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  1. Recent live-rock boom...)
    by laurence/cco.caltech.edu (Dustin Lee Laurence) (Thu, 2 Apr 1992)

Recent live-rock boom...)

by laurence/cco.caltech.edu (Dustin Lee Laurence)
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 1992
Newsgroup: rec.aquaria,alt.aquaria,sci.aquaria

Bear with me, if you can.  This is long, because I expect there to be
a lot of opposition to this idea, and I wanted to present the complete
case for this if I could.  Also, this is oriented toward the United
States, since that's where I live; however, I think that the idea would
be quite good for any country's aquarium hobby.

I don't want to get caught in the crossfire of this budding little war,
but this reminds me of an opinion that I have formed in the last few
months.  I think that the _marine_ aquarium hobby should be licensed.
(Wait!  Let me finish before you dismiss the idea out of hand!)  Not in
the way that driving, for example, is licensed, but rather in the way
that amateur radio is licensed.  And I say marine, because my
understanding is that most freshwater aquarium fish are bred for the
hobby.  Perhaps I should say live-caught, to include those freshwater
fish which are captured wild as well.

Now all exams are administered by other hams, not by the Federal
Communications Commission (the government agency which regulates the
operation of radio and television transmissions).  The radio hobby has
long supported the licensing system, because it enhances rather than
detracts from the hobby.  Anybody who has seen both ham radio and CB in
operation can see the benefits to the hams of a largely self-regulating
_but regulated_ hobby.  Nearly anyone who wants to can get a ham license,
but it requires enough effort that it must mean something in order to
pass the exam.  Anyone can learn morse code and the regulations if they
really want to, but people who go to the trouble are by and large the
kind of people who will care enough to build the hobby up, rather than
tear it down.

The other model that I have in mind is Falconry, though I know only a
little about it.  The importance of this example is that with the proper
control, it is possible to keep animals which are far more threatened
(In many cases, like peregrine falcons) than the fish and invertebrates
we keep.

The aquarium hobby is rather horrifying in the way that anyone can walk
into a pet store, staffed by people who know nothing about the care of
fish and who buy from the cheapest distributor, regardless of the
mortality rate to the animals or the environmental responsibility of the
collector, and buy marine fish without learning anything about their
care.  The people that the beginner must rely on for advice are usually
the same people who profit from his or her failure, and whether or not
the majority of stores take advantage of this intentionally, it happens
over and over again.  And finally, it gives us a voice with those
countries who export fish (long term preservation).  Our hobby cannot
exist without healthy reefs; even if we started breeding the fish, we
would need a source of wild gene lines and new species.  The tragedy of
this entire problem is that our interests lie ultimately with the
environmental community, and theirs with ours.

Regardless of the true situation in the hobby, which is what the original
thread was about, the marine aquarium hobby is going to be increasingly
labeled as a threat to the environment.  It doesn't matter if the hobby
is a minor contribution to the problem, because we are a convenient and
vulnerable target; and if the hobby can't even clean it's own house, then
perhaps we have no right to complain when someone decides that it is
easier to outlaw the entire hobby than to regulate it.

What I would like to see is an aquarium hobby that has the maturity and
the interest to regulate the hobby along the same lines as the amateur
radio hobby.  The only government interference required it to ensure that
live caught fish can only be sold to someone with a license, and import
and capture regulations.  (If it is done for tank-raised fish, then that
is fine with me as well, but I don't insist on it.)

If the hobby has the maturity to adopt a licensing procedure itself, the
odds are that it can write it's own licensing guidelines, and govern
itself.  The test need not cover many things; I would suggest (for the
sake of argument) the nitrogen cycle, basic pathology (i.e., this is
oodinium, and here's how you treat it), the most popular kinds of
filtration (this is a UGF, this is a trickle filter, etc.), and basicn
guidelines on being an environmentally friendly hobbyist.  All of the
information required for the exam could be published in a single booklet
by the hobby, much like the Amateur Radio Relay League (among others)
publishes the information necessary to pass the FCC exams.

On that last point, I have in mind here a bit of information on which
fish should be avoided, which fish are particularly difficult to keep
and should be given extra thought and care, and which countries have
relatively good or bad collection procedures.  All simple, easy, and
mostly things that the hobbyist will learn anyway.  The store I now
patronize will not sell a tank to a beginner unless they first buy a
book, and come back a few days later, and they credit the cost of the
book toward the tank.  This store, the only truly hobby-oriented store
I have found, has had to make a policy which is no different in
practice than the licensing procedure I have suggested.  I hurts no
honest person to do the same, and those who are hurt by such a thing is,
quite frankly, the sort of businesses that do us harm as a hobby.  We
could not do better than to lose the stores who cannot operate under
these conditions.

How does the hobby benefit from all this?  In several ways.  First, it
puts it in a much better position to avoid being regulated away (short
term preservation).  Second, if done correctly, it should make it much
easier for beginners, giving each one a source of information independent
of those who sell replacement fish, and making it more likely that their
first experiences in the hobby will be positive ones (propagation).
Third, it gives the hobby a way to influence the industry (long term
preservation).  It would be far more difficult to import cyanide caught
fish, for example, if there were a voice to speak out on our behalf.
Some countries are finding that they can save their resources and still
profit from them, by catering to the divers (for example) rather than
destructive industries, and they work to make the divers as non-
destructive as possible; mooring buoys for diving boats, for example,
to avoid anchor damage.  We have that same potential to have a positive
effect on the environment, rather than a negative one, but offering an
alternative industry which is far more friendly.  But first, we have to
make sure that we are friendly.

Finally, it give us a voice in legislation about our hobby.  The fact
that the ham radio hobby is organized gives them a powerful voice in
Washington; there are lots of commercial concerns who lobby for greater
bandwidth for their industry; the existence of the ARRL is probably the
only reason that bandwidth is allocated for that hobby at all.  Similarly,
because the hams have a working relationship with the FCC, they can exert
significant influence on the regulations on their hobby.

One could have a hierarchial licensing structure, like both amateur radio
and falconry, but that is not an important issue at this point.  That is
an issue that can and should be decided by the hobby.  The whole point
is not to make it difficult or complicated to enter the hobby; far from
it.  The point is to ensure that people who want to keep live-caught fish
(or any fish, if necessary) are willing to spend a few hours of their time
to learn their requirements.  If someone cannot be bothered to do that,
then the hobby does not need them.

The hams care enough about their hobby to build it up, lobby for it,
preserve it, and to try to take care of beginners.  If, however, the
aquarium hobby is not interested in it's own self-preservation enough to
act before they are regulated out of existence, then I have to say that
I don't have a great deal of sympathy.

(Ok, you can all start reaching for that big red FLAME, HIGH button now.)



-- 
Dustin

laurence-at-alice.wonderland.caltech.edu


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