Even in the days of the internet, the average American-based hobbyist seldom looks outside our country’s borders to see what’s going on in the world. We too are guilty of having blinders on from time to time. There’s been a lot of ongoing press about sustainability and what can happen if we get it wrong over the past months and years, but mostly we’ve focused on American-based problems and solutions.
Well, if you were a potential hobbyist in India right now, the thought of a marine aquarium might be impossible. We stumbled across some very interesting documentation from June 2010 by Tim Hayes on efforts earlier this year undertaken by the Indian Government to regulate the aquarium trade. While it is unclear whether these are “draft rules” being proposed or in fact, as Mr. Hayes suggests, actual rules being enacted, the rules and their effects are mind-numbing. If you thought HR669 was crazy, imagine practicing our hobby under the restrictions of the Indian Minestry of Environment & Forests Aquarium Fish Breeding and Marketing Rules (the “url” says draft, but nothing else suggests that these aren’t rules actually being enforced). This massive document pretty much bans the entire marine aquarium hobby. In fact, Appendix B lists the only fish generally allowed to be sold and not a single marine specimen is on this list.
This list of Appendix B includes the following – Goldfish, Freshwater Angelfish, Mollies, Guppies, Platies, Swordtails, 18 species of Tetras, three species of African Rift Lake Cichlids, Uaru, Discus, and German Blue Rams, 17 varieties of South and Central American Cichlids and their hybrids (but only if bred in India?), 12 varieties of Anabantoids (Gouramis – you can’t even keep a betta?), seven varieties of barbs, and Black Ghost Knifefish. We chose the term variety over species in some cases, because often times there are pages of individual varieties (i.e. Green Cobra Guppy vs. Red Delta Guppy) being split out as if they are somehow different species and merit their own line items. In truth, it’s to make what is a paltry amount of variety look somehow less insulting. Only three species of Malawian Cichlids? What’s wrong with the other 1500+ species and countless geographic variants and races?
If I read these rules right, anything not listed in Appendix B is prohibited without special permissions from the government, even if someone is fully licensed under the general requirements of these rules. Item III.i.9 flat out bans the keeping and selling of corals…end of story. Further puzzling is a separate table of banned marine aquarium fish (presumably by being on this banned list it means you couldn’t offer, keep or breed these species even with the “special permissions” of the government). Appendix A as it is known in the document bans countless species. Some will not come as a major shock, such as various corallivore Butterflyfish species. However, it appears there is no thought process or actual understanding behind this banned species list. For example, only 2 Batfish species are banned. Last time I checked, they all grow to be “too big” for the home aquarium. Another “shocker” for me was to see Premnas biaculeatus (the Maroon Clownfish) and Amphiprion ephippium (the Fire or Red Saddled Clownfish) on the banned list, yet these species of clownfish are routinely produced in hatcheries around the world?
If these rules are actually currently being enforced in India, not only the marine aquarium hobby, but in fact the aquarium hobby as a whole (at least any hobby resembling the scope and diveristy of the American, European or Eastern Asian hobby) was just made an impossible dream for about a billion people. It is truly startling to see the shoddy, uninformed nature of these rules, appearing to come from someone working with no actual knowledge of the aquarium trade and hobby. Understand that these rules, whether draft or enacted, are yet another example of how things could go for our hobby and industry if/when we do not self regulate and improve, nor take a vested interest in the legislation that impacts us. Sadly, a lot of the rules and regulations in this document do make sense, but when we start making lists and banning species without any real understanding, we wind up with an entire hobby all but completely outlawed.