Marine Aquarium Council

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The display of tropical fish, invertebrates, plants and coral reefs in ornamental exhibits form part of the international aquarium trade. Both at home and in public places, ornamental displays of marine life are now increasingly dependent on the sustainability of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

Aquarium hobbyists are no longer satisfied with just knowing which ocean their ornamental fish come from. They are also looking to understand how their fish were caught and handled as this plays a great part in the health and longevity of their fish as well impact the sustainability of the fish and reefs in the ocean.


Chain of custody from reef to aquarium

Typically, most species of marine life that we see in home and public aquariums are captured by individual collectors in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Fiji. Once collected, the catch is held for several days before it is either sold to a broker or an exporter. By this time, the marine life has already traveled very long distances. The brokers then sell the catch to exporters, who will select, separate and hold the catch until they are packaged to fulfil orders from importers and wholesalers in the U.S, Europe and Asia. Once the importers/wholesalers receive their orders, they in turn supply retailers in their own countries. Hobbyists then purchase fish from these retailers to place in aquariums.

This chain of custody is extremely important the marine aquarium trade, both for the sustainability of the natural marine resources and also for the health of the marine life once they have been collected from their natural habitat, through to when they reach their final aquariums.

Concerns about the marine aquarium trade

Historically, the capture of coral reef, live sand, fish and other marine life has been wild and largely unchecked. This, along with commercial fishing and pollution, has been responsible for coral reefs and marine habitats becoming endangered.

Since aquarium collection has continued largely unchecked, collectors have developed harmful practices such as the use of chemicals for capture. In the 1960’s, it was discovered that fish were able to recover from low doses of toxicants such as sodium cyanide. The technique of stunning fish for ornamental capture was adapted for use around reefs. This practice spread rapidly; however, it has a long lasting detrimental effect on reef organisms and other precious habitat. Cyanide fishing was also found to be linked to Sudden Death Syndrome in collected fish.

The marine aquarium trade also involves tank rearing or captive rearing practices. Tank reared animals are usually spawned from caught or cultured parents, whereas captive rearing involves organisms that are collected as larvae. This raises the issue of poor handling and husbandry practices that are prevalent in the marine aquarium trade. Collectors, middlemen and importers often maintain, pack and transport marine life in less than ideal condition placing them under severe stress.

The Marine Aquarium Council was established in order to encourage and support quality ‘products’ and sustainable practices in the marine aquarium industry.

Did You Know?

  • More than 11 million tropical fish are imported worldwide every year.
  • Indonesia and the Philippines supply more than half of the global marine ornamental fish trade. Indonesia and Fiji are the largest suppliers of live coral
  • About ten (10) million individual marine specimens were sold in pet stores in the United States at an average retail price of USD$10 each, earning pet retailers USD $103.2 million in revenue from marine ornamental livestock in 1995

About the Marine Aquarium Council

The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) is an international non-profit organisation set up with representatives of the aquarium industry, conservation organisations, government agencies, public aquariums and hobbyists. These stakeholders of the marine aquarium industry recognise the destructive effects of ornamental fishing and poor handling practices on marine habitats. At the same time, the MAC also understands that the industry also affects the incomes and livelihoods of rural fishermen involved in this trade.

Therefore, the MAC has created a certification system that attempts to ensure a sustainable future for the marine aquarium trade, while also providing a quality controlled product to consumers. The MAC aims to raise awareness about marine conservation among industry, hobbyists and general public, on a larger scale. Organisations, companies, government agencies, groups and individuals who want to contribute constructively to the future of the industry can join the MAC network.

MAC Certification

The MAC certification covers both practices and products in the marine aquarium trade. Through the certification process, the MAC attempts to monitor the trade from “reef to aquarium”. This means that aquarium organisms and the industry operators involved are certified. The entire chain of custody is subject to MAC standards.

The MAC certification is a third party certification. This means that, the standards for the certification are set by the Marine Aquarium Council, but the adherence to these standards is verified by an independent third party, accredited by the MAC.

MAC Standards

In order to certify the products and services from “reef to retail” the MAC has set up four international standards. They are:

  • Ecosystem and Fishery Management (EFM) International Standard: This standard addresses the management of the marine ecosystem or ecosystems from where fish, corals, marine invertebrates and plants are harvested through non-destructive means for the marine aquarium trade and the management of the stocks of these organisms.
  • Collection, Fishing and Handling (CFH) International Standard: This standard addresses the sustainable, non-destructive harvesting of corals and fish, marine invertebrates and plants, from a MAC certified collection area, for the marine aquarium trade.
  • Handling, Husbandry and Transport (HHT) International Standard: This standard addresses the handling, husbandry and transport of fish, corals, marine invertebrates and plants are harvested through non-destructive means for the marine aquarium trade.
  • Mariculture and Aquaculture Management International Standard: This standard addresses the propagation, collection and culturing of marine aquarium organisms. It specifies requirements from the broodstock/post-larvae receipt through to grow out for market, as well as packaging and transport of cultured marine ornamentals.

Key points of the MAC standards

  • A key part of the MAC standards involve the setting and implementation of a Collection Area Management Plan that ensures that the collection and fishing of marine organisms is conducted in a safe and sustainable manner. Also the collection and fishing must be undertaken in a systematic and organised manner with respect to the ecosystems in the area. This Collection Area Management Plan must be periodically audited and respected by links in the supply chain.
  • The MAC standards respect the local laws and government regulations applicable on the marine aquarium industry. The standards are also in line with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Code of Practice for standard setting organisations.
  • The MAC standards are subject to ISEAL’s Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards.
  • The MAC standards also expect that members of the supply chain will keep accurate and detailed documents of all processes of collection and trade.
  • MAC certified organisms must not be mingled with non-certified organisms, i.e., there should be traceability of all organisms that are MAC certified.
  • The MAC standards have established acceptable levels of mortality to establish whether the practices for collecting, handling, husbandry and transport of the marine organisms are conducted in a suitable manner. The allowed limits of marine aquarium organism mortality at the species level is set at 1% dead on arrival (DOA) and 1% dead after arrival (DAA) per species per shipment for each link in the chain of custody. Failure to adhere to the mortality rates per species results in loss of MAC certification for that species.
  • Companies that support MAC programs and are taking the necessary steps to become MAC Certified sign the MAC Statement of Commitment (SOC). They cannot claim to sell ‘MAC Certified’ organisms until they receive the third party verification of compliance to MAC standards.

MAC Partnerships

The Marine Aquarium Council has created a number of international partnerships to support its certification efforts. These are:

  • The Conservation and Community Investment Forum that collaborates with MAC in South East Asia to design and finance conservation solutions.
  • Reef Check that has developed methods to assess and monitor the health of coral reefs and aquarium fish and coral stocks in collection areas
  • Terangi, the Indonesia Coral Reef Foundation demonstrates and prepares collectors and their communities for MAC certification
  • The United Nations Environment Program’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre along with the MAC has developed an international database to provide credible information on marine ornamental trade.

Finding MAC Certified organisations TO find MAC certified organisations, please see the Marine Aquarium Council website


  • Marine Aquarium Council
  • Marine Ornamental Species: Collection, culture and conversion by James C. Cato, Christopher L. Brown
  • The Trade of Ornamental Fish from the Philippines
  • About the MAC
  • Collecting and Handling Fish: A Look at the Marine Fish Industry
  • Propagation of coral reefs for the international aquarium trade

Further Reading

  • Kevin Gaines, Conservation Corner: The Role of Mariculture in Today's Aquarium Industry