The trade with coral fishes began in the 1930s in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. By the 1950s, the industry had reached commercial proportions due to the development of global air freight. And by the 1970s fisheries were established all over tropical waters.  In the 1990s, there was a shift from displaying only fish aquariums to entire reef ecosystems in tanks. Today, the industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise involving over 50 exporting and importing countries.  The main exporters are Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The main importers are the USA, Europe, and Japan.  Since there is very little information on the trade figures of China, Japan, or other Southeast Asian countries, as well as Africa and South America, and with their increasing commercial importance and the number of public aquariums, these countries and regions are likely to have increasing import volumes of marine ornamental fishes. 
The United Nations published a report in 2003 estimating that around 2 million private individuals worldwide keep a marine aquarium, and there are around 1,000 large commercial aquariums worldwide. An estimated of 24 million coral fishes, 12 million stony corals and half a million soft corals, as well as around 10 million invertebrates (molluscs, shrimps, and anemones) were traded annually. Today, there are probably far more. These international trade figures are based on voluntary information from traders. There is a huge discrepancy between import and export information on coral reef fishes. For example, exporters state that 43 percent of marine ornamental fishes come from the Philippines. Importers, however, claim not to know the origin of 81 percent of imports. 
According to our systematic review that collected and critically analysed all available information on the trade in marine ornamental fishes, between 28 and 30 million marine ornamental fishes are traded annually. If this number is extrapolated in relation to the value of the fishes, it could be as many as 70 million individuals that are taken from their natural habitat each year. The total value of this trade was estimated at only USD 28 to 40 million for the years 1976 to 1999. 
The number and biodiversity of marine ornamental fishes in trade as well as their origin and their trade volume are only vaguely known. This emphasises the need for a mandatory and comprehensive monitoring system that collects mentioned information as well as if they are wild-caught, captive-bred or captive-raised specimens. 
It is very surprising and concerning that in the 21st century a whole group of vertebrates, especially the 4,000 known coral reef fishes, can be traded without any regulatory and monitoring systems in place. For decades, conservationists and scientists have been calling for comprehensive regulation, monitoring and control of the ornamental fish trade. 
The EU and Switzerland already use an excellent tool, the database Trade Control and Expert System, called TRACES. TRACES is used to record live animal imports (also animal products, feed, and plants) into the EU and within the EU to prevent epidemics. With some modifications and the appropriate political will, relevant and exact data could be collected systematically and in a short time also for marine ornamental fishes. 
Marine ornamental fishes have been traded without monitoring for almost a century. Our systematic review of 2019, in which all available knowledge on the trade in marine ornamental fishes was collected and analysed, reports between 28 and 30 million marine ornamental fishes being traded annually (possibly 150 million according to one study).  The total value of this trade was estimated at only USD 28 to 40 million for the years 1976 to 1999. 
In 2019 existing TRACES data from 2014 – 2017 on marine ornamental fishes was extensively analysed to estimate Europe imports. This demonstrated the EU is a large importers of coral reef fishes.  The same is true for the United States of America but since there is very little information on the trade figures of China, Japan, or other Southeast Asian countries, as well as Africa and South America, and with their increasing commercial importance and the number of public aquariums, these countries and regions are likely to have large import volumes of marine ornamental fishes.