Assessing Consumer Preferences for Sustainability, Equity, and Welfare in the Aquarium Trade

Larynn Cutshaw, University of Rhode Island


Each year millions of fish and invertebrates are traded to support the home aquaria industry. Aquarium keeping is a popular hobby worldwide and the trade has the potential to provide socio-economic benefits to reef-adjacent communities while promoting environmental stewardship by consumers. However, current practices are negatively impacting the industry as the supply chain can be environmentally unsustainable and socially inequitable. Poor industry practices compromise the welfare of the organisms, leading to immense supply chain losses which exacerbate the sustainability and equity issues. Since the trade is demand-driven, consumers can play a role in addressing poor industry practices by using their substantial market power to endorse sustainably, equitably, and ethically sourced organisms. To better understand the consumer population and explore purchasing behaviors, an online survey of 304 aquarium hobbyists was conducted. Both saltwater and freshwater aquarists were targeted, making this the first known study to include freshwater hobbyist preferences with consideration for their potential entrance to the marine aquaria market. Results indicate that consumers have strong preferences for organisms with attributes that positively reflect sustainability, equity, and welfare in the aquarium trade. Aquarium hobbyists are knowledgeable about their organisms as well as the supply chain that produces them and are willing to offer at least 20% more than the commercial price of an animal to have these attributes realized. This study does not evaluate the consumers’ explicit attitudes toward a certification scheme, but instead uses respondents’ stated values as implicit support for a market-based reform of the industry. The preferences and associated price premiums indicated by hobbyists can be useful in leveraging consumer market power to reduce the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the aquarium trade through a certification scheme.

Subject Area

Wildlife Conservation|Social research|Natural Resource Management

Recommended Citation

Larynn Cutshaw, "Assessing Consumer Preferences for Sustainability, Equity, and Welfare in the Aquarium Trade" (2019). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI13858237.