NORTH Queensland commercial aquarium fishers are still able to find anemone fishes, but now they have been asked to stop fishing them.

Under a groundbreaking voluntary agreement between commercial operators and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the sought-after clown fish and anemones will no longer be caught at reefs off Keppel Island, near Rockhampton.

Lyle Squire, a commercial fisher and industry representative whose family has run aquariums in Cairns and fished the reef since the 1960s, said the moratorium was a precautionary measure to allow habitats, affected by coral bleaching, the best chance to recover.

The agreement was reached after several outbreaks of coral bleaching on reefs near Keppel Island reduced the numbers of sea anemones in which the fish lived and threatened the valuable tourist industry.  Under the agreement, commercial aquarium fishers will collect data about fish populations and provide the information to state authorities.

Although most clown fish sold in aquariums were bred in captivity, their popularity, particularly overseas, meant Queensland’s 30 or so commercial aquarium fishers still caught them in the wild.