Re: NANFA-- position on educational collecting (was Carillio in the

Shireen Gonzaga (
Wed, 29 Aug 2001 13:25:38 -0400

Chris has raised some fine points.

Just a few more comments:

> As long as laws allow for the collection of nongame fishes as
> bait, and the removal of selected gamefishes for food or trophy,
> then hobbyists should be allowed to collect those same fishes
>for private aquaria.
> there's little difference between an angler putting a sculpin
> on a hook and a hobbyist putting a sculpin in a tank as far
> as the ecosystem is concerned.

This and other points raised by others have put native
fish collection in a bigger context as it relates to other
activities (like bait, fishing, hunting, etc.). But let's set
aside the laws and what they say we can or cannot do,
and consider just one issue, a philosophical one: what
does it mean to take a wild creature out of its natural

> What's important for NANFA -- and for the fish --
> is that native fish collecting (or sampling, or whatever
> you want to call it) -- be more than entertainment.
> There should be an educational, scientific, and/or
> conservation component to collecting fishes and their
> subsequent captive husbandry.

That's a very noble statement, in theory. But how many
people in NANFA collect fish for "educational, scientific,
and/or conservation..."?

> This is reflected in NANFA's Mission Statement, which
> says that "the legal and environmentally responsible
> collection of native fishes for private aquaria [is] a valid
> use of a natural resource."

There are many people (some who I personally know, some
who are aquarists) who would disagree with this statement.

I heartily agree with the other points in the mission statement:

> "Studying and documenting the captive husbandry of
> North American fishes can provide information about a
> species life history that is otherwise lacking in the scientific
> record, or difficult to study under natural conditions."
> "The captive propagation of native fishes can play a key
> role in conservation efforts by ...

But how many people actually use their native fish to
contribute something useful to the body of knowledge about

> Nowhere in NANFA's Mission Statement does it state that
> the collection of native fishes is a hobby, nor does it describe
> itself as a hobbyist organization ...

But it has to, in part, be a hobbyist organization to attract
members, right? And that's fine.

> NANFA (from my perspective) is not trying to attract more
> people to the "hobby." In other words, the organization is not
> trying to convert tropical fish hobbyists into native fish
> hobbyists (as if implying that one type of fish is better than
> another). If anything, NANFA is trying to turn hobbyists into
> more scientifically literate and environmentally conscious
> stewards of native fishes and their habitats.

Chris does an excellent job as AC editor in accomplishing
what he's said in the last sentence above. In the process of
educating people about native fish, we're introducing them
to our amazing freshwater aquatic ecosystems.

But we're also introducing them to the idea that they can
catch these fish to keep them in aquariums. Perhaps that's
not a big deal, in moderation.

But what happens if it becomes a popular activity? (And I
say this as someone who passionately loves native fish, and
feels that they're a hidden treasure just waiting to be
discovered.) Are we going to see the same problems that
tropical fish in South America and Asia used to have from
over-collecting for hobbyist trade? Or the threats that are
still facing tropical saltwater fish and coral?

> None of this denies or demeans the fact that most -- if not all
> -- of us were born with that "aquarium gene" which finds
> enjoyment in the keeping of critters in fish tanks....
> I hate to think what I'd be doing today if I had not been allowed
> to collect ...

I have the aquarium gene too, and I love my fish and other
critters. But do they love being with me? I don't know.

Do I have a right to take a fish that used to swim free in
the wild and confine it to a tank? I don't know how the
fish feels about it. What I do know is that that fish once
served a purpose in the web of life of its natural ecosystem,
until I removed it. That makes me uncomfortable.

It's funny, if this was the North American Native Birds
Association, or the North American Native Fuzzy Mammals
Association, we wouldn't be having this conversation. If an
individual tried to keep a Carolina Chickadee or a Bluebird
in a cage, they'd be chastised. Yet it's perfectly acceptable to
catch and keep wild fish and herps. Why the difference in
attitude towards different animals? It's kinda interesting,
isn't it?

> Thanks to the simple act of going out into nature and bringing
> a slice of that nature home, I am now in total reverence of the
> biodiversity that both sustains and delights us.

Me too. Which is why I'm raising this issue on the list. I am
not advocating that we all stop collecting wild fish. I am merely
suggesting that we put a bit more thought and responsibility
into what we're doing and whether our reasons for doing it
justify taking a wild animal from its natural habitat.

As I suggested in my original post, perhaps we should encourage
more people to get some of their native fish from tank-raised
stocks. That will help to reduce the number of fish that are taken
from the wild. And provide homes for fish that can never be
released into the wild. That's a rather reasonable request to
make, don't you think? It's something I'd like to see reflected in
the NANFA mission statement.


Shireen Gonzaga
Baltimore, MD

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