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  5. A Sanctuary’s Guide To Fish Advocacy And Care: Part 1

A Sanctuary’s Guide To Fish Advocacy And Care: Part 1

If you’re operating a farmed animal sanctuary, you likely provide care for a number of species such as chickens, pigs, cows, donkeys, ducks, llamas, as well as a number of others. However, fishes are not likely one of those species yet! Sadly, millions of fishes are farmed every year, experiencing many of the same exploitative practices that other farmed animal species experience. While we don’t want to encourage mission drift (see our resource on managing requests to take in species outside of your mission), we do want to use this resource to explore ways in which sanctuaries can potentially advocate for fishes. There are so many considerations that go into providing quality care to our fish friends. These considerations will vary quite drastically from the living space, diet, and healthcare needs of many other residents. While this might seem a monumental task, this resource hopes to serve as an introduction to the idea of providing sanctuary to farmed fishes. Can’t provide sanctuary? No problem! We will look at several ways your sanctuary can advocate for our fish friends outside of providing direct care.

Farmed Fishes

While we know you care about the plight and rescue of farmed animal species (You likely wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t!), you may not know a lot about farmed fish species and how you might become a more direct advocate for them. To start, let’s briefly address a couple of ways fishes are exploited through farming. The unfortunately primary one is for their flesh. However, fishes are also farmed through the “pet” trade. As in other forms of exploitive agriculture, fishes may be farmed in either indoor or outdoor systems. Fishes may be kept indoors in tanks or raceways, or outdoors in ponds, other open bodies of water, in cages, or mesh or netted pens or raceways. Fishes may be kept in different systems at different ages. As you can imagine, there are many different ways fishes are harmed in these systems. Fishes exploited in this way may experience many issues such as overcrowding, illness, injury, experiencing fear, pain, boredom, and stress.

So what can YOU do about the plight of farmed fishes?

What You Can Do

Advocacy for fishes can look many ways for sanctuaries. While some sanctuaries may feel prepared to take in rescued fishes, many won’t have the appropriate space, staff time or feel this care falls outside the scope of their mission- not that they think fishes aren’t important, but having a specific mission can help sanctuaries stay on track helping the species they feel confident they can provide the best care for.

Here are four ways a sanctuary can be an advocate for fishes. Hopefully one (or all!) of these avenues of advocacy for fishes might be a good fit for your sanctuary!

a graphic featuring a fish rescue van, a fish on social media, a fish in a tank, and a brochure.

Digital Advocacy

While bringing fishes into your sanctuary may not be a possibility, you can still help raise awareness about fishes exploited through farming on your social media pages and website. Fishes are often overlooked when humans consider farmed animal species. You can help raise awareness about the prevalence of fish farming and the many lives it affects each year. Sending out a post, sharing a story, or having a section or page on your site dedicated to fishes can help humans learn about these amazing individuals and how they are yet another species unfortunately exploited each year. Share posts about their lives or even share our fun facts about fishes infographic for an upbeat post. This may not feel like a lot, but sharing information can lead to folks around the world gaining awareness, and this awareness could possibly create a powerful impact for folks with regards to how they see and relate to fishes. It can inspire change for the good. If you feel like this is a way your sanctuary can participate in advocating for fishes, check out our resource on social media for your animal sanctuary.

Onsite Educational Opportunities

There are a number of ways you can educate others about fishes at your sanctuary, even if you currently do not have any resident fishes. Hosting a workshop, film screening, or kids’ camp are just a few ways your sanctuary can actively advocate for fishes onsite. If you provide sanctuary tours, include a blurb about fishes to raise awareness. If you want to learn more about providing tours, check out our resource “Fundamentals Of An Effective Animal Sanctuary Tour Program”!

Whether you have a consistent tour program or just receive the occasional community member, having educational materials available can go a long way. Brochures, fun facts handouts, and educational posters are all good options. Some sanctuaries have educational tools promoting a plant-based diet and include examples of tasty, easily accessible (and delicious) plant-based fare. This can assist humans who are interesting in moving to a plant-based diet. You can provide lists of alternatives like this one here

If you have an education program or would like to learn more about educational programming for your sanctuary, visit these resources:

Sanctuary Educational Programming: What Are Your Options?

Fostering Empathy Towards Farmed Animals

Communicating With Youth About Animal Exploitation

Help A Rescue Or Sanctuary 

While you may not be equipped to provide sanctuary to fishes, you can still provide support to sanctuaries that do. Foster a positive relationship with other sanctuaries and reach out to let them know you wish to help in some capacity. Share transport resources and create transport chains. Many sanctuaries are lucky enough to have volunteers who are willing to help with the transport of animals in need. When sanctuaries network these transport volunteers together, they can often create transport chains that expand their reach to help support animals in need far beyond what they might be able to ordinarily accomplish alone. You can also connect sanctuaries with potential adopters.

Get involved and support community initiatives. If there are community events, educational opportunities, legislative actions, or other campaigns being led by a rescue or sanctuary caring for fishes, support it! Get involved. We are stronger together! 

Provide Sanctuary For Fishes

Lastly, if you feel your sanctuary is ready to consider providing care for resident fishes, this will require a lot of preparation and, of course, commitment.  As with every resident you take in, you are making a promise to provide them with appropriate housing, diet, medical care, social opportunities, and positive environments and experiences. Different species of fishes have varying lifespans, and like others from exploitive farming, they may have physical or mental health challenges that require specialized care. Some farmed fishes, like salmon, have actually been genetically engineered to grow rapidly, often causing health issues that will need to be addressed. There may be fishes that were farmed to be “pets” that are ill and require specialized veterinary knowledge. When discussing the possibility of taking in fishes with your board and care staff, it is important they understand the commitment required before making any decisions. Consider what will go into taking in fish residents and educate yourself on these topics:

  • Daily care 
  • Diet
  • Setting up an aquarium or pond
  • Water quality 
  • Aquarium or pond maintenance 
  • Breeding prevention
  • Health considerations
  • Safe transport
  • Costs
  • Zoning
  • Equipment
  • Species-specific needs (For instance, trouts will have different needs than bettas!)

Each of these points involves a lot of preparation. Research all you can about the species you are taking in, how to set up and maintain appropriate livings spaces, associated costs, necessary equipment, how to test and maintain water quality, and, well, everything!

Your board and care staff should be made aware consulted when considering opening up your sanctuary to new species. Some questions to discuss include:

  • What species of fishes will we take in? 
  • Will we take in species specifically rescued from farming situations, or also from individuals?
  • Will we take in saltwater or freshwater fishes, or both?
  • Is there an aquatic vet that can provide medical care for them? 
  • Are we equipped to provide them with appropriate living spaces?
  • What are the costs associated with providing lifetime care to the species and individuals we take in?
    • Is this an amount we are confident we can spend without negatively impacting finances in other areas?
  • Do we have any staff members with experience caring for fishes?
  • Will we provide educational opportunities for care staff to gain a solid foundation in their care?
  • Do care staff feel they have enough time to provide quality care to new resident fishes without diminishing the care they can provide to other residents?
  • Will this negatively impact the quality of life of caregivers? (i.e. Will this increase the load on an already taxed care staff?)
  • Are there any zoning restrictions that might prevent us from providing care to fishes?

For a list of other questions to consider before making a decision on bringing in new residents, check out this resource. This may seem overwhelming, and you may decide your sanctuary isn’t ready and that’s okay! However, it’s also important to know that direct fish care is possible, and is currently happening!

A Sanctuary’s Guide To Caring For Fishes: Considerations

In the to-be-released second part of this resource, we will delve deeper into a practical guide to preparing your sanctuary to take in fishes and provide them with the best possible care. This upcoming resource will act as a guide to providing direct care at your sanctuary, breaking this monumental task into manageable ideas and steps to help your sanctuary become a haven for these often overlooked farmed species. Below we have provided a brief outline of what the guide in part 2 will cover and a description of both what these sections entail and why they are important to consider.

Appropriate Living Spaces

Since you can’t care for anyone until you have an appropriate living space for them, we will start there. Living spaces for fish residents will differ wildly from those of other species you care for and will require some serious preparation in order to ensure their living space is stable (think water quality!), dynamic, and appropriate for species-specific and individual needs. Depending on the species and the climate, available space, zoning laws, and individual needs of the resident, you will need to consider whether they will have an indoor living space, an outdoor living space, or both! In outdoor living spaces, you will need to ensure proper predator proofing, protection from the elements, and address water quality issues. In either case, you will need to familiarize yourself with nitrogen cycles and the steps necessary to ensure the living space remains a space in which fish residents can thrive. Aquatic living spaces require specialized knowledge to maintain a healthy balance and staff must have a thorough understanding of how to test the water, clean and maintain filters, and safely change water without causing harm. Additionally, whenever setting up a living space for new residents, coming from a perspective of animal-centered design can help you ensure the space makes sense for them as a species. It can be helpful to take a step back and consider what the resident species need and may find engaging and comfortable in a living environment outside of what humans have created for them in the past. Part of creating a healthy and comfortable living space is understanding capacity and ensuring residents don’t feel overcrowded. 

Daily Care

Daily care involves everything from a healthy diet to resident observations, basic health checks, breeding prevention strategies, and enrichment. Each of these areas of daily care requires specialized knowledge of the species and individuals you are caring for. Consider these example questions:

  • How does a healthy koi resident look? 
  • How does a sick trout resident behave? 
  • Can I feed Lonnie the goldfish any vegetable treats?
  • Does the species in consideration bear live offspring or do they lay eggs? 
  • How do you tell the difference between male and female residents?
  • Does this species naturally like to hide, explore, or socialize? How about the individual?
  • What does enrichment look like for fishes?

As you can see, there are many facets of daily care that will vary, often significantly, between species. To provide the best care to resident fishes, it is vital you have a solid understanding of what quality daily care looks like. 

Healthcare 

Many of you may have already experienced the frustration of finding an experienced veterinarian to provide compassionate care for many of the residents at your sanctuary. It can be equally challenging to find aquatic veterinarians in your area that can provide medical care for fish residents. Research any aquatic and exotic veterinarians in your area and call them, explain what you are looking for in terms of care and what species you are planning on caring for. You can discuss whether they can provide care or if they have recommendations for another vet who might have the prerequisite experience. Have them teach you the proper way to conduct a health exam for incoming fish residents. 

In addition to finding and building a relationship with an aquatic veterinarian, it is also important to familiarize yourself with the anatomy and physiology of fishes, specifically the species you plan to care for, learn about what is normal for them as a species, and identify indicators of injury or illness. Consider these example questions:

  • Are there any common illnesses they experience as a species? 
  • What are the signs and symptoms? 
  • What is normal behavior for tilapia? Bettas?
  • What is normal for Norma and Gilly as individuals?
  • Are there medications or equipment I should have on hand in case of illness or injury?
  • What do I do if….?

Being able to quickly identify a health issue can be a matter of life or death. Talk with your aquatic veterinarian about common illnesses and injuries to be aware of and how to respond in cases of emergency. 

Transport

Just like with other residents, transport can be an extremely stressful time for fishes. Understanding the best techniques to safely transport fishes while limiting stressors is incredibly important for their physical and mental wellbeing. Consider these questions:

  • What is the appropriate transport carrier for safe travel for the species in question?
  • Are there any individual considerations of health and comfort?
  • What is the best strategy for long-distance travel versus short-distance?
  • How can we minimize stress?
  • How long is it safe for an individual(s) to remain in a travel carrier?
  • How do I prevent upsetting the temporary living space?

Knowing the answers to these questions and more with help ensure incoming fish residents arrive safe and sound and future trips to the veterinarian are as safe as possible for ill and injured residents. 

Equipment And Financial Considerations

Caring for fishes will require a number of cleaning tools, tests for water quality, filtration-related equipment, as well as foods, medications, and enrichment items. These items, the cost of healthcare, and setting up dynamic living spaces all add up in the end. Identifying the costs and writing up and approving a budget ahead of time will help ensure you can provide quality care without harming the quality of care your other residents receive or ending up in a situation where you can’t cover the cost during health emergencies. In addition to this being an incredibly stressful situation, it can ultimately prevent you from accessing the resources required for keeping fish residents healthy and happy. 

  • What equipment will I need to ensure residents have a safe and comfortable living space?
  • How much do aquariums cost?
  • How much does it cost to build a pond?
  • How much do visits to the veterinarian cost?
  • What medication and healthcare items should I have on hand and how much do they cost?
  • How much does the provision of a healthy diet cost monthly? Annually?

While this doesn’t cover specifics, it will hopefully get you thinking about the financial considerations which may surprise you!

Species-Specific Considerations

While there are some considerations that can be generalized, it is important to understand that there can be vast differences in care requirements between species. Saltwater fishes have different needs than freshwater fishes. Betta fishes have different social structures than koi or catfish. Fishes raised for their flesh may have specific health issues that vary from fishes farmed for their use as “pets”. What about other aquatic species? Might you consider taking in snails? Shrimps? If so, they will have particular needs as well. There isn’t a “one size fits all” living space or diet. It is important to take species into consideration when considering each of the topics above. This is why it can also be helpful to research and decide ahead of time what species you feel you can provide the best possible care for.

While this is just the tip of the iceberg, we hope that this provides you with some necessary information to consider while we develop part 2, which will go into depth on care topics and how to prepare your sanctuary for fish residents. 

Already providing sanctuary for fishes? Please let us know and tell us what has worked (or not) for you!

SOURCES:

10 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy Farmed Fish | Animals Australia

Common Farming Methods | Today’s Farmed Fish (Non-Compassionate Source)

Spider Goats And Popeye Pigs | American Anti-Vivisection Society

Updated on December 2, 2021

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