Magazine article Geographical

Think Tank: Fishkeeping Is One of the World's Most Popular Pursuits: In the UK Alone, as Many as 3.5 Million Households Have an Aquarium or a Garden Pond, with the Number of Ornamental Fish Kept as Pets Dwarfing That of Other Animals. but How Does the Demand for Ever More Exotic Species Affect the Fish in the Wild? and Can the Aquarist's Hobby Ever Be Ethical? Victoria Lambert Finds Out

Magazine article Geographical

Think Tank: Fishkeeping Is One of the World's Most Popular Pursuits: In the UK Alone, as Many as 3.5 Million Households Have an Aquarium or a Garden Pond, with the Number of Ornamental Fish Kept as Pets Dwarfing That of Other Animals. but How Does the Demand for Ever More Exotic Species Affect the Fish in the Wild? and Can the Aquarist's Hobby Ever Be Ethical? Victoria Lambert Finds Out

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

There's a bittersweet moment in the animated children's film Finding Nemo, when a group of tropical marine fish in a dentist's waiting-room tank discuss where they come from. Instead of referring to the world's oceans, they list their previous homes as Bob's Fish Mart, Pet Palace, Fish-O-Rama, mail order, and even eBay, with a nonchalance that only becomes upset when Nemo the common clownfish admits he comes from the ocean. This statement is greeted with horror as the other fish fear he is unclean from the experience.

Ironically, for anyone who wants to keep tropical fish as pets, getting a fish directly from the ocean is about as pure as you can get. According to author Peter Hiscock, who runs the fishkeepers' information website www.thinkfish.co.uk, where you get your fish can be key to making sure that you aren't contributing to some of the problems of the industry, such as overfishing (to the point of extinction), the supply of unsuitable species, and fish being sold and kept in ignorance as pets without real regard for these animals' basic needs--leading to their early death or injury.

'In my opinion, you simply can't do online sales ethically" Hiscock says. 'It means sending fish by post or putting them in the hands of a courier, meaning they'll be in transit for two or three days. It's no wonder that so many sent this way arrive dead or traumatised by the experience.'

Instead, Hiscock, who studied aquatics at Sparsholt College, an agricultural college in Hampshire, says that if you buy your fish from a reputable retailer (not necessarily a national chain), there's a much greater chance you can avoid those species that are better left back home--and actively choose those that will have a happy and healthy life in your tank. 'Some retailers are good" he says. 'Others will sell you anything. Do your research before you buy. But be aware, there is much less regulation and control when it comes to fish than to other types of pet.'

That research might cover whether your fish of choice was caught in a humane way. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), this is a 'virtually unregulated industry that catches and breeds as many fish as possible with little regard for the animals: It claims that more than 20 million fish, 12 million corals and ten million other types of marine life are captured every year to feed a US$300million worldwide trade. And that while 'many species of coral are protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), most of the fish that end up in aquariums are not'.

THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

The first danger to the ecosystem occurs during collection, when coral reefs may be dowsed with cyanide. According to a report in Scientific American, this kills half the fish on the reef and either stuns or sends into spasms the remainder, leaving them easy to catch by net or hand. Forty per cent of those that survive the initial capture die en route to the pet shop.

But according to Hiscock, on this point at least, Britons can rest easier. The main supplier of marine fish to British aquariums and pet stores is Tropical Marine Centre, the largest supplier offish to the trade in Europe, and it does have an ethical policy. 'Its fish are hand-caught, it gets involved in reef management, and it rotates areas of catch so stocks don't get depleted,' he says.

What concerns him more is the trade in freshwater fish. 'A lot of fish are extinct or becoming so because of the aquarium trade" he says. 'We're seeing a lot of new species coming through from India at the moment. As land gets developed and roads are built through formerly inaccessible areas, collectors come through to see what is in the ponds and rivers that are revealed. Often, new species will be found that will be unique to a small area.

'But then they get collected until none are left, and--at the shop's end--there's no way of knowing where the fish came from. …

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