BIAZA project aims to educate and promote responsible sales of problematic species.
The trade in ‘tankbuster’ fishes which grow too large for most home aquaria is not a new issue, but is arguably of greater concern than ever. A multitude of endangered and otherwise unsuitable species have become fashionable in recent years, and in some cases have even become established in countries outside their natural ranges.
While most are traded in relatively low quantities by specialist retailers and/or cost too much to be mistakenly purchased by beginners some are cultured on a commercial basis, exported in huge numbers and readily available at pocket-change prices, often as by-product of aquaculture programs.
Although these may seem an attractive, even cute, purchase at a few centimeters in length only a handful of private aquarists possess the huge and expensive facilities required to house them long-term.
Since they’re usually marketed with no information as to long-term requirements or adult size the blame cannot rest solely with the consumer, but equally the purchase of any animal without proper research is unquestionably both irresponsible and selfish.
Others may know what the fishes are but buy under the misconceptions they’ll grow to the size of the tank they’re kept in, be easy to re-home later, or can be taken back to the shop once too large.
In reality fishes certainly don’t grow to fit their surroundings, though large specimens maintained in cramped conditions can be severely stunted and develop physical deformities.
Since very few hobbyists possess aquaria with dimensions sufficient to house fishes growing to even 30 cm in length the majority of retailers won’t accept them back, and they’re difficult to move on privately.
Unfortunately there also exist individuals who clearly have no regard for the long-term well-being of the animals and instead appear motivated by perceived social status, typically gained by posting photos and videos online. Regrettably, yet perhaps inevitably, small aquaria containing motley combinations of juveniles with the potential to become monsters have become an increasingly familar sight over the last decade or so.
In any event an ongoing physical problem has been created for zoos and public aquaria which are inundated with requests from hobbyists wishing to pass on their ‘pet’ which has outgrown its home or started snacking on tankmates.
This is a major reason for the ubiquity of large freshwater exhibits featuring the same few species, of which most are ‘donated’ by members of the public.
Often these aren’t native to the river system or country the exhibit is supposed to depict but in many cases the aquarium or zoo has little choice but to accept since fish are often abandoned, plus the alternatives are hardly desirable to staff trained in animal welfare.
In many cases exhibits are so full that they have to maintain some large fishes behind the scenes while most are simply turned away.
Can anything be done to improve the situation?
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) certainly think so and have decided to take action with a campaign aimed at reducing the availability of some of the more commonly-traded ‘ big fishes’, specifically members of the genera Colossoma and Piaractus (collectively referred to as ‘pacu’), Pangasius and Pangasianodon (normally marketed as ‘iridescent shark’ or similar), Leiarius (’sailfin pims’), Pseudoplatystoma (‘tiger shovelnose’ catfishes), Phractocephalus (red-tailed catfish), and Osphronemus (‘giant’ gouramis).
The project, dubbed the ‘Big Fish Campaign’ (BFC), was actually conceived in 2006 but has been revitalized in recent months, and they now have a dedicated website where retailers, wholesalers, institutions, and other organisations are able to pledge support directly.
Importantly, the campaign does not seek to change legislation or stop the trade of certain fishes; rather it aims to raise awareness, educate, and promote responsible sales. Reduced availability of the problem species mentioned above via consumer self-regulation is also a target.
There are plenty of other species that could be included on the list, and since we’ll be running a series of articles covering ‘big’ fishes and the campaign itself we may feature a few of them later.
Some industry giants have already signed up and we strongly encourage others to do the same by heading over to the campaign website and adding the name of your enterprise, institution, or organisation to the ever-growing list of supporters.
Should you prefer, you can add these details in the comments section below or contact us, although please note that they’ll subsequently be sent to the ‘BFC’ organisers for use on their site.
There’s also a colour poster that retailers can download and display which is available here.
Wholesalers, retailers, and hobbyists…
…please support this. The trade of these fishes should not necessarily be prevented, but the sale of thousands of juveniles each year represents a serious animal welfare issue and they should be reserved for those who can afford to maintain them correctly. Feel free to buy big fishes but only if you possess the resources required to do so.
Additional information can also be found on the BIAZA website