More fish to avoid: dyed and injected fish
As I've mentioned before, there are very few laws regarding aquarium fish except for those pertaining to native, invasive, or protected species. As a result, fish are frequently subjected to a variety of cruel practices such as neglect, too-small tanks, torture (there are many U-Tube videos of people pitting piranha against large cichlids in a twisted "cage match"), and, the topic of this article, injections of dye.
The process and why it is cruel:
Originally, it was believed that artificially colored fish were painted, fed color-enhancing foods, or kept in water that was heavily dyed, depending on the desired effect. Further research has proven this to be a pleasant fantasy. According to Practical Fishkeeping, research and other evidence has proven that dyed fish are injected with a syringe or, in some instances, colored with a dye laser.
Fish that are injected with a needle are subjected to punctures which, to a human, are equivalent to the diameter of a pencil. Though possibly less brutal, the dye laser also injures the epidermis. Both methods leave the fish susceptible to infections due to the open wounds, the fact the hundreds of fish are injected with the same needle, and the horrific stress of the procedure.
Some individuals have tried to argue that fish do not feel pain. However, recent research (and common sense) suggests that this claim is utterly false (explore the Practical Fishkeeping link for evidence).
As this all takes place on Asian fish farms, it's difficult to get accurate mortality rates for artificially colored fish. They are understandably reluctant to release this particular information. I've seen claims for up to 80%, which wouldn't surprise me for some of the smaller species (like tetras, barbs, and corydoras cats). However, I suspect that it's somewhat lower for larger, hardier fish such as Oscars and parrot fish.
Which fish are dyed?
While the trend started back in the late 1980's with "painted" glassfish (which are actually injected), it has expanded to include many other clear, pale, or albino fish. The most obviously artificial fish may be white mollies (pictured) and "kissing" gouramis that are tattooed with patterns, words, or symbols.
Some other alterations are less apparent because the entire fish takes on the artificial color and people who are new to the hobby may believe that these gaudy hues are natural (especially since nature has produced so many brilliantly colored fish). The most common examples of this in our area seem to be "jellybean" parrotfish and "blueberry" tetras and Oscars. However, many other fish fall victim to this deplorable practice. For a complete list, explore the links I have posted at the end of this article.
You may have seen GloFish ┬« in area stores. While not "natural," per say, GloFish ┬« are not injected or otherwise harmed to achieve their neon colors. Their story is actually quite interesting: Scientists isolated the genes that cause some types of corals and anemones to fluoresce and injected them into zebra danio eggs. The resultant fry (and later, adult fish) carry the gene for fluorescence in their DNA and remain brilliantly colored for their entire lives. When GloFish┬« breed with other GloFish┬« their offspring are likewise neon. This coloration is as "natural" as such a thing can be and does no harm to the fish. Many serious hobbyists shun these artificial creations as a matter of principle, but I see no real ethical argument against them.
What can we do?
Most importantly DO NOT BUY artificially colored fish. If there is no demand, shops won't order them and suppliers will stop creating them. That will be easier and more effective than any law that could be put into effect.
If you come across fish that have been dyed or injected in a shop, politely request the opportunity to speak with the owner or manager on duty. Ask if they realize that the fish have been artificially dyed (sometimes they don't know). Explain the process and why it is cruel. You could tell them about this page or the link I have provided at the bottom if they want more information.
Be calm, polite, and understanding because they may not realize how cruel the practice is and, even if they do, they may not have ordered the artificial fish to begin with. You see, suppliers often send substitutions without asking first and sometimes send a "bonus" bag of fish that were not ordered.
Trust me; I know from experience that most employees and even proprietors will not listen seriously to a rude or irate customer. Besides, the store may genuinely be innocent, so there's no point in being nasty or raising your voice.