Hawaii, especially the West Coast of the Big Island, is the nation’s biggest aquarium species exporter and there is always concern over the impact of collecting for the ornamental trade. The October 10, 2005 front page story in West Hawaii Today, under the rubric “Ocean Resources | Regulation,” reported the following as part of a continuing wake-up call to those who care about the sustainability of the wild stocks of ornamental fish we love and on which we depend for our aquariums:

“With the notable exception of a five-year-old regulation project along the Big Island’s Kona Coast, (Note – See the 11/04 Media column for information on the “Fish Replenishment Area” strategy) a $50 permit allows collectors across most of Hawaii to net as many of a species as they want, wherever they want and whenever they want. That sometimes means harvesting hundreds of thousands per year of a single species from a single bay.”

The article went on to make this important point about the role the algae grazers play in maintaining the health of the coral reef environment itself; “a number of marine biologists worry that removing plant-eating fish from near-shore reefs already threatened by urban runoff could lead to an overgrowth of algae.”


The article goes on to state: “According to state figures, collectors brought in 557,673 marine creatures during the 2004 fiscal year with a reported value of $1.08 million. But state officials believe those figures to be three to five times below the industry’s true worth in. Forty-seven percent of the reports required of collectors working in the islands’ biggest collections area, along the west coast of the Big Island, went unfiled between January 1998 and July 2003, according to a 2004 State Department of Land and Natural Resources report.”

Full reporting might then count between 1 million, 650 thousand and almost 3 million organisms, the great majority of them yellow tangs! Even with wise management this is an enormous take in a limited fishery.

There is only one way, other than further restricting collection, for us to ensure the availability of beautiful reef fishes for our aquaria. We must support those engaged in captive breeding programs and other aquaculture techniques. This may very well entail the willingness to pay more for our acquisitions.


This position is nothing new. As I reported in the Media column one year ago, both Anthony Calfo and Scott Michael, two names familiar to us all as experts, have come to this conclusion. Anthony Calfo, in “Responsible Reefkeeping for a Self-Sustaining Hobby” (Tropical Fish Hobbyist, October 2004, pg. 84) states: “Consumers should ask for and purchase captive-bred [organisms]…. Some of these captive produced specimens will be more expensive… they are likely to be hardier and better adjusted to captivity. (and) cleaner, with far less risk of parasites or disease. This clearly gives aquacultured species a distinct and significant value.”

Scott Michael, in “Seven Steps Responsible Aquarists Should Know,” in Aquarium Fish Magazine (October 2004, pg. 52) agrees; “Buy tank-raised animals when available…. There are a couple of reasons why purchasing captive-raised marine organisms is beneficial. The most important is that we can take the pressure off wild stock “

Of course much has been done. In the July 2003 issue of AAOM I interviewed Dr. Dale Sarver and Neil Simms of Kona Blue Water Farms at the Natural Energy Laboratories of Hawaii Authority (NELHA). They successfully bred and raised the highly popular Flame Angelfish as part of a research project on foods for larval stage hatchlings and are capable of producing them in commercial quantities for the aquarium trade. Since that time they have abandoned the project. As they thought, they could not compete with the price of wild-caught fishes. This is a great loss and an ethical stain on our hobby. The issue is not just to request aquacultured organisms from your LFS or even to actively encourage them to provide such stock, BUT TO SHOW YOUR COMMITMENT BY BEING WILLING TO PAY A PREMIUM PRICE FOR THESE SPECIMENS.


We will have another chance. The front page story in West Hawaii Today of July 26, 2005 reads “Marine biologist receives grants to raise reef fish.” Carolyn Lucas reports that expert marine hatchery biologist Syd Kraul, owner of Pacific Planktonics at the Natural Energy Laboratory here, is researching ways to successfully produce high value ornamental reef fish in captivity for the aquarium industry. Estimates are that the market has a potential annual worth up to $15 billion worldwide.

She further reports that Syd Kraul plans to raise yellow tang, butterfly fish, angelfish and wrasses — fish that have not been cultivated before, or have only been bred in small numbers.

He has been awarded a $78,150 Hawaii Department of Agriculture grant and a $21,281 Small Business Innovation Research Matching Grant from The Hawaii High Technology Development Corp. Kraul’s intent is to develop new production methods so that he can lower the costs for farming these fish.

“The market for ornamental fish is very large, but that market is supplied primarily by wild fish captured from tropical reefs,” he said. “Hatchery technology is only marginally successful for most reef fish. Success in this project will increase the number of fish species we can raise profitably, and may indirectly reduce fishing pressure on reefs in Hawaii and elsewhere.”

Kraul also reminds us that some of the methods used to capture fish harm the reef. In the Philippines and Indonesia, divers have been known to use sodium cyanide solutions to stun the fish. In the process, they can kill coral and damage the reef environment.

In the United States, about 5.6 million marine tropical fish are held in approximately 1.1 million aquaria. With an estimated value of $400-500 per pound, entrepreneurs have attempted the aquaculture of ornamental fishes since the mid-1970s, but have been severely limited by technology and have been successful with only a limited variety of species.

In my interview with Sarver and Simms of Kona Blue Water, they declined to identify the organisms they were researching as possible early laval feeds. Kraul is not so reticent. He goes on to state, “Marine fish hatcheries still rely on rotifers (Brachionus plicatilis) and brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) nauplii because copepods and other plankton are difficult to culture in large volumes, and because the art of keeping very small fish larvae alive has not been mastered by the general aquaculture community,”

Pacific Planktonics is focusing on the nutrition requirements of broodstock — what they need to eat to continue spawning and maximizing the quality of the eggs and larvae produced. He suspects reef fish will survive better when Euplotes ciliates are used as a first feed for reef fish larvae. In order to determine this, he will compare the nutritional values of ciliates and calanois copepods.

For Kraul, as for many businesses, one of the major issues is the labor cost involved in running the hatchery. If fish larvae grow on ciliates, labor and equipment costs could be greatly reduced. “Labor for maintaining and harvesting 10 ciliate culture tubes (enough to feed 5,000 liters of larval fish culture water) is about 1.5 person-hours per week,” Kraul said. “Labor for comparable copepod culture and harvesting includes algal culture, and totals more than 40 hours per week.”

Kraul has much experience with raising ornamentals. He has had partial success raising butterfly fish, centropyge angels, scorpionfish, triggerfish and other fish through the first feeding stage. In fact, yellow tang larvae were kept alive for 40 days.

Still, the project is in the early stage of research and development and Kraul is unsure when the fish will be available to be sold commercially.

“There is a chance that ciliates will not support larval fish growth, regardless of the physical and nutritional manipulations,” he said. “This is the riskiest part of the project, but can have the biggest impact on our long term financial success.”

I have been invited to visit Syd’s facility and will be reporting further on his project. For more information about Pacific Planktonics, visit http://www.sihawaii.com/sydkraul/. There’s an interesting set of pictures of larval yellow tangs at the following URL: http://www.sihawaii.com/sydkraul/tang.html

Another recent front page story in West Hawaii Today concerned an ongoing aquaculture success at the Energy Lab. The previously almost secretive owners of Ocean Rider Inc., aquaculture producers and exporters of a number of seahorse species adapted to frozen food diets, has opened its doors to visitors.

The announcement, “Visitor Center Opened” contained the following, “You have been asking us for tours and to get a glimpse of where the little critters are born and raised. We are pleased to announce that the Ocean Rider facilities are now open for tours to the general public.” See their web site for details at http://www.oceanrider.com. There are some interesting photos here as well: http://seahorse.com/component/option,com_gallery/Itemid,31/. It’s another great reason for a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. While you’re there come and visit me at NELHA’s outdoor exhibit area, where we have live displays of many of the organisms, both food and ornamental, that are aquacultured here.

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