Lawsuit for Nemo

By Heidi dM 8 years ago3 Comments

Orange clownfish by CrisiRose WikipediaLast year this time, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the Orange Clownfish and seven other reef fish under the Endangered Species Act. The Service failed to respond to the petition, and so this year, the Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Service for its failure to act.

The reef fish in the petition include the orange clownfish, the yellowtail damselfish, the Hawaiian dascyllus, the blue-eye damselfish, the black-axil chromis, Dick’s damselfish, the reticulated damselfish and the blue-green damselfish.

A grim reality is that climate change and increasing ocean acidity are damaging our coral reefs and threaten to destroy most coral reefs before mid-century.  All the petitioned fish are habitat specialists, relying on live corals and anemones for survival.  Not only is ocean acidification bad news for the corals, but for the fish too: it has been shown to damage the sight, smell and hearing of clownfish and damselfish, making them disoriented: Test results showed that some fish were five to nine times more likely to be eaten by predators when exposed to CO2 at the levels that are expected later this century.

These fish also face the possibility of overharvesting by the marine aquarium trade (the movie “Finding Nemo” hasn’t helped this matter) as damselfish and clownfish are the most commonly traded species worldwide.  Studies indicate that the orange clownfish and black-axil chromis damselfish are suffering population declines in the wild due to overharvest.


Protection under the Endangered Species Act would provide habitat protection and recovery planning and minimize the impacts of federal actions such as dredging, commercial fishing and coastal construction which harm these fish and their coral-reef habitat.

  Conservation, Corals, Fish

 Heidi dM

  (44 articles)

Heidi is a Marine Biologist who has been working in the public aquarium industry as an aquarist and now as a consultant specialising in husbandry, interpretation and staff training. She has also written a series of children's books about the aquarium and fish world called "Abby's Aquarium Adventures".


  • Morgan Moore says:

    I question the science behind this claim as the Center for Biological Diversity’s scientific evidence submitted for the protection of many coral species has also been at fault. There are so many people around the world that are aqua-culturing clown fish I have a hard time believing that clown fish are as threatened as the CBD is making it appear.

  • Julian Sprung says:

    Heidi dM’s article “Lawsuit for Nemo” is really just a summary of the Center For Biological Diversity PR announcement that can be found here:

    It appears that it was Heidi’s intent to just report this news, though the source is not stated. Thus it appears to the reader that she is only sharing her own beliefs about the news when she is really summarizing the position of the CBD. It is easy to fall into that trap.

    Like all marine aquarists I love coral reefs and of course I love clownfish. I am sure that Heidi as a marine biologist and aquarist feels exactly the same way. I also support laws that provide protection for species and ecosystems, including the use of the ESA to protect certain species threatened with extinction. Clownfishes do not fall in that category, nor do corals.

    The motives of the Center for Biological Diversity are not what they seem to be. In its efforts to list Clownfish as endangered, as well as its attempts to list corals as endangered the CBD has nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Please see the following articles for a better understanding about their motivation.

    Maybe you were thinking, “what harm could there be in increasing protections for coral reefs?” I think everyone would agree with the need to protect them– that’s the beauty of the CBD tactic. As an aquarist you may be thinking, “What the heck? – all clownfishes in the aquarium trade should be tank raised anyway.” But you would be missing some important points: Most clownfish in the aquarium trade right now ARE TANK RAISED and listing clownfishes as endangered under the Endangered Species Act would END THE TRADE OF TANK-RAISED CLOWNFISHES TOO– you cannot sell an endangered species. The CBD efforts with these petitions and lawsuits should be vigorously opposed by scientists, by the aquarium industry, and by public aquariums.

    The aquarium industry has a new Marine Ornamental Defense Fund, formed recently by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Its purpose is to respond to these anti-aquarium campaigns, and fight them through the legal system if necessary. You can read about the Marine Ornamental Defense Fund and support it here:


    Julian Sprung, BSc. Zoology, President and co-founder of Two Little Fishies, Inc.

    • Heidi dM says:

      Thanks for clearing things up Julian. My apologies to all the readers that have been upset by it, but my intention with this article was to stir things up a bit, to see what people think and if they would react.
      Articles are written by many different people and the internet is read by many different people but often there isn’t interaction/feedback. Correct, I should have stated my source so that people realise that this is not my personal feeling/belief as I know that there are many facilities that breed clownfish, meaning that there is no need for them to collect from the wild. I was just meaning for this article to start up a debate and to get readers more actively involved.

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