Monday, October 15, 2012

There Oughta be a Law

B. Splendens of a veil-tail trope. (c) Athena Slater
Bettas are easily the most abused species of freshwater pet.
Preventing animal abuse is one of those things everyone says they support whether they mean it or not. In that respect it's a lot like a few other issues I can name.

For some reason, at least in my experience, fish seem to be the most abused pets in the western world. It might have something to do with the fact that fish are relatively cheap, and they're perceived as a relatively easy pet. This unfortunate consequence of economics and perception has lead those who are passionate about the subject to shake their head and quietly mutter about the need for a law.

Now, I could go on and on about the different common abuses of fish I see or hear about on a day to day basis but that matter less than the story I actually came to tell.  As we all well know, thoughts are circular and so tangents are common, and very often the lesson in one field is imparted by an experience in a totally different field. But now I'm getting ahead of myself; let me tell the story.

One of my fellow fish and reptile experts is a guy with a real fondness for snakes, skinks, monitors, and arachnids but possessed of no real affection for fish. I can't say I blame him, as all of the pets I just mentioned are more interesting and the first two certainly more friendly than fish, but even then he knows a thing or two by virtue of having to work directly with fish. Now, he came to me today to ask me about a customer he had in the fish room a few days before. This person was looking for a plecostomus, which are the armoured catfish commonly called "algae eaters".

One of the many plecostomus loricariidae seen in the hobby.
Now, plecos are unfortunately the first most abused fish in the hobby after goldfish. They're usually ill-bred, and the ones unlucky enough not to get picked out by enthusiasts of their genus often get pressed into service as janitors in tanks too small, warm, cold, acidic, basic, or heavily stocked for them. As a result, many die prematurely. With the dwarf "bushynose" species being too new to the local hobby they are often ignored despite being better suited for the average aquarist's tank, which means that I'm constantly having to hunt down a sufficiently small pleco to face a slow and agonizing death-by-stunting because there's obviously no good reason to pay an extra two dollars for the right fish for the aquarium. There's no law against stunting fish, corporate has no problem with it because they consider the fish a step above feeder animals, and I have surprisingly little wiggle-room when it comes to telling people they cannot adopt a pet they're obviously not suited for.

The reason this particular customer stuck in my partner's mind (and mine, now), is that they asked for a pleco in this way:

"I want an algae eater. Give me the cheapest one possible because it's just going to die in two weeks anyway."

My coworker did the right thing - he followed up with questions about tank conditions, all of which should (in my opinion) proceed every fish sale, and all of which were met with assertions that the tank was perfectly fine (which it obviously couldn't be) and that the tank conditions weren't any of my co-worker's business.

In the end, as I recall, she wound up getting frustrated and didn't get her fish, but I'm certain she'll be back when someone less inclined to be troublesome isn't working, and likely wind up with another plecostomus.

All of this, however, sounds like another issue. See, my friends and I get mad about bad fishkeeping because it's an abuse. Most of the fish we carry are captive-bred, but there's always exceptions to the rule, and in either case, I can't think of a single species of fish that didn't at least have its roots in the wild. Even if that weren't the case, it would still be true that we as keepers owe these fish the best possible shot at a long, reasonably happy, and reasonably healthy life. After all, fish, perhaps moreso than any pet, experience a reality totally dictated by their owner.. An aquarist has the last word on every aspect of tank layout, water conditions, food availability, and tankmates. Even the feeder insects at work get better treatment than many of the fish I've seen in private aquaria. In this respect I'm no saint and I've been the unwitting abuser of plenty of fish in my day.

The point of realization, though, was that quiet shaking of the head, and the muttering of "there oughta be a law" that usually follows such encounters. Interestingly enough, the epiphany actually had nothing to do with animal abuse, though it did have to do with another form of human cruelty.

For those who missed it, I managed to wade hip-deep in the mirky soup of abortion debates (however briefly) over at Cam's blog. It's one of those sleek and sexy issues that seems attractive before someone's had their tea but which should have, frankly, been resolved well before I was born. As I recall it, I had expressed the idea that one can be personally opposed to abortion but still be in favour of its legality as a mechanism of personal choice.

Bear in mind that this is an extremely nuanced subject. We're dealing with layers and layers of consequences which must all be considered from every angle. The reason that I never seem to express a concrete position on it is that the subject is simply too complicated to encompass with a short-form answer. 

So far as it goes, though, I understant the pro-life argument quite a bit better standing over here. If I can get teed  up over people abusing fish, people being needlessly cruel to human fetuses should bother me too, I would expect.

The idea of where life begins is complex and varied. At the moment, I'm leaning toward conception. Ask me again tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I was pretty horrified on a daily basis at what I saw when I was working in the fish business too...

    The worst case for me was a little marine shark that I'd helped hatch after he got stuck in his egg. I was attached to him and he was so small and cute. A customer came in and tried to buy him for a freshwater tank and raged at me when I insisted he was only going to be sold to someone with a large marine tank (he had a tiny freshwater tank). He waited until I was busy elsewhere and bought it from a co-worker (who was pretty horrified when I confirmed who the customer was and what type of tank he had). I was so upset... I can't imagine he made it long at all...