Another Day, Another Threat to the Hobby.

My hobby, that of keeping fish, didn’t start with a fish tank. It started in the wild. I grew up travelling from place to place, and over the 14 years, I spent globe trotting I watched as the oceans turned to deserts.
I can not hope to explain using words how it changed, the ocean was full of life, and you couldn’t go a few hours without seeing something. Dolphins in groups miles across, surfing the bow wave of our yacht, sharks exploding from deep beneath the surface, fish in huge schools, and predatory fish hunting alone. A golden flash of dorado, the hum of flying fish soaring just above the waves, and once we reached port the rainbow of colours playing in the shallows as reef fish lived out the drama and day to day life on their craggy homes.
Then it started to vanish, the huge fishing fleets trawled the ocean, stripping out the life, that seemingly endless bounty was so very limited. As the larger food fish vanished fishermen had to turn to the smaller fish, less meat per fish meant more fish having to be caught for food. The last time I went across the Atlantic it was a desert, we saw little life other than a single school of tuna that followed our boat for weeks, and the odd whale and shark that came to feed on them.
In the middle of the pacific is a little island, Tongereva, now the population hovers around 200 people, there is an airport, but the single weekly flight can’t carry too much in terms of food and water, the ship that is meant to provision the island sometimes misses visits, meaning they go months between resupplies.
This island once held a much larger population. In the mid 1800s almost 500 people from Tongereva were sold as slaves in Peru, hundreds more died on voyages to be sold, and many were sold elsewhere. When I lived there the population was almost double what it is today.
But the vanishing food stocks mean that more and more the islanders are having to rely on the food being brought to the island, either by expensive airfreight or on the infrequent ships. But in 2010 the main industry of pearl farming was destroyed by disease and climate change.
This is one example, of people holding on to their homes, their very nation, and 6 days a week men leaving to spear fish to eat, women having to raid the seagull nests for eggs, farming as best they can on an island with no fresh water other than rainwater.
But in all this, in the devastation that is happening to our oceans, there were pockets of life, pockets where the fish and other sea life thrive, and they are protected by the locals, in areas where one or three things happen. The first is that the nation is large enough that the government has been able to establish marine reserves, the second is in high tourist areas, where the reserve is used for diving and snorkelling, and the third is where the fish can be sold at a high price. For live fish for the restaurant trade, particular fish for traditional medicine, and often fetching the highest price, and demanding the highest welfare, the aquarium trade.
Food fish, aquarium fish, traditional medicine, and live fish for restaurants, only one of those needs the fish to stay alive for a long period, and only one allows those fish to be used to produce future generations.
The British Government is considering banning the live import of wild-caught animals, including fish. So we can still have the food fish, can still have fish in makeup and medicines, you can still have sea creatures in candles shipped from china, you can still have fish that are on the brink of population collapse in your sushi, but you can’t buy fish from sustainable fisheries offering people in remote islands, and remote parts of the Amazon a sustainable income.
The science is clear. Sustainable fisheries are a leading tool in the conservation of fish, farming them can be done sustainably, but needs monitoring and checks to prevent issues.
I remember being underwater in a river in South Africa, and realising I was seeing fish from South America, Angel fish swam in reeds stirred up by hippos, hatchet fish hovered above Nile crocodiles, and once I almost missed the signs of a Bull Shark below me, so entranced was I by a school of tetras. Years earlier a fish farm had been flooded and the fish escaped. They were thriving in this river, what I did not see where many native species.
Wild-caught is a contentious topic, and we as the largest UK fish keeping group are asking for more information to be available to the hobbyist. The technology exists to allow a fish to be tracked from capture, or farm, to your tank. The more information, the more you can ask for sustainably caught or farmed fish. A ban is not the route.
This is also just the start, after this, we will lose more and more species, more chunks of the hobby. Until we are back a century, with only a few species to keep.
We need your support now. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at different areas of wild-caught fish, and conservation. Please like our page, and share so others are aware of the risk. Can you do more? Support us on Patreon https://www.patreon.com/tropicalfishkeepinguk
Don’t sit back and say “It’ll never happen,” or “it won’t make a difference to me.” This sort of thing will hit the whole hobby, and the only way it won’t happen is if we can fight back.

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Ruth McDonald

Sailed twice around the world, started my acedemic career as an archaeologist and somehow ended up lecturing on science and researching fish.

One thought on “Another Day, Another Threat to the Hobby.

  • Michelle Jones

    When I sailed to Australia as a kid I kept a scrap book of all the different animals I saw where and when I saw them so I could d do my own research on them when I hit dry land I remember the vast pods of spinner dolphins, flying fish orca whales sharks etc but last time I was at sea I had to search for days to find anything and then it was small groups of fish or lone whales and hardly any of the really big breeding female sharks what I did see though was masses of trash and ghost nets the water even smelt different it was heartbraking to see how much had changed in a couple of decades

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