A recently announced new form of livestock guarantee, a “Livestock Insurance Program” from a local fish store caught my attention as a unique and different approach to the common practice of most livestock warranties. In this scheme, a customer pays a certain percentage over the normal retail cost of the fish or coral, and is fully covered if it dies for any reason within a certain time period. Sounds like a great idea, right? A total win for the consumer.
If you’re concerned about the loss of a fish and your hard-earned cash, you can protect yourself. If you are trying to keep something known to be difficult or touchy, you can buy insurance. This Livestock Insurance Program also provides peace of mind for the new hobbyist who’s heard that marine aquariums are tough and marine fish can die without warning without discernible cause. From what I’ve read, it sounds like it’s been good for business at the local shop too but here’s the problem.
This notion of a “no questions asked” policy sends a terrible message about our perceived value of the livestock we are keeping. It suggests that marine livestock, corals and fish, be simply viewed as disposable, replaceable merchandise. I’m afraid this adds fuel to the fire of industry critics who are all too eager to say that the hobby we enjoy is inhumane and indifferent towards mortality of wild animals that we harvest from the ocean to put in “glass boxes”. Of course, the problems isn’t only outside critics who will be giddy to point to this policy as an example of why we shouldn’t be allowed to keep aquariums.
It’s also the new hobbyist who is sent a very strong message – “it’s OK to be irresponsible with your livestock”. Just pay more, and you’re covered, “no questions asked”. Did you buy a Jawfish and have an open top tank, only to find fish jerky 2 days later? You’re covered. Threw 20 Green Chromis into a brand new 10 gallon reef tank and they all died, gasping at the surface? Our bad, here’s 20 more. Anthias bitten in half by your 8″ Clown Triggerfish? Here, maybe this next one will swim faster so he’s not munched. Put that Acropora colony in a shady spot did you? Oh yeah, those need light…I suppose it *could* work with a 15 watt fluorescent strip light, so here, try again. That Bubble Tip Anemone got shredded by a powerhead you say? Well, we’ve heard you can propagate them this way, maybe you should try again with this one – you might get babies! Top off your tank’s evaporation with saltwater? Oops! No worries, no one will ever know when you bring home that second Emperor Angel…it’ll be your little secret.
While all hypothetical scenarios, how many of you just realized that any of them could actually be played out under this “don’t ask, don’t tell” livestock insurance plan. Of course when digging deeper into the policies, there was very little mention in the way of water quality testing (it’s nice, but not necessary), counseling on the proper way to run your tank or pick tankmates, or trouble shooting the actual problems. I’m hesitant to be overly critical or name the store in question, largely because I don’t know how they conduct their business on a daily, face-to-face basis. The do reserve the right to refuse to sell insurance to someone, but the grounds for that aren’t laid out. Maybe they do a great job of screening customers and purchases, so maybe this all works.
But in the context of a faceless internet-based business, it’s cause for concern. For the people who scour the internet looking for bad examples of our hobby and industry, it’s a jackpot. What I’d hope to see, and what I would be doing if this was my store, would be requiring pre-screening (like a real insurance policy) of water quality parameters including Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, pH, Salinity, and for inverts and corals, possibly Alkalinity too, maybe even Calcium levels if I was really a stickler. I’d also be thoroughly interviewing my customers to make sure their fish are compatible and their tanks are proper, so we can avoid adding Green Chromis into a 20 gallon tank with a 6″ Miniatus Grouper (then again, another LFS I know of did that in their for-sale tanks – not every LFS is deserving of our support, only the good ones).
It will continue to be a struggle between the customer and the retailer to determine who is responsible for the loss of newly purchased livestock. Certain online businesses thrive on their strong guarantees, lacking all these aforementioned screenings, but we wonder if these businesses are taken advantage of by irresponsible hobbyists, or if the majority of hobbyists don’t abuse the system. Of course, these retailers also have such a strong reputation for quality to begin with that I find it hard to believe that many claims are made at all.
Still, any guarantee that takes the responsibility of proper care completely off the hobbyist is a very bad thing, condoning irresponsible behavior on the part of the consumer as acceptable. Hobbyists should know better too – when a store offers a free water screening before a purchase, you are 100% at fault if you purchase livestock blindly.
When it comes to insurance on a fish or coral, we’re not talking about protecting a mobile phone from being dropped in the toilet, or a car parked on the street getting hit. We’re talking about a living animal. So while the concept of a Livestock Insurance Policy is a very interesting idea, I believe the recent example I came cross could use a bit of improvement to ensure that it doesn’t send the wrong message.