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Issue: June 2007

The List of MAC-Certified Marine Ornamentals Grows

Author: John Brandt

MAC 0607
Photographer: Courtesy of MAC
MAC News: June 2007


Update: MAC-Certified Organisms

At present, over 220 species of MAC-Certified fishes and invertebrates have been “master listed” from certified collection areas in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Fiji and from MAC-Certified aquaculturists and mariculturists. During the past six months, MAC-Certified industry operators exported more than 100 species of certified organisms. Some noteworthy MAC-Certified fish include majestic angelfish Pomacanthus navarchus, lyretail anthias Pseudanthias squamipinnis, psychedelic mandarinfish Synchiropus splendidus, bicolor foxface Siganus uspi, and the exquisite fairy wrasse Cirrhilabrus exquisitus. The variety of available species continues to expand.

North American hobbyists also have the opportunity to acquire MAC-Certified cultured species, with aquacultured false percula clownfish Amphiprion ocellaris being offered at MAC-Certified retailers.


More and more MAC-Certified marine ornamentals from responsible, sustainable sources are available from reefs and collectors that have been certified by the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC). In fact, the quantity and variety of MAC-Certified marine ornamentals is beginning to outpace the capacity of MAC-Certified importers and retailers to make these available to hobbyists who want to be sure they are buying from responsible sources.

To help ensure that hobbyists and industry operators have complete and accurate information on the ornamental species that are available from the MAC-Certified collection areas, MAC is compiling lists of which species may be available, their relative abundance in an area, and any known seasonal variability. A team of MAC staff and its partners has been creating the lists, and some interesting challenges have emerged.

Accurately identified organisms on stock lists are important to industry operators (e.g., collectors, exporters, importers, and retailers) so that they may know which species they are collecting, selling, and purchasing—and ultimately making available to the aquarium keeper. At the other end of the chain of custody, accurate species identification is critical for resource managers working in the field, as limits to total allowable catch (TAC) are assigned to individual species at each certified collection area. Hobbyists benefit when everyone is aware of the full variety of species available that have been collected responsibly and sustainably at the MAC-Certified collection areas by MAC-Certified collectors.

Master Species Lists

Each MAC-Certified collection area has its own master species lists, or simply “master list.” Information and data from a range of sources are used to develop these lists. Scientific surveys of reef health, biological diversity, and the abundance of aquarium organisms are conducted at each collection area by MAC partner, Reef Check (, using the Marine Aquarium Trade Coral Reef Monitoring Protocol (MAQTRAC). This task of gathering scientific data is already a major step forward to helping ensure a sustainable future for the marine aquarium hobby when compared with the current practices elsewhere of simply harvesting what is available, without any knowledge of stock levels, and then hoping there will continue to be more available. These reef surveys identify all the ornamental species found in a certified collection area. This information, when combined with historical catch records, gives a good picture of what is available with limits to harvested quantities to ensure a sustainable resource for local collectors. Each species is listed with a valid scientific name and a common name(s), which would be used by the trade and hobbyists. The organisms are then grouped on the list by family.

Below is an example of a species on the master list from a MAC-Certified collection area in Camotes Island, Philippines.

Family: Surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae)

Scientific Name: Naso lituratus

Common Name: Lipstick tang, red-lipped naso tang
Months Available: November through December
Availability Details: Abundant in season

Initial master lists are thoroughly checked for accuracy by the team before being finalized. This often involves repeated communication and visits with the collectors and exporters by MAC community organizers and area managers. A number of ornamental species showing up on these lists are uncommon in the trade. If industry operators and hobbyists can know the full variety of species available, then unique and desirable organisms may be acquired by request.

All collecting at certified areas is done by order. The certified collectors receive an order before harvesting any requested species or quantity. The lists are to be updated periodically as more information and data is gathered from each collection area. In some cases, species may be added to the lists that were not observed during the surveys, but have a historical record of collection in the area.

Please contact your local fish store and ask them to find out more about the growing volume and variety of MAC-Certified fish. In order to be sold as MAC Certified, a fish has to pass through an unbroken chain of MAC-Certified operators. If your local fish store is not yet MAC Certified, they may be interested to know that a “MAC Certification Preparation Kit” is now available to make it simpler for retailers to get the information they need to prepare themselves for a MAC Certification assessment. A copy of the “MAC Certification Preparation Kit” is available for retailers upon request at

What Is That Fish?

Accurately identifying some marine ornamental species can be challenging. In gathering information for the master lists, MAC has discovered a number of misidentifications being presented by various trade operators. Some of these errors appear to be historical artifacts that were never corrected for one reason or another. Typographical errors can also appear on stock lists and may remain unless noticed. The master lists allow MAC-Certified operators to reference the valid scientific names of the species that they are trading. A good online source for identification, nomenclature, and the natural history of fish species can be found at FishBase ( MAC uses FishBase as one of its primary references for marine ornamental fish species.

An example of an identification error was found in the export trade from the Philippines. Some stock lists contained a fish being called a pilotfish (Naucrates ductor). However, the actual species being traded was a different pilotfish, which is scientifically named Gnathanodon speciosus. This fish is also commonly called the bar or barred jack and golden trevally. The original source of the error is not known. It may have come from a trader using only the common name pilotfish as a reference point, and not doing research to learn which one it was. These two species are rather different in appearance, making it easy to visually distinguish them. Both species earned the same common name because they often accompany large fishes such as sharks.

The use of common names presents another issue. These names will vary by individual, region and trade line. The master lists present some common names that many industry operators and hobbyists are likely to be familiar with. Scientific names are sometimes changed by taxonomists, and it is not unusual to encounter incorrect ones because of this.

Wall charts and folders with photographs and scientific names are created for MAC-Certified collection areas to help the collectors properly identify the species they are harvesting. Local common names are given, and these will differ by area. Nonetheless, valid scientific names remain the same everywhere in the world. To prevent misunderstandings with their buyers, operators are encouraged to always use the scientific name along with a common name. MAC staff regularly review the stock lists of certified operators to assist them in correcting errors as part of its efforts to improve the quality and consistency of organisms being sold by the marine aquarium trade.

Working Towards a Sustainable Marine Ornamental Industry and Hobby

The master lists and the efforts to correct identification errors within the trade are just one part of a broad mission undertaken by MAC to help bring improved information to the industry and hobby that contributes to achieving sustainability. By knowing exactly which species are available for trade, it is expected that such information could reduce waste and disappointment when incorrectly identified organisms are sold. Collectors can more accurately know the species that are being ordered, and therefore properly apply the limits of harvest in order to maintain their renewable resources and occupations.

An additional benefit of the master lists is provided by showing species that are not commonly traded, but which may be desirable to hobbyists. Look for articles about some of the interesting species available from MAC-Certified collection areas in upcoming issues of Tropical Fish Hobbyist. In the near future, the MAC website will present “Collection Area Profiles,” describing each MAC-Certified collection area and the marine ornamentals they are producing responsibly and sustainably.

Responsible hobbyists have an ever-growing choice of MAC-Certified marine aquarium organisms and can ensure that there is a sustainable future for coral reefs and the marine ornamental hobby by supporting MAC-Certified aquarium industry operators. For more information about MAC and the complete list of MAC-Certified industry operators, please visit the MAC website at:

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