Become a Sponsor

Information Pages:
Marine Aquarium
Articles/ FAQs/Index
Freshwater Aquarium
Articles/ FAQs/Index
Planted Aquarium
Articles/ FAQs/Index
Brackish Systems
Articles/ FAQs/Index
Daily FAQs
FW Daily FAQs
SW Pix of the Day
FW Pix of the Day
Conscientious Aquarist Magazine
New On WWM
Helpful Links
Hobbyist Forum WetWebMedia Forum
Ask the WWM Crew a Question
Search Feature
Admin Index
Cover Images


By Neale Monks

How to make HR 669 work

In recent weeks, fishkeepers in the United States have been discussing the merits and otherwise of HR 669, a bill intended to restrict the import and trade of animals and plants likely to cause harm to wildlife, agriculture or people. At face value, it's hard to argue against the premise. Certainly, plenty of non-native fish species have become established in the US, including Carp, Oscars and Suckermouth Catfish.

Equivalent laws already exist at a state level, though usually these are directed at a specific roster of fish species, most notoriously perhaps the Piranha subfamily Serrasalminae. These are restricted in no fewer than 25 states.

But what's interesting about the various bans on Piranhas is that for the most part these laws are completely redundant. At best, there are only four states in the Union where water temperature remains warm enough all year around for Piranhas to have any chance of breeding successfully: Hawaii, southern Florida, southern Texas and southern California. So while it's inconvenient, restrictions do make sense when applied to these states, and in the case of Florida, the reasons for each species' restriction is clearly laid out.

And yet, states that have introduced Piranhas-banning laws range as far north as New York and Washington State! It's inconceivable that Piranhas could survive winter temperatures at these latitudes, so even if a feral specimen tolerated the summertime climate, winter would surely kill it.

Maine, for example, has amongst the most restrictive pet laws out there. Any fish not explicitly included on the Unrestricted Fish and Wildlife Species list cannot be brought into the state without an importation permit, effectively excluding such species from the pet animal trade. Given the northern latitude and cold winters in Maine, aquarists would be surprised to see that the Jack Dempsey cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) for example has been removed from the list because it's a "leading invasive pest". Perhaps true, in Southeast Asia or even southern Florida, but not even remotely likely in Maine!

Even more worrying is that list isn't updated in real time. The online version is dated 2004, and in the space of five years, a lot of new fish can appear in the trade, many of them not just fantastic aquarium fish, but also totally unable to survive the Maine climate, so no threat to local wildlife at all.

The Maine law really shows how HR 669 shouldn't be put together. There are thousands of ornamental fish species, most of which couldn't possibly establish themselves in the United States, except perhaps in the four states mentioned earlier that have, at least in part, a tropical climate. Trying to keep a "white list" of safe species up to date would be a major labour, even assuming it was possible. On the other hand, doing the opposite, and drafting lists of potentially dangerous species makes much more sense. Only a few species pose much of a threat, and for the most part these are already well known. Apart from piranhas and perhaps stingrays, hardly any routinely traded ornamental fish are overtly dangerous to humans, and it should always be remembered that it takes a population of escape fish to create a problem, not a single loose specimen.

It's also important for the Federal Government to realise that a fish that's a threat in Florida is no threat at all in Nebraska. This is one of those instances where "states rights" really should take precedence, since the states will each have the staff and expertise to decide which fish species are likely to cause a real problem. Certainly, the Centers for Disease Control, United States Department of Agriculture, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service should all be able to suggest mandatory species that, for one reason or another, each state should restrict. But when it comes to deciding if a species that should be restricted because it might get loose and harm local wildlife, then surely that's something the states would be better able to decide.




Featured Sponsors: