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March 01, 2019

Captive vs. Wild

Recent fish shipments have had higher DOA counts and higher mortality than ever before. A trip to a recent MACNA as an attendee allowed me to discover the huge variety of captive-bred tank-raised fish currently available to marine aquarium hobbyists.

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

I have been a marine aquarium hobbyist since 1965 and over the years have kept many thousands of marine fish in my various aquariums.

I recall my first effort to keep a marine fish collection ended in a dismal failure. I had set up my 20-gallon tank, one of those fancy new all-glass aquariums, with an undergravel filter, dolomite gravel, with tufa rock and bleached dead coral skeletons as decorations. It was quite sterile looking and indeed in the end that sterility was my undoing. At that time in my evolution as an aquarist I didn’t understand the nitrogen cycle and the importance of bacteria in the management of wastes in an aquarium. I proceeded to load the tank with a half dozen large fish and they did well for about a week and then started to die, eventually all dying and leaving me wondering what I did wrong and feeling terrible about the lives of the fish I had needlessly killed. I imagined how those beautiful fish had been happily swimming on a reef somewhere in the tropical Pacific just a few weeks previously and how I killed them with my ignorance.

That initial failure made me slow down and do some research and eventually lead me to a life dedicated to sustainable aquaculture and helping others avoid the same disappointment. A big part of my evolution has come just recently. Pacific East Aquaculture has been in business for over 18 years and we have been dedicated to sustainable coral and clam propagation. I have helped set up coral and clam farms in distant countries and been successfully producing thousands of coral frags annually at our Maryland facility. However, I had still been bringing in wild collected fish. Recent fish shipments have had higher DOA counts and higher mortality than ever before. A trip to a recent MACNA as an attendee allowed me to discover the huge variety of captive-bred tank-raised fish currently available to marine aquarium hobbyists. While I have been selling a variety of tank-raised fish for years I also sold wild collected fish too. Tank-raised fish were not a new discovery to me. However, I said to myself that a beautiful reef aquarium can now be had with just these tank-raised fish and so I decided to no longer offer wild collected fish for sale at my facility. From a commercial business standpoint many would argue that this is foolish and does not make good business sense, I would disagree, so allow me to tell you why I feel this way and why I feel captive-bred tank-raised fish are better than wild collected fish.

"One of the issues that was very common in the trade during the 60’s and beyond has been the collection of marine aquarium fish using cyanide. To the casual non-hobbyist, it sounds barbaric and dangerous, and it is! The practice of cyanide collection was rampant in the early days of the hobby especially in the Philippines where most fish were collected for the hobby. I recall seeing over half the fish that arrived were dead and half of the remaining would die within a week."

After my initial failure to keep a successful marine aquarium I did educate myself and went on to keep many successful systems. In 1968 I started working for Marine World, a retail and wholesale marine and freshwater aquarium store in the Chicagoland area. It was there that I was formally introduced to the amazing world of marine aquariums and the vast array of spectacular marine fish. Marine World was on the leading edge of the hobby at that time and had been bringing in fish shipments from around the world from some of the most famous divers of the time such as Rodney Jonklaas, a scuba pioneer from Sri Lanka. I recall seeing so many amazing marine fish and each week unpacking shipments from so many far-off tropical locales such as the South China Sea, the Philippines, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, and many others. As a young hobbyist it was thrilling to see my first Pineconefish “light up” or the then rarely seen angels and butterflies we commonly have available today. Marine World was a regular advertiser in Tropical Fish Hobbyist at that time and their slogan was “I’m not so rare…at Marine World”, each month featuring a different rarely seen fish. One month’s ad featured a Flame Angel, then rarely seen and today one of the more common fish in the hobby.  Yes, things have changed a lot since the later 1960s-early 1970s in the marine aquarium hobby and trade, some for the better and some not as much! While we know so much more today about how to keep and propagate corals our understanding of keeping fish is still evolving.

One of the issues that was very common in the trade during the 60’s and beyond has been the collection of marine aquarium fish using cyanide. To the casual non-hobbyist, it sounds barbaric and dangerous, and it is! The practice of cyanide collection was rampant in the early days of the hobby especially in the Philippines where most fish were collected for the hobby. I recall seeing over half the fish that arrived were dead and half of the remaining would die within a week. The level of mortality was staggering. I was assigned to line up the dead fish on the Styrofoam box lids and take photos to send to the collector as proof of the losses. Over the next few decades it became common knowledge that fish collected from certain locations were collected using cyanide and that those fish would not survive long in captivity. Eventually fish from the Philippines got such a bad reputation that they were shunned by most importers and so other locations became the dominant suppliers. In recent years that has been Bali. However, as the demand has risen so has the pressure to match that demand and thus the now common use of cyanide in that area. For a while some years ago there was a concerted effort by the industry to stop the use of cyanide and a program was set up for testing and verification of so-called clean collectors. Sadly that effort died out and now cyanide collection has become the same unspoken demon that it was so many decades ago when I was a kid in the hobby. Every collector from every location will vehemently deny the use of cyanide and sing the praises of their collection techniques, but having been to many of these locations myself I can confirm widespread use of cyanide in many areas. There are legitimate net collectors in some areas. I helped set up and develop protocols for a collection station in French Polynesia and for sure they are not using cyanide and there are supposedly others in different locations throughout the Pacific. However, the average hobbyist can not identify clean fish vs. those collected with cyanide.

The harmful effects of cyanide collection is just one challenge facing importers and hobbyists when it comes to attaining healthy marine aquarium fish. Another huge problem is dealing with diseases and parasites. While these health problems have always been difficult to deal with, it is apparent that in recent years the diseases and parasites are much more prevalent and more drug resistant than they were when I first started in the hobby. Widespread use of preventatives and treatments and poor handling of the fish have led to super virulent strains of some parasites. It has become very common now to hear of entire importer and wholesaler facilities having epidemic outbreaks of diseases that can not be cured and losses stack up.

Tank Raised Clown Trigger from Biota

The solution to these issues is captive-bred tank-raised fish! Why are they better than wild collected fish?

Benefits of Captive-bred Tank-raised saltwater fish compared to wild collected fish

  • Completely sustainable and consistently available
  • Disease Free
  • No collection and Less shipping stress
  • Acclimated to aquarium life
  • Well adapted to people
  • Easier to keep
  • Eat a variety of prepared foods
  • Younger age
  • Almost zero losses, DOA or long-term mortality
  • Less aggressive
  • Supports local jobs

We now only stock and sell captive-bred tank-raised fish. We can offer a huge variety of clownfish from Proaquatix with many colorations and varieties not available in wild collected clownfish. Wild collected clownfish are notorious for being infected with the Brooklynella parasite that usually kills the vast majority of wild collected clownfish. Their tank-raised counterparts are never exposed to that or other parasites and are disease free with better coloration and already are adapted to captive life. We also stock a huge variety of other tank-raised fish such as Dottybacks, Blennies, Gobies, and many others. These fish are less aggressive than wild collected fish and do extremely well in reef aquariums. We stock the full selection of fish propagated by Biota including Yellow Tangs, Coral Beauty angels, Clown Triggerfish, Aiptasia eating Filefish, and many others. The variety of tank-raised fish is constantly increasing and we receive weekly shipments.

The aquarium hobby is constantly evolving and the explosion of different varieties of tank raised and captive raised fish is exciting and definitely the future of the hobby!

 

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