Responsibility to the Hobby
Greetings, fishlovers.  Although this article will focus on marine fish, it applies equally to freshwater fish, as well.  In the United States, the aquarium hobby is a multi-million dollar business annually.  This is evident simply with a cursory look at the diversity of products available, the number of distributors, and even the number of publications on the topic.  It’s big business. Front and foremost of this business are the animals themselves.
Without the animals, all the tanks, books, skimmers, and lights in the world would not sell.  The animals are the driving forces of the hobby.  A stroll into any petstore that sells fish will display ‘staple’ fish, such as clownfish, yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens), a few pseudochromis and, of course, damselfish.  Some stores catering more to aquarists will have a greater diversity, and probably some beautiful specialty fish  like the Flame Angelfish, an appealing colorful fish much like the Mandarin Goby.  Yet, many of these fish have specific needs that must be met to survive and thrive in captivity.  These specific needs are where our responsibility as hobbyists comes into play.
In 1993, from the Philippines alone, 6000 metric tons of fish worth an estimated 8 million dollars were imported (BFAR 1994).  This is a huge number of animals by any account.  As an example, a typical juvenile clownfish weighs about 50 grams.  A metric ton is 1000 KG.  Therefore, a metric ton of clownfish consists of approximately 20,000 individuals.  6000 metric tons would mean that a whopping 120,000,000 clownfish would have been imported in 1993 alone to meet this importation weight.   Of course, not all of the fish were juvenile clownfish.  The actual constituency was a mixture of 386 species imported by the ornamental fish trade.  The major groups imported are the Pomacentridae (59 species), Labridae (46 species), Chaetodontidae (41 species), and Pomacanthidae (25 species).  These are the statistics for the fish that are brought into only the United States and survive.  Mortality rates of 30 – 40% in holding facilities are reported (Journal of Maquaculture, 1997), although some conservative reports conducted by Wood (1985) and Sadovy (1985) show moralities in the 10 – 20 % range.  But, even at the minimal 10%, that number relates to the many tens of thousand fishes that die even before they reach the U.S.  The Philippines is responsible for supplying approximately 75% of the world market (Rubc 1988).  This country, therefore, only represents portion of total fish imports to the U.S.  Furthermore, these figures do not reflect the imports of live rock and stony corals from such areas.
Of the many species of fish imported, not all are known for their record of longevity in captivity.  Many of the angelfish are obligate corallivores (coral eaters), or require certain species of sponge in their diet.  This means that they are likely destined to either starve from a lack of proper food, or to become a nuisance species in tanks which house coral and sponge species.  The same requirements hold true for many of the commonly available butterfly fish, wrasses, and blennies. A significant number of these fish are sold as adults.  Adult tropical fish, such as the angelfish, frequently have difficulty adapting to captivity, and they often refuse to feed. These fish have spent months or years eating a sometimes highly specific and natural diet.  How are they are expected to tolerate flake or pelleted food?  Even with the advances in frozen foods, under ideal conditions, these fish can still be tricky to become acclimated to life in a home aquarium.  
Worse yet, many fish are collected from deep waters, or are found as single specimens on the reef.  Many of these are imported into Japan, where they command 3 to 5 thousand dollars each.  The sole purpose of many of these fish in captivity is strictly as a status symbol for other aquarists to marvel at.
The question is why do we, as a hobby, condone the senseless deaths of so many of the creatures we care for and love?  As hobbyists who purchase these fish, and support the stores that sell them, we are encouraging this type of irresponsible wild collection to take place.  But, what are the alternatives? 
 In recent years, captive breeding has started to grow.  The early successes of Martin Moe, and others, have led to more commercial ventures in commercial marine fish aquaculture. The further success of many home hobbyists, and the availability of the Breeders Registry databank, have made the fruitful spawns of many species a more commonplace occurrence. One of these commercial ventures is C-Quest Hatcheries, located in Puerto Rico and run by Bill Addison.  They have had success in breeding over 20 species of fish, and these are available to both hobbyists and dealers.  I have seen many of their captive bred Pseudochromis, clownfish, and gobies.  These fish are beautiful, healthy, and, most importantly, alive.  Bill, along with Joyce Wilkerson have done a marvelous job with getting their facility operational where they have very good success rates.  Sadly, the recent devastation of Hurricane George has caused some serious damage to the islands of Puerto Rico.  As of this article, its unknown as to the full extent of damage to the C-Quest hatcheries.  
Other commercial breeders include Morgan Lidster at Inland Aquatics in Terre Haute Indiana At the recent Western Marine Conference in Seattle; I had the opportunity to speak to Inland Aquatics’ Facility Manager, Morgan Lidster.  His facility breeds a substantial number of fish species, and is working with many more.  They have even had some success in obtaining some unique colorations in clownfish that are not normally seen in nature.  For the retail portion of their store, they already obtain many tank-raised fish from the C-Quest facility.  His facility works at propagating corals, fish and even marine plants.  Plus, they have a retail store, and do education about sealife to local school children.  InLand Aquatics uses an algal turf filtration system, similar in design and functionality to those used at the Smithsonian Institute by Dr. Walter Adey.  These systems allow for an abundance of meiofauna and microfauna, which may contribute to the success of InLand Aquatics.
Tank raised fish have many advantages over wild caught fish.  Tank raised fish tend to be sturdier in captivity.  Having spent their entire lives in a closed system, they have been selected for their hardiness in these conditions.  Less survivable fish would have died in early development.  Captive spawned fishes are already accustomed to the typical diets commonly available to hobbyists.  Rather than try to force a fish to abandon its relentless search for a natural diet, these animals will readily accept flake or pelletized foods.  Another benefit to tank raised fishes is the impact to the environment.  Whether we choose to face the reality of the situation or not, our hobby makes an impact on the environment when fish are collected.  The most direct damage consists of the fish that are taken from the reefs.  These fish, even if still abundant, play an intrinsic role in life on the reef.  Some may serve as food for larger predators, while their spawns may serve as food for smaller predators.  The interactions go on, ad infinitum.  Some of the indirect damage resulting form fish collection includes the damage to reefs during capture.  As any diver can attest, a wrasse can hide in a hole VERY effectively.  In capturing such fish, some structural damage is often collaterally done to the reef.  In some cases, collectors use cyanide; virtually poisoning fish to make capture easier.   These toxic chemicals are released into water that is rich in plankton.  Uptake into the food web is possible, with human consumption of food fish with cumulative cyanide from the food web still intact. Additionally, the mortality of cyanide captured fishes is arguably much higher than net or hand collected fish. Fish raised at C-Quest, or other facilities, like Inland can already supply substantial portion of these species to the market.  Discussions with C-Quest and Inland aquatics lead me to believe that  C-Quest, and similar facilities, could manage to supply nearly the entire U.S. market for most of the Pseudochromis and clownfish species  With other facilities involved, the entire U.S. market for these 20+ species could be provided entirely, without collection from the wild; not in a year, but RIGHT now!  This is undoubtedly a significant revelation to many readers.
Why don’t more stores sell captive-bred fishes? Primarily because of the costs involved, it’s an economy of scale.  A commercial breeding facility must be large.  It does not pay to produce 500 clownfish, and so they must produce 5000 clownfish.  The overhead to operate the facility then becomes great.  To collect fish from Indo-Pacific is comparatively inexpensive.  Because of the many failing economies in these regions, the U.S. dollar is strong, and fish cost mere pennies.  Fish are then shipped and offered at prices significantly less than those offered by captive breeders.  However, is it a fair comparison?  I believe that in order to truly factor the cost to a dealer or hobbyist, one must consider the survivability of the fish.  Barring gross error on the part of a hobbyist, tank raised fish acclimate better, feed better, and respond better to captive conditions than those collected form the wild.  They survive better in dealer tanks, and have less stress from long transits in shipment. Fish shipped from overseas may go a few days to weeks with no food, in the same bag of water.  Many will have parasites, and other maladies that are not as common with captive bred fishes. The resultant decrease in mortality results in savings for all, even for those for whom money is the bottom line.   
I hope I have convinced my readers to run out and demand captive bred fishes from your local shop and wholesalers.  Yet, there is even more that we, as hobbyists, have the responsibility to accomplish.  I have stated that approximately 386 species of fish were imported from the Philippines alone.  Of those, only about 20 to 30 are routinely available in retail facilities.  The remaining 350 species fall into one of the following categories: not suited for home aquarium, excellent candidate for breeding research, and “too little information.”  As hobbyists we can control the first category.  When we visit stores that carry fish that are likely doomed to die from starvation or other stress related issues, we should take our business elsewhere.  It is important to be sure to tell the owner why you choose to spend your money elsewhere.  Eventually, if enough of us do not support the purchase of fish unsuitable to captive life, including the facility offering them, there will eventually be less demand.  They will lose their economic value to both wholesalers and collectors.  We can vote with our dollars.  The second category is where the hobbyist can make the most impact.  Fish that are not obligate eaters of corals, sponges, tunicates, or foods that are hard to provide in a tank, and are not too old to acclimate to a captive life, are fish that might just be bred in a home aquarium.  With some research into the proper habitat and diet of these fish, a hobbyist can potentially replicate those conditions at home.  With diligence, such breeding and rearing success will contribute invaluably to the Breeders Registry Data-bank. The more fish on which we can obtain breeding data, the more likely it will be that commercial success will be possible.  The last category is “too little information.”  Sadly, too many fish still fall into this category.  They are available to the hobby because they are pretty, unusual, colorful, unique, or rare.  Too many aquarists purchase such fish without knowing if it is a predator, obligate eater of some invertebrate, planktivore, etc.  These fish need to have more information collected on them before being reclassified as unsuitable, or having the potential to be captive bred. Again, as aquarists, this is a function we can perform.  We can help to gather and disseminate this information.
Time might be running out.  As the number of people in the marine hobby increases, the demand for fish will increase.  Like commercial fishing, we may soon deplete this valuable resource and be left with very few fish available, other than the species currently being bred. By wisely managing the resources, we are able to expand the possibilities of breeding, reduce the potential of over-fishing the habitats where our fish are collected and, most importantly, educate the hobbyist.  A reader of this publication has already taken a step towards responsibility.  We are all seeking additional knowledge, becoming more aware and more ready to act.  We must be proactive towards these issues in finding a solution and not simply reactive when natural populations or legislation’s dictate the fish that we can import…and for which we can provide a home and share their beauty.
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