Our curious hobby

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Fish Aficionado
Oct 14, 2011
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Eastern Canada
The best thing I have done in my fishkeeping hobby is to breed my fish. I think it's something all hobbyists who have gotten beyond the basics of fishkeeping should investigate. Why?

I just read an article about my favourite fish, a small, rare killifish called Aphyosemion zygaima. They were brought into the hobby from the Republic of Congo once, in 1989. I got a pair in 1992. I liked them, and reading up showed them to be rare and almost lost to the hobby. So I battled with breeding them (they are not easy) and learned a huge amount about fish in the process. I've shared out as many eggs and pairs as I could, and the fish became established in the little niche hobby of killiekeeping.

The article I read talks of how they were recently found again, in a restricted habitat of one narrow, short stream hemmed in by natural features and agricultural industry. I doubt they will ever come out of the region again, and only under a dozen individuals were brought out to be bred in captivity. In the 30 plus years since they were previously ocated, the habitat had shrunk radically. I suspect they may be doomed.

So hopefully, hobbyists will breed them, and what seems to be a very ancient species will have an aquarium population as a sort of monument to what it once was. The habitats of our favourite fish are being destroyed at a galloping pace, and the fate of this little rarity will be repeated more and more with species we now think of as common and easily replaced. There are natural populations of many fish that are managed by local communities who live from selling them, especially in Amazonia. Our hobby supports subsistence fisheries in many places, and that is a great positive.

A lot of us want someone else to save species for us, and think captive bred fish from farms are a better option. The problem is that fish farms exist only for profit, and there is money in hybridization (which reduces diversity) and industrial type processes that make for very sickly products. Diseases spread in crowding, and it's clear the commercial farming set ups can't maintain species or species diversity in the face of that.

If you're looking for something to do with your hobby, consider networking. It is unfashionable to meet other people these days, but unless we band together around our favourite species to breed them, and to create alternative sourcees of healthy stock, our hobby will have a very short run. We might want to think about joining real fish clubs (or starting them) and resurrecting the dying national specialty clubs. If we continue to allow our hobby to evolve into an online store customer system, and give up on sharing species and producing our own unprofitable fish for the love of seeing them, it'll be lights out for many of the reasons we keep fish in the first place. There will be no reason to keep the fish we'll have available.

So consider gaining some skills. Consider breeding and learning how to share out the species you admire. It would be a big project involving many many people, but it starts with making connections.
Nicely written Gary :)

All wild fishes (and animals) are on the endangered species list now, even if many governments around the world refuse to accept it. Some fishes will be around in 5-10 years, others are disappearing as we talk about this. But they are all going to die due to climate change. The waterways will warm up and dry out, killing most of the fish in them. Any waterways that don't dry up completely will have hot anaerobic water that will kill most fish. A few labyrinth fishes and catfish might survive, but everything else is gone.

If you can keep fish alive in an aquarium, you can breed them. Everyone should be trying to breed fish just to keep the species alive after we destroy their wild ancestors. It's not hard and there is information in the link below to help you out. Give it a go. If you fail, well it happens. But if you succeed, you will be helping keep that species alive into the future.

Here’s a somewhat different view.
I see no value whatsoever in keeping a species alive in captivity when it’s going extinct in the wild. Extinctions are totally natural events (man is a natural species), and climate changes are also a totally natural recurring event. The current climate change, while it could have been tempered by an earlier realisation of its existence and causes, is a result of man’s natural evolution. You can’t have modern humans expanding in numbers and technology the way we are, without reducing the number of other species. The demise of species diversity, the destruction of habitats, and the human population explosion, are all natural events. They are the current /next step in the evolution of life on this planet.
Breeding fish has never really been a big reason for me keeping them, and I don’t see any point in keeping species alive when nature has already decided that they’re no longer required. It’s actually interfering with nature.
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Very interesting. @GaryE and @Ichthys both say things I agree with. I sometimes feel like a crumb for squandering my time with a frivolous hobby when there are people who are sleeping out in the cold and going hungry. I feel like a traitor to the earth when I buy heaters and air pumps that are powered by coal fired electric plants and are transported to me on gas guzzling air freighters. It’s such a trivial pursuit that benefits no one but it also lets me disconnect from the crumbling world around me while people are being bombed and oppressed by cruel politicians.
Humans are a bit different from other species in that we possess free will. Mass extinction is not inevitable if we take our agency seriously and change the patterns of human behavior.
I don't see this as a big picture thing. We are a species that will go extinct like all others. Keeping a fish around in tanks accomplishes nothing global.
But if we decide we enjoy our hobby, then it's time to do some gardening. We function now like people who only buy cut flowers. Cut flowers are beautiful. But a little gardening and growing our own wouldn't hurt.

Is our hobby meaningful? Only to us. Are we meaningul? Same answer. But we are a species that enjoys learning, and I don't think the hobby will thrive when it's down to glo-fish, fancy Bettas and flowerhorns, as much as people like them. Would the hobby be a great loss to the world? No. But we'd miss it.
Humans are a bit different from other species in that we possess free will. Mass extinction is not inevitable if we take our agency seriously and change the patterns of human behavior.
That's a philosophical point. I'd argue we think and act within the limitations of inherited will, and are only sometimes able to look outside our instincts. It looks good out there, and I hope you're right because I like us and the species and ecosystems that surround us. We are a pest species doing a lot of harm.
In my view we are the leading edge of evolution. We will not become extinct. Most scientists tend to see climate change as a catastrophe, but in fact it’s totally natural for this planet and has happened many times in the past. The Great Extinctions are just a necessary part of evolution. Far from being a “pest species”, we are simply the logical advancement of apes, and what the whole of evolution has been working towards. And we’re still evolving and always will be. ‘Human’ is just a snapshot in time on the way to what we are evolving into.
Humans are a bit different from other species in that we possess free will. Mass extinction is not inevitable if we take our agency seriously and change the patterns of human behavior.
All animals possess free will. And the mass extinction you mentioned is already well under way.
Gary , I get you. To return to your original thought and first post , the thing with the Aphyosemion zygaima is awesome. The American Killifish Association was founded in 1964 to promote just such endeavors. The AKA Killifish Conservation Committee has dozens of members doing exactly as you described with dozens of killifish species. Many of those killifish species are endangered and seriously threatened with extinction in the wild. Are any of the AKA members saving the world ? Yes ! I do believe these efforts are saving the world in one small way. It is too late for some fish but these breeding efforts are not wasted. These efforts are producing the knowledge and skills needed to save others not yet threatened and maybe , just maybe , someone somewhere in some position of power and authority will notice these efforts and be moved to action. Doesn’t seem likely but a guy has to have hope.
In addition to hobbyist breeding efforts there should be the banking of egg/sperm of wild endangered species. This is being done for gametes of ancient first growth forests and other flora but could be applied to fish and other threatened species.
In addition to hobbyist breeding efforts there should be the banking of egg/sperm of wild endangered species. This is being done for gametes of ancient first growth forests and other flora but could be applied to fish and other threatened species.
I’ve said this before on this forum and I now repeat it. We are ,all of us , scientists and biologists and ichthyologists in our own little way. By keeping fish and studying them and breeding and observing them we are doing the same things that the eggheads of academia are doing only on a smaller scale.
There are broadly two types of fish keepers and I think they should look at two different sources for fish. We have the recreational fish keepers such as myself, and we have serious fish keepers such as @GaryE. Currently I keep fish for the pleasure of having the fish, watching them interact, breeding them etc. But I am an isolated hobbyist, who is not connected to any conservation movement regarding fish or fish keeping. It doesn't mean I don't want to learn more about fish keeping and to be honest for me the science of keeping fish is my real interest. For me I will almost always want as locally breed fish as possible and I am not going to encourage wild capture of fish to support my interest, I am still learning and would not want to kill a rare fish that has shipped from some remote stream in South America. I am ok with farm breed fish because once they go into my tank they are never going to go anywhere else, and if I breed some, they also go to similar types of fish keepers through my LFS. Consider today the number of fish dying help requests and also consider the by catch and what happens to those when you get wild caught fish, if all the hobbyists purchased wild caught fish that would cause some additional environmental impact on already threatened ecosystems.

The other type of hobbyist who raise fish can help with maintaining species. They have the resources, time, and desire to breed, trade and keep some of the more unique fish, and hopefully keep them around for a time. These people might want to support an industry of wild caught fish, but they are the minority in the fish keeping world. In my opinion wild caught fish should be reserved for those who have the best chance of getting these fish to breed and who share their information about these fish.

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