In many ways, not enough is being done to ensure that pet fish are well looked after and their wild populations are not threatened. However, this does not mean that the industry should close down—in fact, it is quite the opposite.
Employing people to catch ornamental fish in South America means fewer people employed in logging, oil drilling, mining and farming—which are bigger threats to the Amazon. Research suggests that fish collection at some sites has actually preserved forest and river habitat.
Project Piaba is a non-profit organization in the Amazon that capitalises on this, by creating sustainable harvest levels so that poor communities can continue to catch fish without impacting their populations. While fish-keeping is just a hobby across the globe—it is in the Amazon that its true value can be seen. In the words of Project Piaba’s fisherman Francisco de Souza Colares:
“My favorite place is the native forest. The tourists come and admire the forest. It is wonderful. And we preserve it, we don’t deforest. Fishing is one of the better things we have to live from. If we couldn’t sell fish, how could we live here?”
Shops in the USA are selling these eco-friendly fish from Project Piaba, with customers saying they would pay premium for these wild-caught fish if it helped to preserve the Amazon.
Whether we should continue to keep and breed wild animals in captivity will continue to be hotly debated. However, if the ornamental fish trade can not only support local communities but also mitigate harm to the environment—then it may just be an industry worthy of support and longevity.
This is providing, of course, that the welfare of fish is taken seriously. Because in addition to ensuring that pet fish do not have a dark past—it is a moral obligation to ensure that they have a happy future.