ishy friends always ask me the same question - why don’t
I show my catfish? They always get the same answer –
albeit a rather long-winded and controversial one.....
If I buy a fish, it is probably wild caught and it will
have been taken from its native habitat and put into a
holding tank where it might have been kept for some time,
awaiting the completion of the shipment.
It might not have been fed for a while so that it didn’t
foul the bag it was to be shipped in and it might have
been hungry – perhaps even starving and emaciated.
It may well have been injured whilst being caught - its
barbels could have been damaged or missing – its
fins might have been torn and some of its spines could
have been broken.
It could have been jolted along in the back of a truck
down some jungle path to reach the air strip and the waiting
It would then probably have been transferred to a bigger
plane and possibly been subjected to all the associated
airport delays etc. and it had probably endured several
changes of temperature and its water might have been seriously
By the time it arrived in the UK it was probably
It then had at least two more water chemistry changes
as it went from wholesaler to retailer, before it even
got to my quarantine tank.
If that final move was not the last straw for it, I would
then have tried my best to get it to survive in the man-made
environment which I had created for it.
However, before any of this could happen, one had to consider
the finances. The air-freight cost for one box of fish
is quite a lot of money and the larger the fish, the fewer
of them are packed in a single poly-box. Whilst several
hundred Cardinal Tetras will be packed in a box, one fairly
large catfish would have to be shipped as a solitary individual
and now we’re talking serious £££s.
My husband is the breadwinner in our family, and I would
consequently have had to ask him in a fairly grovelling
sort of way, if I could blow the housekeeping allowance
yet again on this poor creature that was as thin as a
hat-rack and could easily have died within twenty-four
hours, but that cost a week’s wages.
I would naturally have done my homework and I would have
attempted to reproduce the water conditions prevailing
in whatever part of the lake or river system in whichever
part of the world that the web-sites and books tell me
are populated by this particular species.
I would have tried to replicate (in a very tiny way),
the type of ecosystem – current, substrate, rocks,
submerged roots, vegetation etc., which made this species
feel at home.
I would have tried to persuade it to eat a completely
different diet from that to which it was accustomed. Unfortunately,
there weren’t many people stationed permanently
along the Amazon and the Congo, throwing cockles, mussels,
tablets, granules, wafers and foodsticks to the indigenous
fish, in order to familiarise them with the alien menu
on offer in my tanks.
If I’d been lucky, and with a little help from that
good old standby, the earthworm, our hypothetical fish,
having overcome all the odds, would have come back from
death’s door and begun to eat.
Over a period of weeks or even months it would have started
to re-grow its bits that were damaged or broken and hopefully,
it would have finally started to settle down and put on
a bit of weight.
Does anyone in their right
mind really think, that after all that effort, I’m
going to catch it, transport it from one county to another,
put it on a show bench in a glass box with four clear
sides with no cover or hiding places for it to feel safe
and with large faces peering in and cameras flashing???
Suppose this theoretical show takes place in winter –
the heating in some community halls and similar places
is often appalling - am I supposed to feel relaxed and
comfortable throughout the day knowing that my fish is
getting colder and colder and more and more stressed as
time goes by?
At the end of the show the whole process of de-benching,
catching, bagging and transporting has to be done again
before I can get it back to its home tank wherein I’ve
just spent God knows how long, trying to get it acclimatized!
Oh no - I don’t think so,
that scenario is not for me, but you must remember that
this is purely my personal opinion. I’m neither
particularly sentimental nor soft-hearted, but I’ve
seen some pretty distressing sights at fish shows over
very many years. I’ve seen chilled fish, cramped
fish, scared fish, hypoxic fish that were gulping desperately
for air and, on some rare occasions I’ve seen dead
Responsible people bring
containers of water taken from their fish’s own
aquarium, in which to show their prized specimen, but
I’ve seen exhibitors filling their show tanks with
raw, chlorinated water brought from the toilets and mixed
to the correct temperature by using the hot and cold taps
– how much of a shock must that be to a fish that
only a few hours previously would have been living in
a tank full of mature, well filtered water?
On the other hand, the positive
thing about fish shows is the social side – the
meeting of like-minded people who enjoy talking about
their hobby. I realise that if there were no more shows,
the community side of fish keeping would suffer dreadfully
– it’s already suffered at the hands of the
internet with many clubs disbanding. Having an email conversation
through cyber-space with a group of colleagues on an internet
forum about the pros and cons of a certain fish is not
quite the same thing as meeting up and talking face to
I don’t decry those
who do show fish as long as it’s carried out in
a humane way, with consideration being given to the specific
habits and requirements of the individual species. I realise
that you can’t have caves and drainpipes in a show
tank – of course that wouldn’t be practical,
but I’d like to see at least two sides of the tank
blacked out, to give the exhibit some sort of sense of
security. But remember – these are purely my own
views, so please don’t let what I’ve said
stop you showing your fish.
All I ask is that you treat
your fish decently and accept the fact that they are living
creatures, not unfeeling, inanimate objects that are guaranteed
to give you a mantelpiece full of trophies, no matter