To Show or Not to Show?

by Daphne Layley

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.....


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. It could have been jolted along in the back of a truck down some jungle path to reach the air strip and the waiting aircraft.

5. 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 chilled.

6. By the time it arrived in the UK it was probably very stressed.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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???

17. 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?

18. 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 fish.

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 face!

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 the cost.

Daphne Layley


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