OATA urges government to clarify guidelines for aquatic retailers amid Covid-19 crisis

The CEO of the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) has written to the government to clarify whether furloughed staff can volunteer to care for aquatic livestock whilst “off work” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, OATA has asked for clarification due to many of its members operating in the supply and sale of ornamental aquatic animals and “have an ongoing commitment to ensure the welfare needs of the animals in their care are met.”

The letter from CEO of OATA Dominic Whitmee said Many businesses in its sector are SMEs or micro-businesses and have had to take the difficult decision to furlough their staff. 

This has meant that for many, the owner is now the sole provider of day to day care to meet the animal welfare needs of the many hundreds or indeed thousands of aquatic animals in their care. 

He said: “The provision of such care requires specialised knowledge and cannot be undertaken by a non-skilled person. This is a substantial task for an individual and may not even be practicable in stores where there are a large number of aquariums. It may become infeasible if the owner should have to self-isolate.”

“The criteria for furloughed staff currently does not make it explicitly clear as to whether exceptions may be granted in cases where animal welfare may otherwise be put at risk. We would be grateful if advice could be issued to allow furloughed workers in the pet trade to volunteer to provide essential, specialised animal care for their employer, without penalty and risk of being excluded from the furlough scheme, and where not being permitted to do so would present a risk to animal welfare.”

Whitmee also makes the case that aquatic species are dependent on the provision of strict lighting and temperature parameters to maintain animal welfare standards so unlike many businesses, aquatics businesses (retailers and wholesalers) face considerable additional monthly expenditure related to the consumption of utilities, e.g. electricity and water.

He said: “As supply chains fragment and collapse adversely affecting the trade in these animals, many businesses face the prospect of incurring large financial debts to cover essential animal care or are deeply concerned about being disconnected by energy/water suppliers. In the worst case scenario they may not be able to afford to provide for the continued welfare needs of the animals in their care.”

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