The “Nemo Effect”: Perception and reality of Finding Nemo's impact on marine aquarium fisheries

Research paper by Thane A Militz, Simon Foale

Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 24 Jan '17Published in: Fish and Fisheries


Global audiences are increasingly being exposed to digital media with fictitious storylines that draw on animal characters involuntarily entering wildlife trades. An understudied problem in wildlife trade is the potential for motion pictures to influence their audience's desire to become more acquainted, often via acquisition, with animals portrayed in the films. The 2003 Disney motion picture Finding Nemo connected audiences with a wildlife trade already commonplace: the marine aquarium trade. In this trade, fisheries supply live coral reef organisms to millions of public and private aquaria worldwide. Here, we examine the perception and reality of Finding Nemo's impact (coined the “Nemo Effect”) on the fisheries of the species complex representing the film's primary protagonist “Nemo” (Amphiprion ocellaris/percula). Import and export figures show little evidence for fan-based purchases of wild-caught fish immediately (within 1.5 years of release) following the film. We argue that the perceived impact on these species, driven by popular media with an emotive but scientifically uninformed approach to conserving coral reef ecosystems, can be more damaging to the cause of conservation than helpful. This perspective is intended to encourage marine aquarium trade stakeholders to consider the ecological and social repercussions of both media driven consumption and opposition to the trade. Using lessons learned from Finding Nemo, we discuss the likely impacts the sequel, Finding Dory, will have on wild populations of its protagonist “Dory” (Paracanthurus hepatus).