Breeder’s Net: First in a new column

You and I know
that captive breeding is the ultimate
answer to current
collection practices
that are endangering the survival of too
many species”.

-Terry Siegel

What a great statement to
open a new column on fish breeding. This
thought led me right into the many ways
to prove his statement, or better yet
-and more constructively – to start a
discussion on why we should breed fish in
our home aquariums.

I begin with a short
overview of the reasons why collecting
fish for the home aquarium may have
serious impacts on the future of these
species in the wild and why we want to
breed fish in our homes. Welcome to my
view from inside “The Breeders

So how bad off
are we?

All of us understand that
the fish we have in our captive care
originated in one of the many oceans of
the world. I believe we all know that
someone has collected these fish and
transported them across continents and
countries to get to our LFS (local fish
store). What I don’t think we understand
is the ramifications of taking these fish
out of the wild. Sure you’re saying there
are lots of my “X” kinds of
fish, and taking my fish out of the wild
is no big deal. Accompanying that idea
you’re thinking “well this is a fish
with a huge ocean to swim in and the
range where it can be found is enormous.
Why would removing my fish be that



A clutch of clownfish eggs
nestled under the parents’ host

In reality is it important, coral reefs
are the most biologically diverse shallow
water marine environments, and they support
hundred of thousands of animals and plants
1. With this enormous diversity
comes fragility. As of Feb 2002, 58% of the
world’s reefs have been reported to be
threatened by human activities
2. Agriculture, deforestation,
and development are introducing large
quantities of sediments, nutrients, and
pollutants into coastal waters. With this
impact comes degradation of productive reef
zones. Coral reefs are heavily fished
3. In regions between the
Pacific and Indian Ocean, fishing with
dynamite and poisons has devastated reef
habitats 4. In a survey by
Roberts et al of 1700 fish species, 26.5%
had restricted territorial ranges and were
considered threatened by over collection
and devastation of their reef environments
5. That’s 450 species of fish
which we could potentially see in the pet


A male P. flavivertex
cradles an egg mass inside his
adopted PVC tube

Conversely, it is widely believed that
marine fish populations are some of the
most resilient species — as they have wide
geographical distribution. Following this
erroneous assumption, over collection in
one part of the ocean should not impact
populations found in another area.
Essentially moving to a new spot would
ensure plentiful fish. Again, data suggests
this is not true. A study by Bryant et al
2 examined the genetic diversity
of coral reef fish and found that <28.7%
had wide geographic ranges. This suggests
that restricted range fish were more
prevalent in reef environments, and that
wide spread damage to this population could
lead to waves of extinction.

So just how many fish are taken
each month for the hobby? This question is a very
difficult one to answer, mainly because accurate
censuses of fish are not taken. Collectors
harvest as many fish as they can to fill orders.
Collectors need to account for shipping losses to
make the required quotas and this is often to the
detriment of the fish. As an example, in a report
by Allen 6, he reported over 5000
banggai cardinalfish at a collection station
readied to ship to distribution stations
throughout the world. This was a monthly
collection statistic, suggesting that 60,000 of
these fish are collected yearly. This is a
quantity of fish which is staggering to
comprehend. Can the wild population of fish
support this volume of collection? Only an
accurate census will determine this. This is one
of the many reasons why we should consider
breeding fish at home and not subjecting the
reefs to future potential devastation.


So how are we

Well, that all depends on
who you talk to: aquaculture of fish is
not new, the Romans tended beds of
oysters and medieval monasteries had
ponds in which they grew fish to eat.
However, commercial production of fish is
still in its infancy. A few food fish are
grown in commercial numbers, but reef
fish are not. Commercial firms interested
in producing reef fishes must deal with a
balancing problem. They must find a
hardy, resilient, fish species that has
an established appeal, and is omnivorous
so that food won’t be problematic. The
fish species must have defined breeding
habits, with available fry foods, and the
breeder must be able to get brood stock
to ensure genetic variability. This all
gets weighed against food costs, growth
rates, the ability to control
reproduction, adequate survival of young,
and market value. If, after all this
balancing, the fish is profitable, all
the better. Commercial breeding
facilities have focused on high fecundity
fish that are hardy, readily accept
available fry foods, and have mass
appeal. However, many of the fish in our
reef tanks do not fall into any of these
categories. At the end of this column I
will present a list of species that are
currently bred or under investigation for
possible commercial breeding. This way
you can see which way our hobby is


A proud dad. A male banggai
cardinalfish (Pterapogon
) and recently
released fry. Photo courtesy of
Brian Lanka

With this in mind,
I’ve created this column.

Over the next few months we will
discuss current topics in home breeding of marine
fish, and we’ll focus on a few fish which have
been bred with success and use them as examples
for future endeavors. Additionally, I’ll try to
remove the mystery involved in raising fry,
describing simplified techniques and tips on how
to bypass the common stumbling blocks. Some
examples are: problems associated with pairing of
the parental fish, and more often the problems
associated with raising those pesky minute fry to
juvenile stages where they will actually eat food
we can supply with ease

Breeding fish at home does
appear intimidating, and in fact only
recently did the techniques/resources
required to raise fish become available
to the hobbyist. (Martin Moe’s been doing
it since the 70’s using ocean water with
live plankton. It’s just easier now with
new products) Commercial firms and
universities that have financial
investments in equipment, brood stock,
and larval foods to produce a few
offspring designed these techniques and
resources (particularly foods). Now, by
making a few phone calls and ordering
commercially prepared planktonic foods
(such as phytoplanktons and rotifers)
many home aquarists are successfully
breeding certain fish on a small

If we entertain the idea of
actually breeding the fish we desire and
keep in our own aquarium, not only can we
eliminate future capture of these fish,
but the surplus can go back to the LFS —
or better yet, be bartered with our



Jeuvenile banggai cardinals seeking
shelter amongst the spines of a sea

Fish commonly bred in

Common NameSpecies
False clownfishAmphiprion Ocellaris
Orange clownA. sandaracinos
Red Saddleback ClownA. ephippium
Clarki ClownfishA .clarkii
Cinnamon clownfishA. melanopus
Tomato ClownA. frenatus
Pink ClownA. periderian
Clown ClownfishA. percula
Skunk ClownfishA. akallopsis
Maroon ClownPremnas bimaculatus
Neon DottybackPseudochromis aldabrensis
Sunrise DottybackP. flavivertex
Orchid dottybackP.fridmani
Springeri dottybackP. springeri
Yellow dottybackP. olivaceous
Neon GobyGobiosomas oceanops
Red Head GobyG. puncticulatus
Goldline GobyG. Randallii
Genie GobyGobiodon genie
Green Banded GobyG. multifaciatum
Yellow Clown GobyG. okinawae
Citron GobyG. citrinus
Marine comet (marine betta)Calloplesiops altivelis
Royal grammasGrammas loreto
Banggai cardinalfishPteragon kauderni
Mustangs SeahorseHippocampus sp.

Future topics of “The Breeder’s
Net” include:

  • Which fish? -Commonly bred
    fish in the home aquarium. Clowns, dottybacks,
    cardinals, gobies, seahorses
  • Sexing of fish – How can we
    ensure we get the correct ratio of sexes or
    just the right sexes of fish so we can breed
  • The baby nursery – Setting up
    an appropriate tank for fry hatching, and
  • Babies’ first foods – Size
    appropriate and nutritional complete food for
    hungry offspring.
  • Alternative foods – Can we
    bypass some previously required foods?
  • Combating disease in the eggs,
    offspring, and parents
  • Grow-out tanks
    get into
    what it
    to get
    the fry
    from free-swimming planktonic larvae to
    sizeable little fish capable of eating prepared

Enjoy your aquarium and we’ll peer
thru “the net” again next month.


  1. Aquarium Fish,
    Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, and
    Tropical Fish Hobbyist,


  1. Frank H. Hoff’s Plankton
    Culture Manual
    (Aqua Culture Supply, 1999).
    For specific fish, read Joyce D. Wilkerson’s
    Clownfishes (Microcosm Limited, 1998);
    Martin A. Moe Jr.’s Breeding the Orchid
    Dottyback, Pseudochromis Fridmani: An
    Aquarist’s Journal
    (Green Turtle
    Publications, 1997); Sara A. Lourie, Amanda C. J.
    Vincent, and Heather J. Hall’s Seahorses: An
    Identification Guide to the World’s Species
    and Their Conservation
    (Project Seahorse,


  1. Breeders registry
  3. Reefcentral breeding forum



  1. M. L. Reaka-Kudla, in
    Biodiversity II, M. L. Reaka-Kudla, D.
    E. Wilson, E. O. Wilson, Eds. (Joseph Henry
    Press, Washington, DC, 1997), pp. 83-108. C.
    Birkeland, Ed., Life and Death of Coral
    (Chapman and Hall, New York,
  2. D. Bryant, L. Burke, J.
    McManus, M. Spalding, Reefs at Risk: A
    Map-Based Indicator of Potential Threats to the
    World’s Coral Reefs
    (World Resources
    Institute, Washington, DC; International Center
    for Living Aquatic Resource Management, Manila;
    and United Nations Environment Programme-World
    Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge,
  3. N. V. C. Polunin, C. M.
    Roberts, Eds., Reef Fisheries (Chapman
    and Hall, London, 1996).
  4. R. N. Ginsburg, Ed., Proceedings of the Colloquium on Global
    Aspects of Coral Reefs: Health
    , Hazards
    and History
    , 1993 (University of
    Miami, Miami, FL, 1994).
  5. T. Goreau, T. McClanahan, R.
    Hayes, A. Strong, Conserv. Biol. 14, 5
  6. G.Allen., Threatened fish of
    the World:
    Pterapogon Kauderni ., J
    Maquaculture 7(2):22-23., (1999).
  Advanced Aquarist

 Frank Marini

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