The Status of Marine Aquarium Fish Breeding with a Call to Action by Marine Aquarium Societies

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 and is filed under BR Blog.

By Tom Lang, CEO
The Breeder’s Registry | Copyright 2009

Last year, legislation was introduced in Hawaii that would have limited the number of ornamental fish a person can bag in one day. This legislation defined “ornamental fish” as “saltwater fish, usually found in or around reefs, that are commonly kept in aquariums” including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Yellow tangs
  • Flame angels; and
  • Butterflyfishes

The proposed combined bag limit would have only allowed a maximum of five yellow tangs and no person would have been allowed to catch, net or trap more than the bag limit. Also, this legislation would have provided that no person catch, net or trap certain ornamental fish in a no-take category including, but not limited to, the following:

  • All Pufferfish;
  • All Boxfish;
  • Potter’s Angels;
  • Cleaner Wrasses
  • All Corallivores; and
  • All Eels

Since these fishes are all staples of the marine aquarium industry, and with Hawaii being a major source for many fish suppliers in North America and the world, many in the fish business feared that days of $100+ yellow tangs were not far away.

While the legislation did not pass, it should serve as a wake-up call to both marine aquarium professionals and hobbyists that the status quo is vanishing before our eyes. For many years now, we have known that our marine fish supply from the wild is simply unsustainable at the current rate of consumption. And with an ever-increasing demand fueled by advances in marine aquarium equipment and husbandry techniques, we are on a collision course with an increasing desire by society to protect the coral reefs and the fishes that inhabit them.

Not that long ago, in 1993, The Breeder’s Registry (BR) was founded in Sacramento, California, by a group of dedicated marine aquarists including Stanley Brown, Rob Toonen, the late Joyce Wilkerson and others. The goals of this nonprofit organization were (and still are) to disseminate information about marine ornamental captive breeding techniques and to establish a database of Spawning Reports detailing water quality parameters, foods and larval rearing strategies for as many marine species as possible.

In the early years, the BR flourished with reports coming in several times a month and articles printed in The Journal of Maquaculture, which was mailed to all members of the BR in good standing. While this model worked well for a few years, by the late 90s, it became clear that many of the submissions to the BR were repeats of previous successes with species such as clownfish and dottybacks, mouthbrooders like cardinalfish, and benthic nest builders such as the gobies.

Not that the aquarium breeding of these species doesn’t have merit, but the lack of new submissions for myriad species that have been industry staples for decades has become an increasing concern for those of us at the BR.

Today, when we receive another clownfish spawning report, we are looking for something new for it to be considered for inclusion in the BR database. In 2003, we received a spawning report from a breeder in Holland describing a technique for raising Amphiprion clarkii on only two feedings per day. Although breeding Clark’s Clowns is certainly not groundbreaking, the feeding regime was, and this is why the report was accepted and posted on our website.

ParvocalanuscrassirostrisExperiments focused on spawning the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) continue at Hawaii’s Oceanic Institute under Dr. Charles Laidley, who presented a plenary talk of his work at MACNA XV in Louisville in 2003. He and his fellow researchers are currently working on broodstock conditioning, but challenges in finding a first food for the larvae without the “shotgun approach” of plankton tows in the ocean have all but brought rearing efforts to a standstill. The subtropical paracalanid copepod Parvocalanus crassirostris (left) was Oceanic Institute’s and Waikiki Aquarium’s Karen Brittain’s breakthrough larval food source for Centropyge angels, but this copepod does not appear to work for yellow tang larvae nor the other 80 species of the Acanthuridae family, which like many other marine fishes, produce extremely small larvae.

In the early years of marine aquarium keeping, it was more often the serious hobbyists rather than the aquaculture research scientists who unlocked the secrets to breeding most of the species now bred commercially by industry suppliers today. Martin Moe first bred French and grey angelfish (and many other marine species) back in the 1970s. What about all the other large Pomacanthid angels? I would love to live to see an aquarium-bred Emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)! Live fish research facilities require substantial dollars for their operations and, when a grant ends or funding is not available for ongoing costs such as utilities and staff time, breeding programs can languish. It may well take the dedication of hobbyists once again, with the support and encouragement of their local marine aquarium clubs, to take on the challenges of breeding the fishes and other marine life we all enjoy in our homes and at public aquariums.

With that in mind, I would like to throw down the gauntlet and encourage all North American marine aquarium clubs and societies as well as those throughout the world to promote aquarium breeding programs for fish, corals and other marine organisms on their websites and choose species that are both common in our industry, yet never or rarely bred in the past. We don’t have the space to list all of these species here, but you already know many of the ones I’m talking about.

And, if someone in your club experiences a spawning event in their aquarium, be sure to encourage them to submit a spawning report to The Breeder’s Registry for dissemination to the world. This will go a long way in helping to make the breeding of saltwater aquarium animals more commonplace and to take at least some of the pressure off the world’s wild coral reefs. Be sure to visit the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) message boards and keep us posted on your progress!

Breeder's Registry staff are all volunteers and appreciate any comments or corrections on any of our posts.

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