Could ‘Finding Dory’ hurt the world’s reefs?

Jed Kim May 26, 2016
Between 100,000 and 150,000 Pacific Blue tangs are brought into the states each year. Pixar

Could ‘Finding Dory’ hurt the world’s reefs?

Jed Kim May 26, 2016
Between 100,000 and 150,000 Pacific Blue tangs are brought into the states each year. Pixar

When Pixar’s “Finding Dory” comes out next month, it’ll mean millions in revenue for Disney. It may also mean more money for the aquarium fish industry — if viewers decide they might like a fish of their own. That could be a problem for the movie’s star species.

The species of fish most viewers know as Dory has many names, but it’s commonly referred to as the Pacific Blue Tang. It’s already popular among aquarium owners.

Andy Rhyne, a marine biologist at Roger Williams University, has studied trade data for the industry and said 100,000 to 150,000 Pacific Blue Tangs are brought into the states every year.

He said, however, he’s worried that number will increase after the movie is released in June.

“When you make an animal charismatic, adorable and just as cute as it is with Ellen DeGeneres’ voice on there, there’s nothing you can do to stop people from wanting to know more about that animal and then wanting to be able basically to keep that as a pet,” Rhyne said.

He said there have been anecdotal reports of demand for clownfish jumping by more than 30 percent after the film’s prequel “Finding Nemo” was released. The phenomenon has even been dubbed the “Nemo Effect.”

Others, however, dispute that such an effect occurred. Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said while sales did increase at the time of the film’s release, it corresponded to a rebound in supply, which had previously limited trade.

“There are multiple factors involved in any situation, and to suggest that the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ was directly responsible for any specific sales is difficult to prove,” Bober said.

Sandy Moore, president of Segrest Farms, which distributes and imports fish, said her numbers don’t show a “Nemo Effect.”

“We didn’t see any increase in the demand for ocellaris or percula clownfish following Nemo,” Moore said. “We did see an increased awareness overall in aquarium keeping.”

Moore said she doesn’t expect to see an increase in demand for blue tangs either.

“The industry really doesn’t anticipate that now,” Moore said.

That’s important, because every Pacific Blue Tang that is sold has been captured from the wild. Efforts to successfully breed blue tangs in captivity have all failed.

In hot spots like Indonesia and the Philippines, fishermen have been known to use destructive techniques, like using cyanide to paralyze fish hiding in reefs.

“Unfortunately, some of the fishes that are collected for their ornamental value can be collected in ways that aren’t as good as they can be for the fish or for the reefs that they live in,” said Judy St. Leger, president of Rising Tide Conservation.

St. Leger said recent successes in rearing Yellow tang make her optimistic about current attempts to captively breed blue tangs.

“I am hopeful that we potentially could have the first rearing of blue tangs in 2016,” she said.

Even if that happens, though, simple economics will likely keep wild capture in play, said Andy Rhyne.

“The food to grow these fish is so expensive and so challenging to raise, and the fish themselves are so challenging to raise that if you were successfully able to raise them, to make money off of them, you would need to sell them somewhere in the three-to-five hundred dollar range to be able to be a profitable company,” Rhyne said.

He said it would take at least five years for that price to come down. Right now, the fish sells for about $60-80.

Moore said she hopes sellers will act responsibly and steer many would-be owners away from blue tangs.

“A fish purchase, just like any other pet purchase, shouldn’t be an impulse buy,” Moore said. “You should make an informed decision.”

She said factors other than conservation may be effective in tamping down the fish’s popularity. One is that the fish can get pretty big. Moore recommends an 8-foot-long aquarium to house one.

Another reason is the fact that the fish can live for about 50 years.

“It’s a long-lived fish,” Moore said. “It’s a real investment.”

Cartoonist Beatrice the Biologist has created a special comic for her readers to educate them about the Pacific blue tang. Reprinted with permission:

Blue Tang graphic

Cartoonist Beatrice the Biologist created an infographic for her site detailing the potential problems of owning a Pacific blue tang.


There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.