Aquatic Experience and Protecting Our Right to the Joy of Clownfish | By Ed Sayres, PIJAC Pres. & CEO

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Aquatic Experience and Protecting Our Right to the Joy of Clownfish
By Ed Sayres

From the moment I walked onto the show floor at Aquatic Experience on Saturday morning, I found myself surrounded by excited families with smiling children marveling at all of the exhibits. It’s no wonder considering it was a bustling hall featuring everything for the aquatics enthusiast.

There were 125 exhibitors including expert aquarium keepers, devoted hobbyists, livestock and equipment specialists and the best manufacturers in the trade. Thousands of ornamental fish – different varieties of clownfish, damselfish, frogfish, koi, mollies, angelfish, rainbow, butterfly, lionfish and on and on – identified by both their retail and scientific names, were displayed in more than 130 aquariums lining one wall as well as in the living area.

A children’s favorite was the touch tank filled with starfish and horseshoe crabs where the gathered crowd stood three deep throughout the day. Around the hall I heard kids talking animatedly with aquatics professionals about their fish at home, their names and personalities, how big they had grown, all of their little behaviors. I was impressed with their extensive knowledge of their beloved pets and just how engaged they are in the aquarium hobby. The Kid’s Aquarium Contest produced masterpieces of aquarium design while promoting creativity, responsibility, environmental stewardship and self-esteem in the kids.

In the midst of all of this, I was also on a personal mission: I’m planning an aquarium of my own. Having had dogs as pets all my life, fish are now the perfect pets for me, a traveling senior apart from my wife during the week. As a newcomer to aquatics, Aquatic Experience was certainly the right place for me to learn about different species, ask questions and gather information. I was also fortunate to have Sandy Moore, co-chair of the PIJAC Aquatics Committee, advising me on selecting fish for my new aquarium.  

It all made me wonder: With the life, joy, care and expertise that filled the room, why is the aquatics community under attack by misguided animal rights activists? How could all of the energy, enthusiasm and education around aquatics be a bad thing? Why stop a child from smiling at a clownfish?

During the State of the Aquatics Industry Town Hall session the evening before, it became clear that our right to keep fish as pets is in jeopardy. Those who oppose pet choice and responsible pet ownership of aquatics could wipe out the hobby for everyone. To address this threat, PIJAC is advocating for aquatic species, their owners and the trade on the most pressing issues facing the aquatics community:

  • Clownfish and damselfish are in danger of being declared "endangered species," which would end all imports into the U.S. and ban interstate movement of both wild-harvested and captive-bred fish within the U.S.
  • A proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to list 66 species of corals as "endangered" or "threatened" would ban all imports, prevent interstate commerce and shut down U.S. coral culturing operations.
  • The Hawaii proposal – a state proposal endorsed by PIJAC – to adopt a suite of regulations designed to improve the O'ahu and West Hawaii regulatory system is being opposed by advocates who want to close the fishery at any cost.
  • Litigation in Hawaii by the opposition seeks to shut down aquarium collections until the state conducts environmental reviews, including an examination of the industry's "cumulative damage to the state's reefs," before granting any aquarium permits.
  • As part of our effort to promote responsible pet ownership, especially around invasive species like lionfish, we are educating consumers about the harmful effects to both pets and native fish of releasing unwanted pets into the wild, even when it is done with the best intentions.

In tackling these issues, we are dedicating the donations we receive through the PIJAC Aquatic Defense Fund to protect aquatic species, the aquatics community that loves and cares for them and the right of consumers to own a pet that meets their needs. This effort includes working with the industry, federal agencies and independent scientists, as well as at the grassroots level, to ensure that we all have a clear understanding of the issues based on accurate scientific data.

I’ll keep you up to date in this space, and you can also follow our progress here. There is much more to come.

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