NANFA-- Shireen's "deeper philosophical question"

Christopher Scharpf (
Wed, 29 Aug 2001 12:13:03 -0400

Shireen pondered:

> But there's a deeper philosophical question
> that needs answering: what does it mean to remove a fish
> from its natural environment?

Depends on the fish and the specific environment from which it was removed.
3 or 4 stonerollers from an Alabama creek with tens of thousands of them is
different from 3 or 4 Devils Hole pupfish where the population is <100. It
also depends on why the fish is being removed. One time on the Gunpowder
River I saw where someone had caught about two dozen large white suckers and
threw them on the bank where they died. My only guess is that the angler
thought that white suckers pose a threat to gamefish populations and was
thereby "helping" the river. In the past I've collected 1 or 2 specimens of
small white suckers for my aquarium so I can study and appreciate them up
close. Is one better than the other? Both permanently removed suckers from
their natural habitat.

> To play the devil's advocate: Why do we need to
> possess wild-caught creatures in order to enjoy them?
> Are we equating them with baseball cards and stamps?

I addressed this in my previous missive. To which I can add: Public aquaria
that house ceteceans face this issue all the time. Is it right to keep a
sentient creature in a large concrete tank and make it perform tricks for
hordes of screaming tourists and schoolkids? Murray Newman, former director
of the Vancouver Aquarium, argues that the international save-the-whale
movement did not pick up steam and near-unanimous public support until his
facility and others started exhibiting orcas and other ceteceans with
success and regularity. If it weren't for public aquaria, the only people
who could see whales close-up were the people killing them! Newman (and
others) argue that removing a few species from the wild (where they are
being hunted or tangled in tuna nets anyway) can help save the wild
population as a whole by increasing public awareness of them.

Can the same be said for keeping native in basement fishtanks and backyard
ponds? I think so. Fish live in a realm where they are not easily seen. Not
everyone has the wherewithal to snorkel. (And some ponds and streams are so
turbid or tannic that its creatures are *never* seen unless brought to the
surface.) Bringing a few specimens to the home (or school) aquarium allows
them to be seen (and appreciated) on a daily basis. And since many fish
species spawn readily in aquariums, they obviously don't seem to mind!

> How many people would it take to visit your fishroom to create an
> environmentally-educated and ethical public?

Based on federal guidelines, 17 people per fish per month. :-)

> BTW, I'm not advocating any position because
> I'm still trying to sort things out in my
> own head. These thoughts are just presented as
> alternate views for us to think about. If we
> are to mature as an organization, we need to
> really understand how we feel about wild fish.

I've enjoyed discussing it and reading everybody's thoughts. This is e-mail
at its best! And I could keep on discussing it. But unfortunately I have
more pressing matters at hand. Like writing and designing a scratch & win
game card for a major hotel chain. Ugh.

Chris Scharpf

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