Following independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea resumed exploiting Red Sea and Arabian fish species for the ornamental trade in 1995 as a means to earn foreign exchange from sparsely exploited marine resources. This paper describes the findings of research conducted in 1997, in collaboration with the Eritrean Ministry of Fisheries. The capture, transport and export of aquarium fish were reviewed and potential impacts and the status of management were investigated through liaison with stakeholders and researchers. From 1995 to 1997 two companies exported approximately 60,000 fish per year, mainly to the USA, worth US$65,000 (export value). Seventyfive species (from 22 families) were exported. Damselfishes made up two-thirds of total exports but more valuable families (angelfishes and butterflyfishes) were more economically significant. To earn revenue for Eritrea, a 20% export tax was imposed, although this was calculated from declarations by the operators. The emerging nature of the trade allowed detailed monitoring by the Ministry of Fisheries. However, management efforts were constrained by a lack of capacity for enforcement and baseline research. Several potential effects of the trade exist but other, land-based impacts may be more pressing concerns for Eritrea’s reefs. Research priorities for management are discussed as well as the implications of mariculture of Eritrean species by other nations.