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Threatened Freshwater Aquarium Fish

Marine fishes get all the press, but humble freshwater fishes are threatened too.

Posted: November 6, 2009

By Ethan Mizer

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Galaxy Rasbora
Galaxy rasbora by Tony Terceira.

As I think about stocking my 80-gallon planted setup, I’m reminded of just how fragile some of the fishes we keep are. I’m including the freshwater fishes, a group I think is often neglected.

Take for example my favorite freshwater fish, the galaxy rasbora (Danio margaritatus). After an initial frenzy of hobbyist interest, there were reports that the fish’s native habitat had become threatened from overcollection.

Myanmar, the galaxy rasbora’s native range, moved quickly to prohibit exportation, and since then additional areas where the fish is found in the wild have been discovered, so the threat isn’t as dire as it could have been in the wild.

Hobbyists acted quickly too, with several major publications calling on those interested in the fish to hold off purchasing them unless they were able and willing to breed them in captivity.

Now it is possible to find captive-bred galaxy rasboras online regularly, and several breeders keep the fish on hand for those wishing to keep it.

I think this is a success for the hobby, in that a problem with overcollection was recognized immediately and steps were taken to help mitigate damage to the fish in question.

Other Areas of Concern
Fortunately, the hobby is responsible for very little environmental harm when it comes to wild fish populations. Aquaculture and terrestrial farming are much more destructive to native habitats and wild fish populations.

Take for instance Dan Woodland’s article about Chuco micropthalmus, a Central American cichlid. In its native range, it has become threatened by Oreochromis mossambicus, a fish native to Africa that has been introduced as a farm-raised food fish, which has escaped farms and is thought to compete with and eat the young of C. micropthalmus.

I think the reason we hear so much more about marine environmental threats is simply because marine environmental causes are much more widespread, have a greater economic and social impact, and are often “big ticket” issues that everyone can rally around.

A survey carried out by researcher from Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii found that people visiting Hawaii’s coral reefs share a rare consensus on a specific environmental issue: namely, saving coral reefs.

When it comes to the majestic underwater gardens that are coral reefs, it seems that a large number of people are aware of the threat and want something done about it.

Juxtapose that against the public awareness and interest in the threat to an obscure, rare Central American cichlid, and you can see my point.

I’m proud to be part of FAMA magazine, where even smaller conservation issues are given a voice. We’ve reported extensively on coral reef decline, to be sure, but we also bring up threats to smaller local freshwater fish populations, such as those in Dan Woodland’s article about Chuco micropthalmus and Oliver Lucanus’ article about Indonesian species from the Malili Lakes, where mining is threatening many unique freshwater species.

Organization
But we’re definitely not the only ones concerned about the plight of freshwater species. Every well-known hobbyist I know, including all of FAMA’s contributors and many of the names in the hobby, are vocal in their concern for environmental threats and desire to make sure that hobbyists are on the cutting edge of aquatic environment conservation.

Much larger groups are taking notice, too. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released their updated Red List report Tuesday, November 4, showing that 1,147 freshwater species are under threat of extinction. This represents an increase of 510 freshwater species above last year’s figure.

Some researchers connected with the IUCN list indicated that freshwater species have long been neglected and that their conservation is a major concern.

It makes sense that smaller, local environmental problems facing freshwater species would get less play in the press, but as aquarists, we are well positioned to raise awareness of species that others don’t even know exist.

After all, we’re the ones who are deeply interested in obscure little fishes from streams and lakes all over the world. Aquarists are closer to nature – and the environmental dangers our aquatic charges face – in this respect.

Of course, we’re deeply concerned for marine conservation, too, but we don’t let those issues overshadow our awareness and concern for freshwater habitats.

Luckily, there is an upside to the local, less-publicized nature of freshwater environmental issues. Because problems with freshwater environments generally occur on a smaller scale than marine problems, hobbyists have a greater chance to act.

Groups like the Native Fish Society and Native Fish Conservancy have been involved in promoting action to save native freshwater fishes in North America. Many other organizations exist, and I encourage hobbyists to explore their options in helping to preserve local freshwater environments. Get involved, and remember, the hobby you save may be your own.

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Reader Comments

Allen    Calgary, AB

1/18/2010 7:18:48 AM

very informative.

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