Monday, May 18, 2009

Blacklist to Create Blackmarket for Fish Hobbyists

Strolling into an aquarium filled with colourful exotic fish on a lazy Sunday morning is a common childhood memory, and yet soon the quiet bubbling of a fish tank in the living-room corner will be no more.

That is if pending government legislation succeeds in banning the sale and collection of selected ornamental fish species deemed pests, not pets, in the coming weeks.

The dumping of ornamental fish into natural waterways has posed a significant threat to native wildlife for some time.

In 2006, the National Resource Management Ministerial Council endorsed a national strategy that sought to resolve this ongoing concern by creating a national ‘noxious’ list.

On this list, compiled by the Ornamental Fish Management Implementation Group (OFMIG), any species proven to be of ‘high risk’ to Australia’s biodiversity will be made illegal to keep or sell.

In their November report, OFMIG concluded that the 780 revised additions to the national noxious list are unlikely to be of direct importance to the trade and hobby sectors.

Hobbyist societies and pet industry representatives are not of the same opinion, and many have lashed out at government departments, burying ministers with objections to the proposed legislation.

No one has felt the impact so acutely as hobbyist and retailer Norm Halliwell who, over the past 25 years, has been a fierce representative of the aquarium industry and in constant dialogue with both state and federal agencies.

The Riverside Aquariums owner was present at OFMIG stakeholder workshops held earlier this year and feels fish hobbyists’ pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“Pending legislation is set to make honest men criminals overnight and decimate the $350 million a year industry,” he said.

“If the government get their way and make it illegal to sell or even keep certain species, the fish hobby would cease to exist; no one could continue to breed and sell species because there will be none left to trade.”

Fellow hobbyist and retailer Anthony Ramsey is of a similar opinion. Mr Ramsey believes fish species should only be put on the noxious list if they are scientifically proven to be harmful.

“It would be sad and disappointing to see our bread and butter species taken away by silly hypothetical declarations made by bureaucratic departments,” he said.

“Species at risk hold both intrinsic and monetary value; they are at the heart of hobbyist’s collections but are also the economic mainstay of many aquarium retailers who have tens of thousands of dollars worth of fish in their collections- all of which could be wiped out overnight.”

If arbitrary decisions are made and enforcement procedures continue to be lax, Mr Ramsey believes legislation will only drive the trade to an underground market.

“Just like when the government banned alcohol, fish keeping is no different: the new bans will change people being able to walk into retailers and buy fish, instead they will be walking through back doors and into people's garages,” he said.

“Endangered species such as eels and piranhas are already being traded on open public forums like, these laws will only drive more of the legitimate economy into a black market.”

The Department of Primary Industries declined to comment about the proposed extension of the national noxious list, stating the government will be available for public comment within the next few weeks once legislation has gone through the parliamentary process.

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