The aquarium hobby is now facing a situation where the number of species available in trade could be on the decrease.
In Victorian England, which saw the advent of modern aquarium keeping, hobbyists kept goldfish and native English species, and that was that. It was not until 1868 that the southeast-Asian Paradise Fish reached Europe’s shores on board of some ship; and six years later the Siamese Fighting Fish followed suit. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were less than two dozen foreign freshwater fish species available to European aquarists. This number rose to just above 250 by 1920, and to nearly 900 in 1950.
That was when the explosive growth of the aquarium keeping began. The easy air transport of live fish from around the globe, coupled with an industry actively searching for new species, managed to raise the number of freshwater fish species known in the ornamental fish trade to 5,325 (source: Ornamental Fish International, 2010) in 60 years’ time, and new ones are still being added. In addition, more than 600 species of aquatic plants have entered Europe, and a couple of thousand of invertebrates and marine fishes, too.
There are good reasons to look at possible risks associated with some of these species, whether concerning animal welfare, animal health, human health or nature conservation issues. It is therefore wise to only involve people with expert knowledge of the trade and species in the decision-making process.
Invasive species regulations
Invasive Alien Species (IAS) has become the buzz word of the decade. We should all be concerned about non-native species taking over habitats and forcing indigenous wildlife away, with negative ecological and economic consequences. It is when people attempt to convert concerns over IAS into strict regulations that irrationality tends to materialize.
A good example is last year’s decision of the European Commission. As part of Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014, the European Commission proposed a ‘Union list of invasive alien species’ that was carried through the European Council in a meeting on 4 December 2015. The list effectively bans the import, sale and possession of 37 species of plants and animals in all EU countries. Seven of these are common aquarium plants, while the remainder includes a range of animal species that are of relevance to other sectors of the pet industry.
Losing seven plant species is not in itself dramatic, the problem is the lack of transparency and the weak argumentation used to ban them, and the totally haphazardly way with which the species appear to have been chosen.
The Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a classic example. While it is reasonable to think this plant might indeed pose a problem in a limited number of EU member states where climate conditions are subtropical, northern European countries could never face a problem with invasion.
If we are going to ban species in northern Finland, because they can survive in southern Spain (and vice versa), there will not be much left for aquarium culture. We can only fear the future, as more and more species are expected to be added to the ban list.
European Parliament protests
There is some light at the end of the tunnel. On December 16th the European Parliament, with a 76.7% majority, made a resolution which called on the commission to withdraw the list and make a new draft.
Does European Commission care?
At the time of writing, it does unfortunately appear that the Commission has every intention of continuing with enforcing its initial list, as a first step towards adding as many ‘exotic’ species as possible to the list. And, strangely, it appears the Commission has the power to go against Parliament, as long as they have the Council on its side.
While one could wonder what that says about the level of democracy in the EU, we should mainly be concerned where that could take the future of aquarium keeping, as well as all other hobbies involving the keeping of non-domesticated animals.
Does this salami-slicing mark the beginning of the end for the aquarium hobby as we know it?
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