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

Christopher Scharpf (
Wed, 29 Aug 2001 15:49:28 -0400

> consider just one issue, a philosophical one: what
> does it mean to take a wild creature out of its natural
> habitat?

I ponder that every time I swat a fly or mosquito, or feed an earthworm to
my stonecat. And it's a question I'd like to ask all the great natural
history collectors of centuries past: Cuvier, Agassiz, Rafinesque, Kirtland,
Jordan, Hubbs, to name just a few. If they were on this list I'm sure they'd
have something to say.

> how many people in NANFA collect fish for "educational, scientific,
> and/or conservation..."?

I said this on the ACN list when Shireen brought this topic up: that home
aquaria can be educational, and that most education occurs in the home.

>> 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.

On what grounds? Interestingly, three of the major regional fish books --
Wisconsin, Virginia, and Tennessee -- all include the keeping of natives as
a viable means of fish appreciation. And fish gurus like Etnier and Page
have assisted in NANFA outings. They have no problems with small samples of
non-protected species ending up in basement fish tanks. (Lord knows how many
fish THEY killed in voucher jars!) :-)

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

Relatively few, so why discourage them?

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

I like to think of NANFA as a "native fish enthusiast" organization. And it
just so happens that hobbyists are among the most enthusiastic enthusiasts.

> But what happens if it becomes a popular activity?

Should native fishkeeping grow in immense popularity, to the point that
large sums of money are being made and/or overexploitation is a possibility,
then state and/or federal regulators will come in and, well, regulate it
(for better or worse).

Back in Classical Rhetoric class we lost points for arguing positions and
exploring philosophical issues based on unlikely hypothetical scenarios.
There was a long Latin name for it but I forget it. Anyhow, all evidence
suggests that native fishkeeping will never be a mass-market activity (to
the extent that the tropical hobby is). NANFA's been around since 1972 and
the native "hobby" has yet to "catch on." So why strain brain cells over
something that's not gonna happen?

> 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.

Sorry to say it, Shireen. The fish don't love being with you. They're
incapable of love. However, their nervous systems do respond to diet, water
chemistry, and other environmental parameters. So if they eat, metabolize,
osmoregulate, grow, and show at least some interest in spawning, then you're
not making life too difficult for them.

> Do I have a right to take a fish that used to swim free in
> the wild and confine it to a tank?

Do human stem cells and fetuses have a right to life? Do women have a right
to their bodies? Do murderers have a right to live? Does society have a
right to put these murderers to death? These are issues between you, your
conscience, and your God.

> 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.

Most healthy ecosystems have built-in redundancies. That's why they can
survive natural catastrophes such as hurricanes and droughts. So don't feel
too uncomfortable about having a few killies in your living room. Who knows,
maybe there's an evolutionary significance to being attractive to humans. As
long as an organism is cherished for its beauty or novelty, then maybe
greater efforts will be made to save it. On the flipside, E.O. Wilson
believes that loving nature -- biophilia, he calls it -- is an
evolutionarily acquired trait. We're hard-wired to be near nature, and in
some cases to possess it. Let's face it: We're only human!

> 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?

Good question. I can't speak for herp keepers, but I can say this about
fish: Despite the artificiality of the captive environment, captive fish
will continue to go about the business of being fish if their basic needs
are met. That makes them interesting and educational to watch. What's more,
aquatic systems are a lot easier to simulate. A well-designed fish tank has
the appearance of an authentic slice of nature. A bird in a cage, though, is
just a bird in a cage. And unless it's an aviary, the bird is unable to fly
any appreciable distance. Personally, I've never understood why some people
like keeping canaries and parakeets. They're pretty animals, all right, but
they just *sit* there, or nervously hop from stick to stick. Hey, at least a
parrot has some personality and can hold a conversation! :-)

> 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....It's something I'd like to see reflected in
> the NANFA mission statement.

An honorable sentiment, to be sure. But would that lead to the
commercialization of native fishes? And would commercialization be a good
thing or a bad thing? The few people out there who are actually raising
natives could be sitting on a financial gold mine! Binkley, when is Jonah's
Aquarium going public?


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