If you’ve viewed the FAQ page on the blog, you know why I choose to keep dwarf cichlids, specifically Africans. One reason that I haven’t listed has to do with ethics. Yes, there is a fair argument that keeping any animal, domesticated or undomesticated, is unethical.
One of the greatest ethical problems associated with human confinement of animals, for any reason, is space or rather lack of appropriate space. I won’t get into all of the areas this issue impacts (e.g., entertainment, research, food supply) other than to acknowledge the issue exists.
Providing adequate space for any animal is somewhat objective because it’s unclear who gets to define “adequate.” Science has certainly provided guidelines, depending on the nature of the confinement. However, what is really adequate?
I think stating that big fish should be provided more space than small fish in an aquarium is common sense. However, exactly how much space any captive fish “should” have is just as debatable as “adequate”.
I have heard all kinds of suggestions and “rules” about tank size requirements for aquarium fish, e.g., one inch of fish per ten gallons of water. That particular “rule” is a bit misleading. Any size tank, measures by volume, could be a vertical tank where the footprint (length and width) is dwarfed by the height (water depth) of the tank. By that normal length-of-fish-per-gallon rule, a 10″ fish is okay in a typical 100g tank (60″ x 18″ x 20″). I don’t believe that is appropriate and wouldn’t do it, unless it was a shallow tank and close to 8′ or 9′ long. So how about a 3″ fish in a 20g long? That would tend to violate the above rule also but not as egregiously as a 10″ fish in a 100g tank, in my opinion.
In my opinion, the best plan is to give a fish adequate space to swim horizontally and to turn around comfortably (yes, I am anthropomorphizing but ethics are a humanistic creation), so the footprint is more important. Yes there are exceptions. Keeping dwarf cichlids mitigates this dilemma somewhat. Most Tanganyikan shell dwellers and other lamprologines are considered dwarves and don’t have the territorial range of other, larger cichlids. This benefits aquarists because these smaller fish don’t require really large tanks.
Keeping dwarf species of cichlids helps me rationalize my own ethics because I truly believe I provide them with good space. I don’t feel like I need to have really large tanks to keep this fish successfully and to do so in a manner that is ethically sound.