Is the overseas influence good for our hobby, or does it carry with it some baggage? Different practices from around the world could shift our UK ethics if we aren’t careful.
Image: Coming to a You Tube channel near you soon.
I never imagined I’d be referencing Immanuel Kant in a fishkeeping magazine, but in case you hadn’t noticed, these are bonkers times and frankly anything goes. I’m falling back on Kant because even though he’s old hat, he made a couple of good points on which we can base our own moral thinking. And specifically I think he’s a good tool for deciding how we should address the ever encroaching subject of live feeding.
The law and you
You’d imagine that the legal argument surrounding live feeding was done and dusted. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 contains many specific references to how pets must be protected from pain, suffering, injury or disease, and it even stipulates how animals must be kept away from other animals that may harm them, or cause them harm in return.
That seems pretty clear cut to me. Tossing a goldfish to a shoal of piranhas somewhat violates the first of those points, and it definitely contravenes the second.
But proponents of live feeding fall back on other references in the same section of the Act. The requirement for a suitable diet is one. But then there’s the real wildcard, at the bottom of the text, underscoring of all of the prior legal requirements: ‘Nothing in this section applies to the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner.’ Oh dear.
Historically, most UK aquarists have had a marked distaste for live feeding, considering it to be cruel and unnecessary. But then globalisation came along, courtesy of YouTube and social media. At the risk of broadly sterotyping other nations, not every culture shares our historic distaste. Many Americans have a cavalier attitude to life that permeates through their fishkeeping practices, while all bets are off when it comes to some other nations who are prone to going beyond feeding just live fish to predators, and drop mice and lizards in, before sharing videos of it online.
The problem here is exposure. Many aquarists today look to YouTube as a resource for nurturing their entry to the aquarium hobby. The more of this they see, the more it can normalise them to it.
The philosopher Kant created what he called the ‘categorical imperative’ and to butcher it slightly, the crux of this is that every person is their own moral agent, and must draw their morality from rational means. It is up to the individual to assess the evidence to hand before deciding how to act. Kant built it upon three maxims, one of which is universality — would your own actions be acceptable if everyone else in the world did the same all the time?
So I appeal to any newcomers who are considering live feeding to consider the following. Are fish capable of feeling pain and fear? The evidence suggests that many are. Follow that with another question. Is it morally right to subject creatures capable of pain and suffering to those sensations? Is it right to feed a goldfish to piranha?
How about live mice to cats? How about cats to a hungry and aggressive dog?
If you intend to live feed, ask yourself the following — it is right for everyone else to live feed sentient animals to other animals all of the time? If it is not, then you must further consider if you have a moral right to commit to this when others do not.
I suggest that you don’t, and in absence of clearly defined laws, it may be that moral frameworks are all we can turn to.
Nathan Hill is Practical Fishkeeping magazine’s editor, biotope fancier and aquascape dabbler, and the proud father of a lot of Julidochromis ornatus.