ETH­I­CAL DE­BATE

Part of the fun of fish­keep­ing is the joy of spawn­ing your own live­stock. But is it al­ways good to bring so many young into the world? While it feels like the right thing to do, is it re­ally?

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

PFK as­so­ciate ed­i­tor Nathan Hill and staff writer Steve Baker go head to head over whether we should en­cour­age hob­by­ists to breed fish at home.

How do you view home breed­ing? Is it a good thing that helps out with con­ser­va­tion, or is it some­thing sur­plus to re­quire­ments, pop­u­lat­ing the hobby and the in­dus­try with heaps of un­de­sir­able fish it never wanted or needed?

SB: I’d say it has to be a bit of both and it all de­pends on the amount of thought the breeder has put in to sourc­ing, breed­ing and rais­ing their fish. As a good ex­am­ple, just look at our reader visit this month (see page 38). Max Ped­ley has in­vested in wild-caught rare brood­stock and made a real suc­cess of mul­ti­ply­ing them for oth­ers to en­joy.

On the other hand, a tank full of in­ces­tu­ous Jewel or Con­vict ci­ch­lids is rarely of use to any­one, comes around too of­ten, and causes an eth­i­cal prob­lem of what to do with them.

NH: Yeah, but my ques­tion is, what is the wider im­pact of spawn­ing fish at home? For ex­am­ple, I know that when it comes to wild-caught fish, there are some parts of the world where habi­tat con­ser­va­tion is in­ter­twined with fish col­lec­tion – species are caught and sold, and the rev­enue this gen­er­ates is enough to stop de­struc­tive farm­ing prac­tices.

Say, for ex­am­ple, hun­dreds of hob­by­ists found a re­ally easy way to breed Car­di­nal tetras at home, and flooded the mar­ket with hun­dreds of thou­sands of them. Would that not risk stop­ping de­mand for wild-caught fish, in turn giv­ing the col­lec­tors in South Amer­ica no in­cen­tive to con­tinue habi­tat con­ser­va­tion?

Even if we could make the hobby self­sus­tain­ing, would that be the right thing to do? SB: I hon­estly don’t think it would hit the wild-caught sec­tor. Just maybe, if British fish breed­ers went to town on breed­ing Car­di­nals, it would make an im­pact on sales of farmed Car­di­nals im­ported from Sin­ga­pore to the UK. That could only be a good thing in my eyes as it could cut pol­lu­tion from trans­porta­tion and cre­ate in­dus­try at home.

The fact that we find it harder to breed trop­i­cal fish as eco­nom­i­cally as any trop­i­cal coun­try means I can’t see us push­ing the boundaries by breed­ing rarer fish we’ve now col­lected from the wild, or even chal­leng­ing the ma­jor pro­duc­ers of the most ba­sic fish.

NH: But my an­gle is that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in South Amer­ica is the lesser of two evils. With­out the rev­enue gained from catch­ing Car­di­nals, the lo­cals would have to find money else­where – slash-and-burn for­est clear­ance for crops, or the likes of gold-pan­ning. Th­ese would be cat­a­strophic.

Re­gard­ing the cost­ef­fec­tive­ness of breed­ing in the UK, I think it’s only a mat­ter of time. Fos­sil fu­els are get­ting more ex­pen­sive, and with the high-end stuff like Ze­bra plecs, it’s now more cost-ef­fec­tive to breed th­ese fish in the UK, than it is to wild im­port. I think more species will soon fol­low.

But en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns aside, how do you feel about the po­ten­tial for messed-up blood­lines? If we cut to the chase, a de­cent un­der­stand­ing of ge­net­ics and in­breed­ing is es­sen­tial to any suc­cess­ful breed­ing en­ter­prise, and that’s not the eas­i­est thing to grasp.

And then again, there’s good money to be made from de­lib­er­ately spawn­ing hy­brids – just look at the Flow­er­horn piece on page 22. As­sum­ing more and more peo­ple bred at home, and put those hy­brid fish up for sale on­line, as is in­cred­i­bly likely, what would be the hobby ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that?

Ide­ally, I’d like to see a new med­i­ca­tion on the shelves, a fish-suit­able con­tra­cep­tive

SB: Even with a highly ef­fi­cient breed­ing fa­cil­ity pow­ered by so­lar and wind power, I can’t see the UK pro­duc­ing ‘trops’ more eco­nom­i­cally than a coun­try that needs no heat­ing or in­su­la­tion, just mud ponds and good man­ag­ment es­sen­tially.

Mov­ing on to ge­net­ics and the mud­dle that is hy­brids, that wor­ries me in­deed. As far as am­a­teur home breed­ers are con­cerned, I’d be just as wor­ried about health is­sues go­ing un­de­tected, let alone ge­netic trou­bles.

Look at the puppy farms; aside from all the ge­netic is­sues caused by ir­re­spon­si­ble breed­ing, many pup­pies die from the viruses , in­fec­tions or de­fi­cien­cies they leave the puppy farm with, but new leg­is­la­tion is be­ing brought in in an at­tempt to deal with this. On a busi­ness level, the new reg­u­la­tions should help quash the same is­sue aris­ing with fish.

I’m more wor­ried about peo­ple that don’t aim to breed. Ac­ci­den­tal fry tend to come from less-de­sir­able fish or fish with lit­tle value, like com­mon live­bear­ers. The own­ers gave it no thought, so the breed­ing pair came from the same tank (of­ten mean­ing they are sib­lings), and the fry were fed on crushed-up flake, so weren’t of­fered the nu­tri­tion needed to rear strong, healthy fish.

As for hy­brids, don’t get me started, but it’s just an­other area where hu­mans do what they want to please them­selves, and don’t con­sider what’s right for mother na­ture and the planet we rely on.

On the other hand, there are some ex­cel­lent fish­breed­ers with in­tegrity in the UK.

NH: I think you have more con­fi­dence in leg­is­la­tion con­trol­ling hy­brids and poorqual­ity fish than I do. But yes, I quite agree that ac­ci­den­tal fry are a prob­lem that needs ad­dress­ing. It might be a pleas­ant sur­prise for some­one to find that the pair of Jewel ci­ch­lids they mis­tak­enly bought for a com­mu­nity tank have just bred, but then there’s the is­sue of what to do with that cou­ple-of-hun­dred fry.

And there’s the ex­tra whammy that a hob­by­ist doesn’t al­ways value the ur­gency of culling runts and de­for­mi­ties – they feel bad about de­stroy­ing sub­stan­dard fry, and so the re­sult is a surge of bad fish be­ing re­homed.

With that in mind, should ca­sual aquar­ists be ac­tively look­ing to avoid breed­ing? In my own ex­pe­ri­ences, breed­ing fish was re­ward­ing, but far from es­sen­tial to my hobby. But then, my ex­pe­ri­ence did help in my pub­lic aquar­ium days, when spawn­ing for con­ser­va­tion.

SB: I’m sure you’re right. Most hob­by­ists aren’t breed­ing savvy and some might feel a sense of pride they raised a de­formed fish – as if they’ve saved it, rather than re­al­is­ing the er­ror of main­tain­ing ge­net­i­cally weak fish. I sup­pose it doesn’t hurt if that fish is never bred from, but that’s a big ‘if’ in this sit­u­a­tion. Should ca­sual hob­by­ists ac­tively avoid breed­ing? I think most will, given the choice. When sell­ing com­mon live­bear­ers and known easy breed­ers like Jewel ci­ch­lids, I’ve al­ways warned peo­ple about breed­ing is­sues – over­stock­ing the tank, be­ing un­able to find homes for them etc – and most then want to avoid it by keep­ing male-only tanks or pick­ing al­ter­na­tive species. But how many shop as­sis­tants give buy­ers all this in­for­ma­tion? Ide­ally I’d like to see a new med­i­ca­tion on the shelves, a fish-suit­able con­tra­cep­tive. I think it would be a huge suc­cess with guppy, molly and platy keep­ers. It might even en­cour­age me to keep Jewel ci­ch­lids again!

NH: While a wa­ter-sol­u­ble con­tra­cep­tive would be great for hob­by­ists, the ob­vi­ous dan­ger is that it would even­tu­ally end up be­ing flushed into our wa­ter­ways and af­fect na­tive stocks. There are al­ready strong links be­tween the de­cline of our na­tive frogs and the use of hu­man oral con­tra­cep­tives. As I re­call, the link goes that as they are passed out through the body into the sewage sys­tem, then back into our rivers, they af­fect the tad­poles’ de­vel­op­ment, lead­ing to a se­verely skewed sex ra­tio.

I guess there are two im­por­tant things for read­ers to take away here. First, there are con­se­quences for breed­ing fish with­out any fore­thought. While con­ser­va­tion may be a great in­cen­tive, any aquar­ist who doesn’t un­der­stand ge­net­ics and in­breed­ing could cause more prob­lems than so­lu­tions. And sec­ond, if a fish is that easy to breed, chances are the in­dus­try has plenty al­ready.

IN­SET: Cute, but what will you do with 200 baby Con­victs?

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