An Introduction to the Marine Aquarium Council.
In this article I’d like to tell you a little bit about MAC – the Marine Aquarium Council, its aims, and what it can mean for the hobby.
I first became aware of MAC back in 2003, subscribed to the MAC newsletter to be kept up to date, and then when I visited MACNA in 2004 I met up with some of their people for the first time. I brought back a lot of their material which I read with interest, but at the time, although the aims of MAC seemed very laudable, it didn’t seem that pertinent to Europe and in particular the UK. MAC has started to become more active in Europe so it seems an appropriate time to introduce more aquarists to its activities.
The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization. Its aim is to bring together conservation organizations, the aquarium industry, public aquariums, hobbyist groups, and government agencies to ensure that the marine aquarium trade is both responsible and sustainable.
MAC’s mission is “To conserve coral reefs and other marine ecosystems by creating standards and certification for those engaged in the collection and care of ornamental marine life from reef to aquarium.” MAC is trying to accomplish this mission through a number of different activities: By the establishment of independent certification of best practice standards. By raising the public awareness of the conservation role of the marine aquarium industry and the hobbyist. By providing objective, accurate data on the marine ornamental trade. By promoting the sustainable use of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems though the responsible collection of marine ornamental life. By ensuring the health and quality of marine ornamental life through responsible collection, handling and transporting practices. And by encouraging responsible husbandry through education and training.
At the heart of this is the system of MAC Certification. This is an international, third party certification system, providing the means to verify responsible, environmentally sound industry operators and healthy marine aquarium organisms.
I think the header on the MAC newsletter tells you quite a bit about the organisation:
International Certification for the Quality and Sustainability of Marine Aquarium Organisms … from Reef to Retail.
The phrase “from reef to retail” is central to MAC’s method of operation. Between the collection of a marine organism from the reef and that animal ending up in the display tanks of your local retailer there are a number of intermediate steps.
The animal is initially caught or collected and put into holding tanks on board the collection boat; from the boat it may be transferred to an interim holding facility or go directly to the exporter’s holding tanks; the exporter sorts and packs the animals ready for transport; packed boxes are delivered to the airport, loaded onto air transport and flown to the receiving country; the boxes of animals are picked up from the airport and delivered to the wholesaler’s holding facility; the animals are unpacked, acclimated, and held in quarantine; after an appropriate quarantine period the animals are transferred to sales tanks from which they are chosen by the retailer, packed and boxed for transportation; after the journey to the retailer’s shop the animals are again unpacked, acclimated, and held in quarantine; from quarantine the animals are moved to the shop’s sales display tanks where you, the hobbyist, make your purchase; your fish or coral is bagged up one last time for your journey home.
The aim of MAC is to have all the links in the above chain of custody, starting at the reef and ending up at the retailer, covered by a system of certification. Currently there are four areas of certification: the collection area; the collectors; exporters, importers, and retailers; and of course the marine organisms themselves. Further certification is planned to cover maricultured and aquacultured organisms.
Collection Areas: the MAC Ecosystem and Fishery Management Standard (EFM) covers coral reefs and marine aquarium organisms in the collection area. Certified areas must have a management plan that includes requirements such as a defined collecting area and the management and monitoring of the reefs and fishery stocks.
Collectors: the MAC Collection, Fishing, and Holding Standard (CFH) covers collection practices and handling after collection. Certified collectors must be trained divers, collect only to order, use non-destructive methods keep logbooks, segregate organisms, minimize stress, and test for water quality.
Exporters, Importers, and Retailers: The handling, husbandry, packing, transport, etc. of marine organisms by exporters/importers, wholesalers, and retailers is covered by the MAC Handling, Husbandry, and Transport Standard (HHT). Requirements here include appropriate facilities and qualified staff; suitable packing and transport; appropriate acclimation; the monitoring and recording of mortalities; monitoring and recording of water parameters; and holding documentation to ensure traceability of organisms.
Marine Aquarium Organisms: Fish, coral, other invertebrates, and live rock that have been collected in a MAC certified collection area and then been only handled by MAC certified exporters, importers, and retailers are labelled as MAC Certified on their containers and tanks.
So, when you go into your local aquatic shop in search of new animals for your reef and see fishes and corals labelled as MAC Certified, you can be assured that best possible practises have been followed in getting these animals to you.
Why the Need?
You may wonder what all the concern is about. A lot of collectors, exporters, importers, and retailers adhere to good practises that have the aim of safely bringing healthy fishes and corals from the reefs to hobbyists with minimum wastage but unfortunately these firms are in a minority.
Many firms involved in the collection and supply of marine animals to the hobby work in primitive conditions with only rudimentary ideas about how to maintain the organisms they’ve collected in good health. Feeding may be cursory, with inappropriate foods used, or even neglected. No great attention is given to water parameters. Corals that are collected for the hobby are kept out of water for longer than is wise when the shipper is choosing which corals to buy; in a recent report, part of which was presented by Rachel Jones of ZSL at the coral symposium at Burger Zoo, photographs were shown of piles of corals that had been discarded to die when not chosen to be purchased by the exporters, From what was shown in these photos it was clear that this wasn’t just a recent occurrence, but something that had been going on for sometime. Once these animals have been bagged and packed it’s not unusual for them to spend time out in the sun on the tarmac the airport while waiting loading onto their flight. All these factors, plus others I’ve not gone into, contribute to an unnecessarily high mortality rate amongst the fishes and corals handled in this way.
And where do these poorly handled organisms end up? At your local fish shop! These are the animals brought into this country (and others) through the process known as consolidation. Not all animals that come the consolidation route have been badly handled but the majority may well have been at some point in their travels. Uninformed retailers buy via consolidation in the mistaken impression that they’re saving money and are buying animals at a bargain price – the thought that there’s a reason for this low price and that a high proportion of the animals they buy are destined to die prematurely doesn’t seem to enter into the equation.
At the time of writing (May 2007) MAC has been going for around 8 years. Currently their website indicates a total of 77 MAC Certified Industry Operators worldwide. Europe accounts for 14 of these with the UK containing 4. I don’t know how up to date or accurate these figures are. Although there are 4 listed for the UK this is slightly misleading as one MAC certified wholesaler no longer exists and TMC accounts for the other 3 listings, in addition there is one MAC certified wholesaler in the UK who’s not listed here and has yet to start selling MAC certified livestock. I’ll include information about this retailer in a future article once it’s up and running with MAC fishes.
One of the reasons for my doing this article is to help bring the Marine Aquarium Council and its aims to a wider audience and hopefully to popularise the idea of its certification scheme. Rather than just play lip service to the ideals of sustainability and an environmentally friendly marine aquarium hobby why not mention to your retailer that you’d like to buy MAC Certified fishes and corals?
The various groups belonging to the MAC network, be it conservationists, hobbyists, industry operators, public aquaria, etc. all have different problems to contend with and different issues to address. However, they all agree that consumer demand for environmentally sound products can motivate the industry to adopt and adhere to standards that ensure resources are sustainable, responsibly managed and supported by good husbandry and handling practices.
Although I’m completely in agreement with MAC’s aims, I have to say that there appear to be certain problems with the organisation and the way it operates, and with the measure of success that it has had so far.
I have to question the success so far of MAC as it applies to the hobby. MAC was established some time around 1999 (at least this is the date of the earliest MAC annual report) with the first importer being certified in 2002. Today according to the website we have 13 MAC certified collection areas, 19 MAC certified collectors (companies), 20 Exporters, 15 importers, 8 (9 including the UK – see above), and 3 MAC certified aquaculture companies. Now it’s understandable that the largest amount of work needing to be done to bring this whole concept to fruition is the work in the field, without collection areas, collectors and exporters we can’t have MAC certified organisms. It’s also understandable that not every importer is going to immediately sign up to MAC, on the one hand ethics and profit don’t always go well together, on the other some companies will have already got a well organised responsible supply line in existence and may see no reason to sign up to MAC.
What I do have to question in particular is why are there so few retailers signed up to MAC? In terms of numbers retailers outnumber every other part of the supply chain added together, to only have 8 or 9 MAC certified retailers worldwide strikes me as something of a failure.
MAC appears to be an organisation taken up with bureaucracy, something that I think you’ll see reflected in the jargon-ridden style of its reports and other written material.
There also appears to be an element of secrecy about the organisation, as a writer on marine aquarium matters, and indeed as someone who has signed up as being willing to become certified, I’ve been not been allowed to sit in on a MAC meeting of certified parties.
A few years back there seemed to be a certain distrust of MAC among some in the US aquarium industry, which seemed to revolve around the idea that it was all a government plot. I believe this fear has since subsided.
What currently alarms me though are reports of discontent with MAC amongst collectors in the Philippines, this is something that has come to my attention from more than one source. I’ll report more on this aspect in due course.
In the UK, one thing that hobbyists should be aware of is that any shop that sells livestock, in particular captive bred clowns from TMC, and marks them up as being MAC certified is misrepresenting the situation. Any MAC certified livestock sold to an uncertified retail outlet ceases to be certified as soon as it leaves the wholesaler. Any retailer selling animals as being MAC certified is guilty of fraud as there is the implication that they are running their livestock system to a certified standard.
Only time will tell how successful MAC will be in its aims. I believe that the aquarium industry need to police itself, to show a responsible attitude to the welfare of the animals it depends upon, in order to prevent legislation being forced upon us by bodies outside of the industry who may have no specialised knowledge or insight into the maintenance of captive marine fishes, corals, and invertebrates. MAC is one way that this can be done.
I intend to come back to the subject of MAC and look at various aspects of its work, and also at criticisms of the organisation, in future articles.
For more details about the Marine Aquarium Council have a look at the MAC website: www.aquariumcouncil.org
Any questions or comments, or if there are any particular topics you’d like to see covered on this site, please feel free to get in touch with me.