The Big Fish Campaign
Why Wharf Aquatics is a supporter
Although Wharf Aquatics has long been known for specialising in rare and oddball fish, many of which are the larger species, we have always strived to sell these species in a responsible manner. This includes labelling these larger species with realistic adult sizes that they are likely to obtain, and retaining staff that have the knowledge to be able to give the appropriate advice on housing these fish, for those that are prepared to go to the lengths required to keep them.
We believe that there is a place in the hobby for many of these larger fish, as long as they are sold in a responsible manner to fishkeepers who understand the commitment and expense involved in housing these fish properly.
However, there are some species, notably Pacu and all species of Pangasius catfish, that even we feel simply do not belong in the aquatic trade. There are simply not enough fishkeepers out there with tanks anywhere near large enough to house such fish humanely. Adult Pacu are huge deep-bodied fish and Pangasius catfish not only grow huge, they have a tendency to damage themselves by hitting the aquarium sides when they frequently bolt across the tank when startled – in short they are highly unsuited to life in a home aquarium.
We took the decision many years ago now that despite our large customer base of advanced fishkeepers with large tanks and even tropical ponds, that we would not stock Pacu and Pangasius, and we feel that other responsible shops should do the same. We have had the occasional ‘rescue’ one to rehome, but this is something we are simply unable to do any longer – there simply aren’t enough homes out there of the size required.
The crux of the problem with these fish is that Pacu and Pangasius are often available cheaply as small juvenile fish, so may be bought by unsuspecting new fishkeepers – and sadly some retailers seem happy to take money from unsuspecting buyers without warning them about the potential size of the fish they are purchasing.
Another traditional ‘problem fish’ when it comes to adult size is the Red-Tailed Catfish. There’s no doubt that these are magnificent looking catfish, but sadly their adult size means that very, very few fishkeepers can accommodate them as adults. Recent times have also seen the emergence of hybrid catfish where red-tailed catfish have been crossed with other large catfish to produce a number of different hybrids. The problem caused by these hybrids adds another element: they were not so widely recognisable as the pure red-tailed catfish, and initially there was little information available as to how large they would grow. With a new hybrid, there is a possibility that the fish might reach the same adult size as one or other of its parents, or it might grow larger than both species – so-called "hybrid vigour" can sometimes produce larger animals than the parent species.
There are of course dozens of larger fish available through the aquatic trade, although the three groups named above have been by far the biggest part of the problem. Some larger species are not imported very often, and these rarer species tend to attract a higher price tag. This means that they only tend to be stocked by more specialist aquatic shops, and this plus the higher price tends to vastly reduce the chances of them being bought on impulse by less experienced fishkeepers.
The Big Fish Campaign is an initiative started back in late 2005 by public aquaria, which were being inundated with requests to re-home large fish that had outgrown their tanks. Recently, the Aquarium Working Group of BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) has revived the campaign to bring more focus to an ongoing problem.
The campaign is not seeking to see certain fish banned from sale, or restricted by licensing. The individuals and organisations behind the campaign do not want to see laws banning fish of a certain size from the hobby altogether, and any licensing policy would probably prove very difficult to implement and police effectively, and is unlikely to be a viable option based on fish size alone.
Instead, the campaign will be focusing on a more positive approach, including:
- raising general awareness throughout the trade and the hobby about the extent of the problem
- dispelling the myth that fish only grow to a size relative to the tank size (!)
- asking retailers to sell larger fish responsibly by providing information on realistic adult sizes of these species
- encouraging wholesalers and retailers not to routinely stock the "worst offenders" such as Pacu and Pangasius catfish - and instead concentrate on the hundreds of more suitable aquarium fish available to the hobby!
Support for this campaign has already been voiced in Practical Fishkeeping magazine and the trade publication PBW News/Aquatic Trader, and several retailers have already pledged their support. It is hoped that everyone from specialist aquatic retailers to pet shops, garden centres and the larger chain stores will support the campaign and limit the sale of the "worst offenders", and take a responsible attitude towards selling other larger fish.
A Facebook page has also been set up to support the campaign.