5 March 2015

OATA has written to MEP Catherine Bearder to challenge remarks she made about the ornamental fish industry at a European Union press conference yesterday.

She was launching a cross-party MEPs for Wildlife Group which aims to put the fight against wildlife crime at the top of the EU’s agenda. But during the press conference she singled out the ornamental fish industry for opprobrium because it catches fish from the wild, inferring that criminal activity was involved.

“A huge industry in the pet trade is fish – just taken from the wild. Very many of those are endangered and protected species. So there is criminal activity there,” said the Liberal Democrat MEP for South East, who was sharing a platform with other MEPs and the Born Free Foundation.

As soon as he had viewed the press conference on YouTube, OATA Chief Executive Keith Davenport wrote to the MEP, asking for evidence to back up her remarks and inviting her to visit traders in her constituency to see the real picture.

“Catherine Bearder is an experienced politician so it’s extremely concerning and disappointing to hear these kinds of remarks – which are just plain wrong. It’s a real shame that such shocking throwaway remarks should mar such an important issue but we couldn’t stand by and let those untruthful aspersions to our industry pass unchallenged.

“We welcome what Catherine was launching – it’s a very important initiative which we look forward to engaging with fully. We stand against the trafficker and resent any phrase or set of words that insinuates our legal activities are in any way comparable to the criminal activity of wildlife trafficking.

“There are 79.7 million tonnes of wild fish caught globally every year of which 6.38 million tonnes are thrown back as discards. Just 150 tonnes of ornamental fish are caught a year – to be kept alive for the home aquarium industry. That’s not a huge industry. Our industry is covered by CITES with shipments coming into this country through UK airports where border inspection posts check paperwork. To smear honest importers like this is very concerning.

“And let’s not forget the people who catch those fish. Catching live fish for home tanks – rather than dead fish for the plate – earns them substantially more, which means they have to catch less. And if that source of income is taken away – what are the alternative industries for feeding their family? There are people behind this honest trade and they need our help as much as the wildlife.

“Unfortunately, it’s these kinds of remarks which again highlight why we launched the Hands Off My Hobby campaign. Politicians need to understand it’s not a ‘bad’ thing to keep exotic species like fish despite what animal campaign groups like Born Free Foundation may say.”

The press conference can be viewed below (remarks of interest around 14.25)

Keith’s reply can be found here.