The fisheries are managed through the issuance of fishing permits. In 2019 Madagascar issued 21 permits to 5 business entities. These permits for fish collection are issued by districts. In Mauritius, in 2019, only two companies were exporting live ornamental fish. In addition, there are also two other businesses, one venturing into mariculture and the other in the process of establishing an aquarium. Mauritius has an export quota of 13,500 Units of fish in place as a precautionary measure, although locally, the permit allows a business to harvest as much as needed. There are no other management measures in place or a fishery specific management plan. The report recommended that each country should develop a management plan (EAF) for their ornamental fisheries. Although Seychelles does not have a fishery, there is, however, one business engaged in giant clams farming for the aquarium trade.

A VRIO analysis was undertaken to assess the competitive advantages of the industry among the islands. The results show that the fisheries are currently small, very lucrative, and countries have the opportunities to venture into mariculture and improve their communities’ livelihoods through greater participation in ornamental fisheries. However, these are not being maximised; hence there is an un-used competitive advantage.

There are a number of entry barriers into the sector that will need to be addressed to ensure wider participation of the communities, individuals or business ventures and Government participation. These are:

  • Strengthen the institutions, whereby countries would need to develop an ecosystem-based approach management plan for their ornamental fishery, which could be specific to an area, for example, in Madagascar and Comoros.

  • Improve assessment of the ornamental fisheries through the SWIOFC using Weight-of-Evidence (WOE) approach.

  • Capacity building and training in best practices in each supply chain segment (collection/fishing methods, safety -at-sea, holding tanks and filtration systems, packing, marketing, equipment maintenance, bookkeeping, data collection and reporting).

  • Pilot projects in Comoros and Madagascar to transfer knowledge to the fisher communities and promote the best practices.

  • Mauritius and Seychelles have clear strategies regarding the promotion of ornamental mariculture. However, capacity building and training in mariculture would be invaluable to develop their sectors further.

  • From a regional perspective, there is a need to increase the awareness of the ornamental fisheries and mariculture sectors within the Blue Economy space. 

  • A regional network of ornamentals businesses is recommended to share knowledge and experiences. A regional database on fisheries and trade data for the live ornamental fish is lacking, and perhaps using the WIOFISH platform to share the data could be an option. The AU-IBAR has also proposed similar activities that could be explored for synergies.


The aquarium trade, despite its successes, has caused concerns about the conservation of reef fishes and coral habitats. The main issues are possible over-exploitation of target species, and secondary effects of this on reef communities, damaging methods of collection and post-harvest challenges. Therefore, it is crucial that countries seriously look at mariculture as a viable option for future investment by the private sector.

The study showed that such a business activity could be a good employment opportunity in small communities, regardless of gender. However, its sustainability is closely linked to ecological and socio-economic factors and provided the barriers to entry into the sector by the fisher communities are addressed, this fishery will remain rudimentary.