The Vancouver Aquarium is refusing to take tropical fish seized from
grow-op busts, after several growers approached the facility
demanding their fish back.

"Our staff are not comfortable with being put on the front line
between grow-op people and their property," said John Nightingale,
director of the Aquarium. "One person rang several times and said,
'We want our fish back.' Taking care of someone's fish for months
while they work themselves through the legal system is not our idea
of a good time."

The odd link between the aquarium and Vancouver Police Department
started when the police Grow Busters team started calling the
facility to fish-sit so fish wouldn't die after a bust. The first
thing thing the team does when it shuts down a grow-op is turn off
the electricity so members can investigate without risk of
electrocution. As a result, any tropical fish-often kept in grow-op
homes to provide a decoy for electricity use-are immediately in
jeopardy because there's no power for heaters and lights.

"The cops are not able to take care of the fish and don't want to see
them die so they have called us," said Nightingale, adding seized
fish are quarantined, then amalgamated with the aquarium's tropical
fish collection. But legally, he said, the fish are the original
owner's property.

With the aquarium refusing to take fish, Nightingale worries they're
either being left to die when the power is shut off or being flushed
down the toilet-potentially putting local species at risk if the
tropical fish carry diseases.

As a result, he's asked the B.C. SPCA to step in and seize the fish
when the electricity gets turned off, since the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals Act gives the SPCA the right to seize animals whose lives
are in danger.

John van der Hoeven, director of field operations for the B.C. SPCA,
said he understands Nightingale's concern, but the SPCA must first
give the animal's owner a chance to remedy the situation and then get
a warrant. Once the animal is seized, the owner still has the right
to take the animal back.

Nightingale said aquarium lawyers are now working on obtaining the
right to keep fish seized from grow-ops. "If the legal issues get
sorted out, we'll do it again," he said, adding the problem is only
getting worse because the number of grow-ops being shut down by the
17-month-old Grow Busters program is increasing.

The city is home to an estimated 4,000 to 15,000 grow-ops at any one
time, mostly for the lucrative U.S. export market. So far, Grow
Busters has closed about 800, though only 20 per cent of the busts
resulted in charges.

A Grow Busters spokesperson was not available for comment at the
Courier's deadline.

Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: Wed, 24 Oct 2001
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 Vancouver Courier
Author: David Carrigg