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From Discus to Sunfish, One Man's Journey.
2213 Prytania Circle
It seems kinda strange that I one time self declared King of Tropicals
and breeder of Discus' and Frontosa's am now known almost exclusively for
my part in the native fish movement. Today each and every tank I own is
inhabited exclusively by native fishes. Darters dart, shiners shine, and
Sunfish spawn all the while devoid of any tropicals of any kind. It was
not how I had planned it and now that I look back on it was a very
It started innocently enough I was fishing with my daughter at a local
Lake in Wisconsin and caught some pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbous)
and as Fathers tend to do I gave in to my daughters request to take it
home so it can "live with us and be our pet". They seemed like an
attractive fish 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. All my fish came from a store with a pedigree and a
cute name. I was a bit of a fish snob.Wild caught fish from South America
now that was fine , even desirable but wild caught North American Species
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 opened my eye's and
began to learn. I realized these were a very interesting fish. They had
excellent color and their manners where very interesting not unlike my
friends the Cichlid's. I was intrigued and decided a little further
investigation was in order. I really did not even know the names of these
fish. My daughter named them both princess I however thought a more
scientific approach might be in order.
So I made the trip to our local library and stumbled across a book called
"Fishes of Wisconsin " by Dr. 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 wallowed in his book
absorbing the 200 plus species available in Wisconsin and Illinois. I
learned about darters and saw for the first time a rainbow darter and I
was in love. It suddenly seemed so simple .Why not keep local species ?
When I grew tired of them I could just take them back from whence they
came. I had a revelation , the world was my pet store! This country has
species of beautiful fish, no one seems to know much about them or even
care. I alone had made the connection , Aquarium rearing native fish.
What a great idea ! I would be first ! I would be famous.
Then I found it, under the heading for northern redbelly dace the line
that brought me back to reality. This species makes an excellent home
aquarium species. I was shocked, so others before me had made the
connection. As I read species account after species account in Mr.
Beckers book it would pop up again, this species makes an excellent home
aquarium species. Why then had I never heard of a rainbow darter, A
redbelly dace, a stickleback ?
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
said "must be the heat" and had no real concern. I was shocked and
outraged, ironically in the country that screams the loudest about
rainforest degradation this conservation crime was happening.
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 poisoning 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.
You don't think aquarist can make a difference? Imagine a small prairie
stream frequented by aquarist collecting Longear Sunfish. Suddenly there
is a fish kill, who is going to notice it first, the 50 aquarist who
frequent the stream or the 10 department of Natural Resources field
employees in the State? Imagine a mid size city with 500 aquarist who are
aware of the local waterways and their inhabitants, how would the city
planning be changed when these folks show up at a city council meeting!
Imagine a small darter that's struggling to maintain a population and so
little resources are available to preserve them that they drift to
extinction even though literally hundreds of aquarist have had great
success breeding darters of all types. You don't have to imagine the last
one it's already happened!
By keeping native fish in the aquarium you are preserving our natural
heritage. You have the opportunity to change our environmental future. If
more aquarist were involved we would have less extinction's. When you
combine domestic propagation and aquarium rearing with sampling and
collecting of local streams aquarist could be a valuable resource to our
professionals and to our native species.
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 declined
and finally went belly up no one bothered to expand the domestic
population. Scientist were shocked to find the domestic population was
impure and was therefore destroyed. An easy to reproduce live bearer gone
for ever !
In the 1950's blue pike were the staple of fish fry's in the upper
Midwest and was the number one in volume of fish taken in the Great lakes
by 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
So become aware , get involved, or learn to explain to your grand kids
why we don't have any of those anymore!
The author is involved with the NFC (Native Fish Conservancy
http://nativefish.interspeed.net/) and regularly speaks about native fish
to various groups.
e-mail Robert Rice at Juno_com
Help Preserve our Aquatic Heritage join the NFC
email us at NFC at actwin_com or Sunfishtalk at listbot_com
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