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Wild Collected fish and plants

Roger Miller wrote:

>> Project Piaba seems like a good thing for the Amazon basin but I worry
other areas may suffer conditions that are very different.  It may be risky
to think that one can always benefit local conditions by buying wild-caught
fish. <<

>> I recall some time ago reading that the common Black Ruby Barb was
extinct in
it's natural environment and only captive bred specimens still existed.
doesn't appear to be entirely true.  Several sources I found on the web
regarded the Black Ruby Barb, Cherry Barb and other Sri Lankan aquarium-kept
species as endangered, but not extinct in the wild.  Collection of these
for the ornamental aquarium trade is not the primary reason for their
Habitat loss, pollution and competition from introduced species are all
important factors.  <<

Unfortunately, habitat destruction and population pressures have already
driven many species in S.E. Asia over or to the brink of extinction.  But
wild collection in that area is also a pretty spotty thing.  Fish farming is
such a big industry there that it's hard to even get anyone interested in
going out to collect wild material.

I think that in these areas, it is unlikely that a sustainable or even
economically attractive large scale collection/export business could be
developed.  If someone tried, I hope the local government would shut them
down.  Fortunately, the fish that you have specifically mentioned are, as
you said, easily propagated, both in the home aquarium and in commercial
aquaculture facilities.  The species are well established in captivity.

In some areas of Africa and South America, unstable governments make
collection and export risky and sporadic.  These areas again have very
different circumstances than those in the Brazilian Amazon.

There are valid reasons for collecting from the wild, even in areas where a
habitat is threatened.  Small scale collection of genetic material to
establish (or even revitalize) a captive breeding program makes sense where
a species is threatened with extinction.  That's what we've seen with the
Lake Victoria cichlids.  While this started simply as a species preservation
project, there is enough surplus from that program now that even though many
of the species are presumed extinct in the wild, they are available to the
hobbyist through regular commercial channels.  Small scale collecting
projects also bring us new species to enjoy in the hobby without endangering
wild populations.

But you have brought up another sort of collecting that I think is of more
importance to this particular list, and that is the collection of wild
aquatic plants for commercial distribution.  It's sure easier to wipe an
entire area out of a species of plant than it is with fish... The plants
can't run away or hide.  And as you mentioned, wetlands are extremely
fragile ecosystems.

My personal opinion is that there is no good reason for the large-scale
collection and sale of wild aquatic plants.  In most cases, plants that will
do well in the aquarium are quite easy to produce commercially.  The good
commercial growers can produce large quantities of clean, disease-free,
quality plants.  When we buy those plants, we also know we are getting
species and varieties that have been proven under aquarium conditions.

Just as with fish, there are times where collecting wild plants or buying
wild collected plants makes sense.  For an experienced, specialty hobbyist,
like some who are involved with Crypts, sometimes the only way to get new
species is from the wild.  But leave these plants in the hands of the
experts.  If they do well in the aquarium, they will eventually find their
way into the hands of general hobbyists.

In the past year or two, a couple of sources have advertised "wild
collected" Anubias for sale, many with "new" names assigned to them.
Whether these are really new species or not is debatable.  Whether they are
adaptable to aquarium life is even more questionable.  Anubias grow slowly
even in the wild.  I find it troubling that these plants are being collected
from the wild in commercial quantities WITHOUT any study of how that
collection is affecting the wild population.

I have no problem with the careful collecting of new aquarium plants.  I
enjoy doing it myself.  But you only need a small amount of any species of
plant to see if it will grow for you.  If it does, you will soon have more
than you need.  If it doesn't... well, as a friend of mine has said, "You
can kill a little as fast as you can kill a lot!"

>> I've used Sri Lanka as an example, but I think there are examples all
the tropics and subtropics where fish and plant collection in already
threatened environments may endanger some species.  Wetland environments all
over the world are threatened by development, unsustainable forest harvest,
pollution and aggressive introduced species.  There may be rather few areas
outside of the Amazon Basin where harvesting wild fish or plants on a scale
suited to feed the global ornamental market can be regarded as a viable and
sustainable industry. <<

I agree, Roger.  I was speaking directly to the issue of Cardinal tetras,
which is where this conversation started.  There are many species of fish
that are in danger of extinction, and many habitats that are being destroyed
even as we exchange these notes.  There are no easy answers, and we need to
think about it and do what we can.  In the case of Cardinal tetras, captive
breeding is NOT the answer at this point.  The scienfic work has been done
to support that position.  But if and when that becomes the only viable way
to maintain the species, we already know how to do it.