In January 2008 I had the following article published in the UK trade magazine Aquatic Trader.
Towards a More Responsible UK Marine Aquarium Industry.
A few months ago when I wrote about how the Internet was affecting traditional aquarium shops, in particular those catering to the marine sector, I suggested that specialising in livestock might be one of the keys to survival. I still believe this to be the case but I think the time has come to differentiate between the shops that are truly competent when it comes to livestock and those that merely pay lip service to the concept of animal welfare.
The fact is that many of the shops’ customers are novices, and have little idea of what a healthy, well cared-for animal should look like. It seems bizarre that a company that actually quarantines its livestock in an attempt to prevent disease being passed along to its customers, has no way of demonstrating their greater standard of care compared to the shop that just dumps newly imported animals straight into its sale tanks.
In answer to this predicament I’d like to propose the establishment of an organisation where membership entitles a retailer to display a quality mark in recognition of their expertise in handling and holding marine livestock.
Any such organisation would no doubt be considered controversial by some, but I believe it’s something that the trade needs to demonstrate that it is a responsible industry. To me it seems that far too many of those involved in our industry are merely interested in product shifting, giving little thought to animal welfare. It’s important to remember that we’re selling living animals, not just bits of hardware, and that where live animals are concerned certain ethical standards should be maintained.
What should membership of this organisation demonstrate? Well this is a bit of a wish list on my behalf but here goes:
- I’d like to see quarantine or, at the very least, a reasonable resting time, before newly purchased animals are put on sale.
- A practical demonstration of the retailer’s knowledge regarding the livestock that they sell.
- A commitment to educating sales staff.
- An end to stocking animals that are doomed as a result of being unsuitable for captive maintenance.
- Discourage the stocking of animals that may be endangered in the wild owing to small population size or inability to reproduce quickly.
- A commitment to educating the customer.
- Ethical practice in terms of not selling an unhealthy organism, not selling animals unsuitable for the customer’s facilities or level of knowledge.
- Adhere to an acceptable standard of water quality parameters.
- Regularly monitor and record water parameters.
- Keep records detailing the number of animals coming into the shop along with associated mortality figures.
- Discouraging the keeping of the oversized animals destined to either die in unsuitably sized tanks or to be offered on to a reluctant public aquarium industry.
- Popularising the use of aquacultured animals.
- Whenever possible, to know something of the provenance of imported animals and to give feedback concerning any problems back along the chain.
- Pass on to the customer information sheets detailing captive care of the animal purchased. *
*This I feel is particularly important as it will put the marine aquarium industry ahead of the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 where, as part of the Secondary legislation and Codes of Practice, there may be a duty of care on the part of the retailer to pass on information pertaining to the care of the animal in question. Although the Animal Welfare Act only applies to vertebrates I feel we should be applying the same standards of care to the invertebrates traded in the marine aquarium industry. This is quite a complex area given the fact that so many different species can be present in a reef aquarium, often with differing environmental requirements.
Instead of merely paying a fee to sign up this scheme and then proudly (or cynically) displaying your membership, the proposed scheme will depend on a certain amount of policing to be credible. After all, what is the value of an animal welfare policy that’s not policed? Retailers would have to agree to say, twice yearly, unarranged visits to ensure that facilities are up to scratch; that water parameters are consistent; and to see that unsuitable species are not on offer (unless specifically ordered in for advanced aquarists).
I don’t see what objections there could be to such a scheme, the best marine retailers are those that care about their end users, and try hard to give them good advice to keep them in the hobby. After all, any successful hobbyist who keeps animals alive can be considered to be an investment that will continue to generate income for years to come.
As far as the standards listed above go, I don’t think that there’s anything there that the best marine retailers wouldn’t already be doing. It’s also worth noting that if you’re not paying attention to some of the above already, you may find that you’re actually in breach of the animal welfare act as it stands.
Additionally, there’s a good argument for including livestock suppliers in the scheme, both those that import and hold livestock as well as those that import directly. One of the major aims here is to demonstrate that we belong to an honest, ethical trade that is knowledgeable about the husbandry of the animals it deals in.
You may ask ‘What about the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC)?’ MAC has yet to make any impact at the retail end of the trade, and I for one am fed up with waiting, why don’t we do it ourselves? In fact with an organization such as the one that I’m proposing, any shop joining up would be at least 90% of the way towards complying with MAC certification requirements, so this could be considered a stepping-stone towards MAC accreditation.
Currently there is a move into the marine sector by retailers feeling the need to expand. Many of these have no previous knowledge of marines and could benefit from an organization that could offer guidance in the holding and husbandry of these sometimes difficult animals.
So what would a retailer get in return for all the effort of complying with the requirements of the proposed organization? If the scheme is properly publicized through the aquarium press it should encourage an awareness amongst fishkeepers that not all aquarium shops are run to the same standard. It will attract customers to you in the knowledge that the livestock you have to offer will be healthier and of a higher standard. Hopefully, for those who feel beleaguered by the online sales of aquarium equipment, it will also have the knock on effect of increasing your sales of dry goods. And, in the long run, may help keep us all in business by giving those against the keeping of live animals fewer reasons to criticize our industry.
If you find this concept to be of merit please contact me, either directly, or through PBW/Aquatic Trader. If sufficient retailers and importers are interested then perhaps together we could come up with a way of putting this all into practice, enhancing our industry both commercially and ethically.
Note my comments about MAC. Since this was published, MAC seems to have become a spent force and has contracted to the point where it is no longer viable.
Following on from my initial proposal I’ve been in contact with other likeminded individuals in other countries across Europe and, given the comparatively small size of our industry/hobby, it seemed sensible to join forces with them and work together.
At a time when increasing legislation seems inevitable within the EU it seems appropriate to move onto another level and look at the possibility of a European aquarium industry association. An association representing the European hobby and industry within Europe.
An Introduction to a Sustainable Aquarium Industry Association for Europe.
Following this brief introduction is an information sheet regarding the proposed new European marine aquarium industry organization, provisionally known as the Sustainable Aquarium Industry Association (SAIA). This is a consultation document inviting you to discuss your views with us to help bring about the formation of this body.
The aims of SAIA include:
(a) Conservation of the natural resources of the marine aquarium trade by using best sustainable practices in the handling, husbandry and transport of aquarium organisms as described in the organization’s Code of Best Practices.
(b) Representation of the European marine aquarium industry, at both EU and national governmental levels, on matters concerning legislation affecting the trade.
(c) Cooperation with the industry and projects/programs in supply countries, which are in compliance with criteria set by the association, to support sustainable collection and post-harvest handling as well as fair trade with producers in developing countries.
SAIA is looking for support and cooperation from all parties interested in the marine aquarium trade such as importers, wholesalers, retailers, hobbyists, breeders, public aquariums, governments and legislative bodies, environmental organizations, education, and science.
SAIA is currently seeking funding towards the establishment, promotion, and running of the organisation.
Founder members include Tim Hayes (marine aquarium writer/researcher, UK) and Christiane Schmidt (marine biologist, former MAC staff, Germany ).
Sustainable Aquarium Industry Association (SAIA)
NOTE: This information sheet lists ideas and suggestions by the initiators on the mission, goals, and services of a new European aquarium industry organization. We want to invite you to share and discuss your opinion and interests with us to design and form such body.
What we want to do:
The Sustainable Aquarium Industry Association (SAIA) members want to contribute to the conservation of natural resources of the aquarium trade by using best sustainable practices in the handling, husbandry and transport of aquarium organisms as described in the organization’s Code of Best Practices.
Moreover SAIA cooperates with the industry and projects/programs in supply countries, which are in compliance with criteria set by the association, to support sustainable collection and post-harvest handling as well as fair trade with producers in developing countries.
SAIA is actively seeking the support of and cooperation with stakeholders of the aquarium trade such as governments and legislative bodies, environmental and educational organizations and science.
- Code of best practices in handling, husbandry and transport of aquarium organisms for importers, wholesalers, retailers, breeders, aquarium maintenance companies and public aquariums in the EU, developed through the collaborative effort of the EU Industry and its stakeholders, to minimize the ecological footprint of the aquarium trade.
- Continual review and revision of the Code of Best Practices to ensure high standards in the care and welfare of aquarium organisms.
- Evaluation of membership applicants against the criteria of the Code of Best Practices by an elected committee of members to built a trustworthy label.
- Training materials on best practices for membership applicants and partners.
- List of organisms unsuitable for the aquarium trade based on experience and mortality data from the organization’s members.
- Organism Care Sheets for aquarium hobbyists based on recommendations of the industry.
- Representation of the EU aquarium industry during discussions of legislation of the trade with governments and legislative bodies.
- Partnership program with industry and projects / programs in supply countries to ensure sustainable supply and an ethical and fair trade with producers in developing countries.
- Development of sustainability criteria for partners in supply countries including Fair Trade program for producers in developing countries.
- Corporate Support Program for manufactures of aquarium supplies to contribute to a sustainable aquarium trade.
- Cooperation with consultants and science in the development of and research on best practices in handling, care, breeding, packing, transport of aquarium organisms
- Awareness raising regarding the aquarium industry, its contribution to the conservation of aquatic resources and how the trade can create an economic incentive for conservation among non-industry members and the general public
To register your interest as:
- Founder member, or
- Potential SAIA member, or
- Supporter, or
- Financier, or
- Partner Organization
Tim Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org for UK & Eire.
Christiane Schmidt email@example.com for rest of EU.
or go to the website: http://www.saia-online.eu/
Tim Hayes & Christiane Schmidt