NANFA-- Snakeheads- Addendum & Afterthoughts: Why Not Natives?

Jeffrey Fullerton (
Wed, 17 Dec 2003 02:43:11 -0500

In my haste to respond I did not notice that Dave already treated the
ability of turtles to survive without a breath of air for months on end.

Oh well.

Even if you don't like them or have no interest in keeping them you have
to admit what amazing creatures these snakeheads are.
As for the issue of keeping them or anything for that matter- it's kinda
like the contraversey surrounding the debate over the Second Amendment-
the Right to keep and bear arms. Having an exotic species is not unlike
owning a firearm- an individual has the potential to do alot of damage
in the fashion of a loose cannon. Someone can go out and kill a whole
bunch of people or they can release an invasive species that could upset
local ecosystems with far reaching economic consequences and
consequences for human health as well.

In a free society where people are allowed to own firearms we are pretty
much at the mercy of our neighbors- our survival contingent upon our
mutual good will. The handling of snakeheads and other captive creatures
is really a personal responsibility issue just like the handling of a
firearm but maybe even more difficult to resolve and blanket bans on
some species seem logical simply because the consequences of a mishap
can be far reaching- the possibility of damage beyond what any
individual could provide restitution for.
On the other hand it is impossible to eliminate every possible threat
that the chaotic nature of life can throw at us. No matter how hard we
try, and how many laws we pass. Heck they can't even keep drugs out of
our prisons let alone out of the country so there's always going to be
the possibility of someone having something they're not supposed to

In regard to unintended consequences brought up by Ray- I wonder -indeed
I believe that the possibility of getting in trouble with the Law
motivated quite a few people to dump their snakeheads after these
blanket provisions went into effect. I also believe that restrictive
laws on native species has increased the appeal of owning exotic
species. Raymond Hoser mentioned this in his book "Smuggled" in regard
to Australian laws restricting access to native herps and birds
encouraging people to bring non-indigenous species into the country. As
a matter of fact it's a big part of the reason why I got into herps that
are not indigenous to Pennsylvania- why put up with a possession limit
of two per species and total prohibition on commercial trade of Eastern
Box Turtles when you can have as many Gulf-coast or 3-Toed as you want
and sell the progeny without fear? (at least until the Salmonella Police
decided to crack down!)

If the authorities were really smart, they might rethink their stance on
native species and even protected ones- esp those that have potential
commercial value and can be profitably bred in captivity.
The DNRs could encourage people to keep Bowfins in place of snakeheads-
indeed I can still quote from the Pet Library Series book "Enjoy Keeping
Native Fishes" (my first aquarium oriented native fish book BTW) "If you
think a snakehead is odd; have you ever seen a bowfin"? In much of the
USA the release of a bowfin would not entail the serious consequences of
a snakehead- beyond the potential of disease transmission between tank
and the wild which still makes it a personal responsibility issue. Still
maybe not even as threatening as what many state fish and game
departments are already doing with stocking programs for recreational

What about acountability there?

I think NANFA and a good many aquarium hobby oriented clubs and
organizations have excellent ethics regarding the responsible keeping
and disposition of aquarium fishes

So if we want to discourage ownership of potentially invasive and
injurious exotics; we ought to promote the virtues of our native
species. Esp the common and easy to keep species. And why not let
hobbyists have rare pupfishes and darters if they are easy to breed and
zoos and public aquaria start producing lots of surplus offspring? I
could not imagine Blackbanded Sunfishes or Rush Darters or Devil's Hole
Pupfish becoming an ecological menace anywhere.
I could see the experts worrying about commercial demand on some of
these species but most of them could produce tons of progeny from just a
very small captive population (they're fish for Godsake! they lay
hundreds of eggs!). You could mass produce quite a few in very short
time if the demand was strong. In the long run they probably would not
have that much appeal except to really dedicated hobbyists- mainly
because there are alot of other fishes- even natives with less demanding
live food and environmental requirements. Keeping Blackbandeds in a tank
over the long term and breeding them generation after generation takes
alot of dedication. I took the easy way out and put them in an outside
pond and let establish a self sustaining population that subsisted off
the resident invertebrate fauna!

Most people would get tired of messing with them unless they had the
pond or large colony tank option. Pupfishes would be easier but still
only a really dedicated core of enthusiasts would likely bother with
them- and that would still probably be enough- esp if some of the
private pond rearing initiatives mentioned on a previous thread are
allowed. If natives become a more popular alternative to exotics- it
will likely be stuff like Longear Sunfishes, Southern Redbelly Dace and
various species of Fundulus killies that are all very interesting and
colorful as well as hardy and easy to accomodate on commercial fish
diets. Maybe some of the more colorful common darter species- which
would be a specialty fish for more dedicated hobbyists.

And Pickerel, Gar and Bowfins for the macho enthusiast who like to watch
big and voracious predatory species bolt down bags of feeder fish!

I've had a passing interest in exotic fishes thru the years but usually
they might even be considered native or quasi native. For a while I
liked Texas Cichlids which come from the USA and I am currently keeping
Rivulus tenuis which are from Mexico and Central America- technically
still North America- but mostly I perfer natives.
And lately I must confess that my tastes are shifting back toward things
that are easier to obtain and maintain. I still like the quasi exotics
like Starhead topminnows and Sailfin Shiners but if my choices were more
severely limited as they were before I got into NANFA and started
traveling and trading- I'd still have Pumpkinseeds and Banded Killies in
my ponds over Goldfish any day!

Blacknosed Dace from good old Greenlick aren't so bad either!

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