Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2016

Contact:  Nicholas Whipps, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7131,
Rene Umberger, For the Fishes, (808) 875-8759,
Chloe Detrick, The Humane Society of the United States, (301) 721-6463,

Legal Petition Seeks Crackdown on Aquarium Fish Caught With Cyanide Poison

OAKLAND, Calif.— Conservation groups filed a legal petition today to prevent the import of tropical aquarium fish that are caught overseas using cyanide, a practice that kills or injures tens of millions of tropical fish and causes widespread destruction of some of the world’s most important coral reefs.

Each year as much as 90 percent of the 12.5 million tropical fish entering the United States as pets are caught illegally with cyanide.

“The sad reality is that cyanide poisoning is causing widespread destruction of some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs. By acting on our petition the Obama administration can put a huge dent in this destructive practice,” said Nicholas Whipps, a legal fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t allow our love of these fish lead to the wholesale destruction of coral reefs.”

Wild reef fish are caught in the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries by squirting cyanide directly onto reefs to stun tropical fish, which kills as much as 75 percent of all nearby fish on contact, as well as nearby corals. The fish that survive are then shipped to the United States and sold as aquarium fish. Today’s petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use their authority under the Lacey Act to halt these illegal imports.

“Millions of animals suffer and die each year through the careless acts of aquarium fishers removing wild fish from the oceans,” said Teresa M. Telecky, director of wildlife at Humane Society International. “The U.S. government must act now to put a stop to this cruel and illegal practice by requiring certification that imported live fish were not caught with cyanide.”

Under the Lacey Act, it is illegal to import animals caught in violation of another country’s laws. The largest reef-fish-exporting countries — the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka — have banned cyanide fishing but do little to regulate the practice; the Lacey Act prohibits the import of these illegally caught fish into the United States, but enforcement is lacking. As many as 500 metric tons of cyanide are dumped annually on reefs in the Philippines alone. The petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, For the Fishes, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International requests that imports of tropical aquarium fish be tested for cyanide exposure in order to enter or be sold in the United States. 

“Coral reefs now face unprecedented stress and die-offs from climate change. Those exposed to cyanide poisoning and other unsustainable practices may never recover,” said Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes. “Saltwater aquarium hobbyists concerned about their impacts should choose from the dozens of captive-bred species now available and steer clear of all fish captured in the wild until federal enforcement is in place.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Get For the Fishes’ award-winning mobile app, Tank Watch, and learn which saltwater aquarium fish species may be captive-bred and which are captured in the wild.

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organizations. For more than 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — on the Web at

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated most effective by our peers. For 60 years, we have celebrated the protection of all animals and confronted all forms of cruelty. We are the nation’s largest provider of hands-on services for animals, caring for more than 100,000 animals each year, and we prevent cruelty to millions more through our advocacy campaigns. Read more about our 60 years of transformational change for animals, and visit us online at

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