Accusations

On the first of October, a Brazilian newspaper article probably made the hearts of many killifish breeders miss a few beats. The Brazilian federal police, with the support of several institutions, did searches in several places after some 37 parcels with killifish eggs had been seized at five locations where they were sent from. The Federal Police claims to launch 12 police inquiries in the countries of destination of the mail orders (US, Germany, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Hungary, Russia, Ecuador, Czech Republic, China, Great Britain, Argentina and Scotland) to investigate the alleged smuggling and environmental crime. In the searches, several aquariums were found in the homes of some involved, containing hundreds of fish (the system looked really good by the way) and eggs.

These are the facts. Then there are the accusations. An aquarium staff member is accused of “biopirataria” and the recipients of the mail orders are claimed to be researchers and collectors. What that means is unclear. Whether these researchers research anything to do with killifish is unclear. I read this as an incrimination, without evidence that it has anything to add next to the fact that export legislation has not been followed and maintenance permits were not present. It seems destined to reinforce the claim of biopiracy, which is outrageous. I am certain the recipients have no other intentions than to breed and share their killifish further and that there is no transfer of public knowledge into private hands. If the involved researchers produce new knowledge based on their (illegal) material, the benefits will be open to all. That’s how it works. I don’t know of any industry interested in patenting or commercializing killifish species.

What I really dislike is that a killifish breeder and apparently “trader” is almost depicted as a drug producer and trafficker. I don’t want to dispute the relevance of nature protection laws at all but see little benefit in this whole operation next to pointing out that some phenomena are illegal. Illegal does not mean unethical. Disturbing is that there is no mention of what happened to the living material confiscated. Are the fish allowed to complete their life cycles, will the eggs develop and contribute to a next generation? Does their natural environment still exist, since the time when the ancestors of the eggs were captured? How many generations have been bred already by the enthusiast outlaws before these eggs were shared?

In replies and a poll circulating, the discourse is present that killifish have been regularly saved from a single or a few ponds where they occurred before these were destroyed. I propose that when natural habitat is destroyed in a country or destined to be destroyed soon, that from then on anyone can keep and trade the animals specific to that habitat freely. This is a principle, and I am not going to work out the legal consequences. The idea is just that when a state does not take it’s responsibility for a natural population or a species, that we still can if we want to.