I hear that lately you have been very active in the live fish industry.
Dr. Foster: Yes, both my aquaria director, Kevin Kohen, and I have been on the road. Since the first of the year we have visited four wholesalers/importers, an aquaculture leader, and attended the APPMA (America Pet Products Manufacturer Association) conference. The live aquatics industry is important to us and we intend to remain active and support the industry as best we can.
What is your focus?
Dr. Foster: Currently the live fish industry is in a transitional phase. I have an increased interest in the ethics and legalities concerning the harvesting, care, importation, and distribution of fish. The industry should unite and support organizations that are working toward standard practices that ensure the health of fish, reefs, and oceans. Of course, we shouldn't limit our ethical concerns to only marine life, but also focus on freshwater species as well. The well-being of aquatic life should be the primary concern of all hobbyists. As a veterinarian, it certainly is to me.
How can the process be improved?
Dr. Foster: First, when possible, it is important to continue focusing our efforts on fish collected from areas where drugs are not used. Unfortunately, all countries are not yet sophisticated in their collection methods and certain species are only found in areas that may use drugs such as cyanide. Hopefully, over time this will improve.
What is a "net-caught" fish?
Dr. Foster: Beware of this term. I have spoken to individuals who feel that a drugged fish scooped up with a net can be advertised as "net-caught." I do not agree. Strictly speaking, the term was to be used to describe a fish harvested without the aid of drugs. Until this is guaranteed, however, the term has little meaning.
How do consumers guarantee that their fish are not harvested with the aid of cyanide?
Dr. Foster: Remember that cyanide is only one possible drug to use; there are others. Currently there is no reliable way to determine if a fish has been previously drugged. Until reliable and accurate testing methods can be developed, there is absolutely no guarantee against such practices.
Fish should not be guaranteed as drug-free unless the fish is actually harvested by the person writing the guarantee, or unless reliable testing methods are used. As licensed, ethical veterinarians, consumers should trust that we only offer healthy, legal fish. From inception we have minimized the offering of fish that are collected in certain areas and have focused on fish from countries where drugs are not used. We avoid "cheap" fish and those that are sluggish or appear unhealthy.
How do you know if the fish you sell are properly harvested?
Dr. Foster: There is not always a way to be 100% certain. It is very important to deal only with wholesalers, importers, and collectors that share our same concerns. We actually pay a premium for our fish and when possible, purchase fish from areas of the world where drugs are not commonly used. These areas include Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Solomons, Cook, Christmas, Marshall, Tahiti, Australia, the Coral Sea, Mexico, Africa, the Dominican Republic, and New Caledonia to name a few. Furthermore, we fully support tank-bred species from the Tropical Marine Center(T.M.C.) in the UK, as well as ORA in Florida.
There has to be a level of trust between the consumer, seller, importer, exporter, collecting stations, and collectors. The same is true when purchasing a pure-bred dog or cat. Do you really know who a specific puppy's sire and dam is? If you did not personally witness the breeding and care of the dogs, then chances are, you do not. The same is true of fish. If you did not personally collect it, then you do not and will not know its true history. My suggestion would be to support companies that are making a concerted effort to ensure quality.
What does the future hold?
Dr. Foster: The hobby is growing both in terms of numbers and sophistication. Organizations like the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), the American Marinelife Dealers Association (AMDA), and the Coalition of Reef Lovers (CORL) are logical steps in the right direction. Aquaculture is also becoming a reality, at least in some species. I prefer aqua-cultured fish whenever possible. I would like to see the veterinary profession become more involved in this industry, just as we have. A share of the burden of improvement also rests on the hobbyist. They need to continue to educate themselves and others on the proper care of the aquarium. We have made a considerable investment in our catalogs and web sites to provide the most complete and up-to-date information available to aquarists.
All of us together can accomplish more than any one of us alone. As a licensed professional who has devoted a career to the health and care of animals, you have my word that I will continue to invest my time and resources to help ensure the continued success of this hobby. Frankly, I am excited about the hobby's future. With professional and proper leadership, it will remain a sustainable industry which we can all be proud to be a part of.