Fish Stamps

Stamps, whose original raison d’être was to only document that a postage fee had been paid, have acquired additional purposes very early, notably for the issuing entities to assert themselves through the dissemination of, e.g., their art, history or natural resources.

Fish are highly decorative

Fish being important natural resources in numerous countries, and highly decorative to boot, it was inevitable that they would end up as motif of stamps. Indeed, a stamp-like device, depicting cod (Gadus morhua) was issued as early as 1755 in the colony of Massachussetts, while the first true (gummed) stamp depicting a fish¾ again cod¾ was issued in 1865 in Newfoundland (Eschmeyer and Bearse 1974). Nowadays, there are so many colorful stamps of fish that for some countries at least, entire books can be illustrated by them (see, e.g., Hong 1994; Van Tiggelen 1995).

The first global account of fish stamps is that of Bearse et al. (1977), covering the period 1865 to 1975, and consolidating previous accounts in Bio-Philately, a topical journal. Bearse et al. (1977), who also covered stamps related to fishing, used a classification that distinguished the following categories:

  1. fish is the central theme (whether or not the stamp also depicts a ruler);

  2. fish is only part of the design (with or without ruler);

  3. fish is a stylized or only minor part of design;

  4. no fish is shown (but a related motif is).

Only stamps belonging to category a) are included in FishBase, with the additional provision that it should be straightforward to assign the fish in question to a valid FishBase species, either because its name or a synonym is stated on the stamp, or because the species can be readily identified from the stamp itself.

Philatelists will appreciate taxonomic accuracy

Inclusion of such stamps as pictures of FishBase makes it possible for topical philatelists to inform themselves about the fish depicted on their stamps, which range in size from guppies to whale sharks and, taxonomically from sharks to triggerfishes. Philatelists will also appreciate the taxonomic accuracy that FishBase provides, which overcomes a problem that previously hampered fish stamp classification (see Bearse et al. 1977). Also, other users of FishBase will enjoy the beauty of fish stamps, often rivaling that of underwater photos. To this effect, the fish stamps in FishBase have been made nearly screen-filling. The fish stamps included in FishBase 98 (>300), stemming from the Pauly collection, and from the collection of Meryl Williams, which she kindly made available to us, were all individually scanned, and contrast-enhanced using the PhotoStyler software. Stamps from various sources were added later by J.M. Vakily.

We plan to expand our present coverage of fish stamps in FishBase to include eventually all existing stamps that satisfy our selection criteria (see above): i.e., about 2,000 stamps. However, progress may be slow as the FishBase Project does not have a mandate that would allow it to assign regular staff to this activity: how fast the job gets done¾ if at all¾ will thus depend on volunteers (such as the first author).

Offers of collaboration on this, including supply of files with philatelic information that could complement the scanned images, or offers to loan stamps for scanning, or to supply scanned pictures of fish stamps should be addressed to Ms. Aque Atanacio (

How to get there

Presently, these stamps are accessible in taxonomic sequences through the Pictures button of the Main Menu, or through the SPECIES table, following the fish drawings and photos previously mentioned.


On the Internet, stamps are accessible by clicking on the respective link in the ‘More information’ section of the ‘Species Summary’ page. Alternatively, lists of fishes with stamp pictures are available by selecting the Fish stamps radio button in the ‘Information by Family’, ‘Information by Country/Island’, and ‘Information by Topic’ sections of the ‘Search FishBase’ page.


We thank Adrian Ma. Guerrero for his effort in turning the Paulys’ bulging envelopes into an orderly stamp collection, the basis for the work reported upon here.


Bearse, G.A., W.F. Stanley, M.S. Raasch, U. Stahl and E.O. Bookwalter. 1977. Part I. Fishes, fishing and fisheries on stamps of the world, p. 3-91. In Lower vertebrates: fishes, amphibia and reptiles on stamps of the world. American Tropical Association Handbook 91, Milwaukee.

Eschmeyer, W.N. and G.A. Bearse. 1974. Fish on stamps. Pac. Disc. 27(5):1-8.

Hong, M.-S. 1994. Fishes in stamps. Taiwan Provisional Fishery Bureau, Taipei, Taiwan. 184 p.

Van Tiggelen, J. 1995. The world down under. Australia Post, Canberra. 40 p.

Ilya Pauly and Daniel Pauly