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Industry Avoids Certain Extinction

The Indian ornamental aquatic sector gets a reprieve as authorities reverse last May’s ruling.


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The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has reversed its decision made last May to “revolutionize” the nation’s ornamental aquatic sector in a way that would have led to its collapse. Last year, the ministry issued a notification titled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animal Shop) Rules 2017. The new law set out conditions and requirements that would have made it quite impossible to run an aquatic business at all.

To recap, conditions included that no aquarium shall keep, house or display “(b) any species listed in the Second Schedule.” The schedule in question lists some 150 marine species by name, as well as “all cleaner (labroids and other species) wrasses,” no seahorses of any species, Chromis, damsels (Chromis, Pseudochromis), some species of clownfish, including the maroon clownfish (Premnas aculeatus), all octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus species, and so on.

Other highlights of the legislation included:

• “Every aquarium shall … prepare a collection plan indicating names of species and maximum number of fish tank animals of each species proposed to be kept, housed or displayed in the aquarium … .”

• “Every aquarium [shall] … provide a naturalistic environment for the fish tank animals.”

• “Every aquarium … shall be closed at least one day in a week.”

• “Every aquarium … shall have on display appropriate signage discouraging visitors from approaching the fish tanks at close proximity.”

• “Every aquarium shall have a fisheries veterinarian or a fisheries expert employed full time … .”

In the September 2017 installment of this column, I also provided links to the full text of the notification, and to a rather misguided article that appears to have had a considerable influence on the proceedings.

Regular readers of this column will be aware that I frequently refer to the value of, and need for, common sense in matters relating to legislation, as well as of my frustration when this valuable and essential criterion is swept aside without rhyme or reason. Consequently, it is with considerable pleasure that I can report that common sense has prevailed. However, let us not kid ourselves that this turnaround has come about because government ministers have had the good sense to reflect on their earlier decision without any prompting—far from it.

The fact is that, as soon as the original notification was issued last May, both India’s national trade sector and the international ornamental aquatic community were mobilized in a global effort to attempt to get the unjust and unwarranted requirements of the new law reversed or, at least, reviewed and revised. So the decision didn’t just happen; it was prompted by such a widespread outcry that the authorities had little option but to reconsider their earlier decision.

I would also like to highlight another thing that probably influenced the latest U-turn. In referring to the registration fee of RS 5,000 that each trader had to pay, Patit Paban Haldar, a member of the West Bengal Ornamental Fish Association, had this to say: “Many ornamental fish traders live below the poverty line—they cannot afford to register or maintain the strict standards which are unrealistic in their circumstances.”

Therefore, even if all the other requirements of the notification had been reasonable and acceptable, which they were not, the mere fact that a significant number of traders would not have been able to afford the registration fee, with or without the added economic burden presented by the numerous other demands, would have meant the closure of an important part of the sector, with all the accompanying social and economic problems that this would present for many local communities.

Then, of course, even those who could have managed the fee would have had many other demands to comply with. One of these was the banning of bowls and tanks holding less than 4.55 liters of water for every inch of fish. The implications of this ruling would have been unbearable for many traders who would have had to dispose of all those tanks that didn’t meet this criterion and incur the replacement expenses that this would involve.

The fact is that not all fish require the same volume of water per inch. As I asked in my original article: “Is one inch of guppy the same as one inch of pleco?” The problem for those involved in marine fish and invertebrates would, obviously, have been even more serious. So, even traders who could have afforded the registration fee could have been driven out of business.

I am just scratching the surface here, of course, as many other factors will have influenced the new decision, not just these. Particularly influential will have undoubtedly been the representations from official agencies, such as various state governments to central government.

At the end of the day, though, the important thing is that the Indian ornamental aquatic sector has been brought back from the brink of extinction. We must therefore commend the Indian Central Government for having the courage to listen and take this major step. Let’s not forget, however, that those concerned are still the same people who bowed to antitrade pressure and proceeded with the ban without consulting anyone other than the antitrade campaigners. Could they therefore change their mind again if a new antitrade attack were to be launched? Let’s hope not.

John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the new trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.

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