Oldie but a goodie....
For your consideration.....
Why You Should Keep North American Natives !
It seems kinda strange that I one time King of
Tropicals and breeder of Discus and Frontosas am now known
almost exclusively for my part in the native fish movement.
It was not how I had planned it and now that I look back on
it was a very strange journey.
It started innocently enough I was fishing with my
daughter at a local Lake in Wisconsin and caught some
pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis Gibbosus) and as Fathers tend
to do I gave in to my daughters request to take it home so
it can "live with us". They seemed like an attractive fish
and in temperament they were allot like my old friends the
Cichlid's . So I threw two of these beasts in a 20 gallon
tank and gave them little mind as I was a " Serious Aquarist
" and gave zero thought to natives.
Well as fate would have it my daughter kept after to
me to look at her new "pets" and just when I thought I was
safe, I realized these were a very interesting fish. They
had excellent color and their manners where very
interesting. I was intrigued and decided a little further
investigation was in order. So I made the trip to our local
library and stumbled across a book called "Fishes of
Wisconsin " by George C. Becker. I soon found out how little
I knew about native fish and was both shocked and intrigued
by the information the book held. In general Mr. Beckers
book so impressed me that I began to seriously study native
fish. I realized that this country had resources untapped
and unknown that were disappearing at an alarming rate and
no one seemed to know or care.
So I took it upon myself to take my daughter back to
see what other things were out there, and do a little follow-
up investigation. Imagine my shock when I brought my
daughter back to the lake a few weeks later to see a huge
fish kill, thousands upon thousands of rotting carcasses
floating atop the lake. The smell and the waste was
sickening. When I called the city government and the
Department of Natural Resources they had no answer, no
reason and no concern. I was shocked and outraged, here we
are in this country talking all this talk about rain forest
and deforestation around the world yet right in our own
backyards, where we have the most control, this conservation
crime was happening. I have since realized that we have a
history of benign neglect with our native fishes. We love
them as long as they fulfill our needs (AKA. Sport fish)
otherwise they are out of sight out of mind.
Once my anger subsided to tolerable levels I decided to
look around and see what I could find out about local rivers
and their inhabitants. My journey was very eye opening I
found a long history of micro management and introductions
of nonnative species like the carp, gambusia and the brown
trout and misguided controls like the carp poisining
programs of the 1960-1970's. All with mixed success while
our natives continue to pay the price
We are greatly concerned about species all over the
world yet give little or no thought to what is here in our
own house. This disturbed me then and still does now. I
have found a bias within the aquarium and professional
community against natives we claim we care about natives but
don't mind dumping our goldfish in the local river or
closing our eyes when we see abuse of our local lakes. Think
about it how often have you gotten upset over some foreign
lands misuse of their water resources, Yet remained silent
about your own. If serious aquarist kept and collected
native fish from local body's of water they would become
aware of the needs of these local bodies of water and would
be in a greater position to act upon abuses they see.
Instead we find it easier to go to the pet store and shell
out another 79 cents for a zebra danio. While our native
minnows teeter towards extinction.
Well after all this people ask what do you want from
us? I'll tell you what I want I want aquarist to stop acting
like tourist on vacation and to start acting like
responsible naturalist which I believe most of you seek to
be! I want people to understand their local fish and care
about what happens to them. I know for a fact if serious
aquarist were more involved in natives the landscape of this
country's native fish future and history would be
significantly changed. Consider this,within the past 10
years over 20 species of native fish have drifted to
extinction. Why ? If aquarist had been involved how would
things have been different? How many species would the
serious aquarist have the skills to breed ?
The reasons people don't consider natives as a real
choice are many including lack of knowledge. Yet we must
wonder is that a legitimate excuse when looking back upon
history? Who better to know ,who better to care and who
better to speak out than you?
I know that by keeping native fish in the aquarium we
are preserving our natural heritage. If more aquarist were
involved I know we would have less extinction's. . With my
background in Tropicals I have the advantage in knowledge
when it comes to domestic propagation . Hardly a week goes
by when someone doesn't call me with a specific breeding
question about a native When you combine that with the
sampling and collecting of local streams native fish keepers
are a valuable resource to our Professionals and to our
Let me leave you with these sad but true story's .The
good enough gambusia due to population pressure and
destruction of habitat went on the endangered list in the
1980's and a small population was kept in a single sight for
domestic propagation. When the wild population went belly
up no one bothered to expand the domestic population and in
one fire they were all wiped out and thus wiped off the face
of the earth for no good reason. An easy to reproduce live
bearer gone for ever !
In the 1950 blue pike were the staple of fish fry's in
the upper midwest and was the number 1 fish of Great lakes
commercial fisherman. As late as 1965 we took out 250,000
tons of blue pike out of the great lakes. However due to
environmental pressures by 1975 they were gone, no one
bothered to keep any specimens alive anywhere as a
precaution and now all we have are a few odd preserved
specimens and photos.It sickens me that at this day and age
these passenger pigeon type extinction's can take place all
the while we continue to close our eyes and stare at a
distant shore and wonder who is preserving their wildlife.
So become aware , get involved, or learn to explain to
you grand kids why we dont have any of those anymore!
The author is involved with NANFA (North American
Native Fish Association) and reguarly speaks about native
fish to various groups.