In May of this year, I asked if 2010 would be the year that the marine aquarium hobby shifted to breeding. By September of this year, I felt we already had our answer since this has indeed been one of the best years in recent history for marine fish breeders. The achievements of this year also send a big message to critical and skeptical observers of our community that we care about our reefs and we’re working to preserve them. The marine aquarium hobby is also working to be the ark for the marine life we cherish, by virtue of learning to captively propagate as many species as we can. We can only hope to see that momentum build in 2011. After scouring the internet and Reef Builders archives, here’s an in-depth look at the marine breeder’s highlights for 2010!
Perhaps the most telling sign that 2010 was going to be “different” for the hobby mindset started with the January establishment of Green Marine, the first exclusively captive-raised/captive-bred marine retail establishment in the country, if not the world. Søren Hansen of Sea & Reef Aquaculture kicked off my Reef Builders contributions with the news of large funding procurements for aquaculture R&D . . . something that rarely occurs for ornamental fish producers. The marine breeding world suffered the loss of a commercial breeding pioneer in Frank Hoff, founder of Instant Ocean Hatcheries and Florida Aqua Farms, and author of the Plankton Culture Manual and Conditioning, Spawning and Rearing of Fish With Emphasis on Marine Clownfish, who passed away in late January of this year. We saw the closing of one of the longest running commercial hatcheries, Reef Propagations Inc., with the retirement of pioneering breeder Joe Lichtenbert. We also saw C-Quest relinquish its tropical location (Puerto Rico) to set up a new facility in Wyoming, but not before releasing some captive bred Golden Damselfish. Rumors also bubbled up that long-silent producer, Frank Baensch of Reef Culture Technologies in Hawaii, would be reentering the scene with captive bred angelfish. Just a few weeks ago, Tennessee-based Sustainable Aquatics released new clownfish variants, including 2 new varieties never before produced. Another long-silent commercial hatchery, Proaquatix, truly reentered the ornamental market this year, most notably with the first releases of captive bred Lookdowns, Selen volmer (first reported here on Reef Builders, with a more in depth article in the forthcoming Jan/Feb 2011 edition of CORAL Magazine!).
We also saw examples of the ongoing confusion that surrounds “captive-bred” vs. “tank-raised” with rumors that the Proaquatix Lookdowns were not captive bred (they are CB), while at the same time the release of “captive-bred” Pinnatus Batfish might actually be an example of “tank raised” fish being mismarketed somewhere in the supply chain – the jury is still out, but it’s looking like the Pinnatus are probably tank-raised. Confusion like this hadn’t really been an issue in the past few years as supplies of wild-sourced tank-raised fish had subsided (and so had the misinformation that there were captive-bred Hepatus Tangs freely available). With Sustainable Aquatic’s big push into the market with their tank-raised Sustainable Island brand of fish, we can expect hobbyists and suppliers to once again be confused over what captive-bred really is. At some levels of the supply chain, a distinction is not even made, with all captive-bred, pen-raised, tank-raised, and ocean-cultivated specimens being lumped together under general umbrellas like “aquacultured”, making it impossible to discern the differences.
The biggest news of the year in commercial circles was undoubtedly ORA’s release of captive bred Mandarins (Synchiropus splendidus and S. picturatus). Designer Clownfish enthusiasts were not let down by ORA either, with the release of Domino and Midnight Clownfish varieties and glimpses of Misbar Maroons @ MACNA that could be though thought of as “picasso-ish”. However, fish breeders who were paying attention didn’t miss that ORA also quietly announced successful propagation of a couple new Dottyback species (Pseudochromis elongatus and Ps. bitaeniatus). My other pick for the top spot in 2010 commercial innovations falls squarely to the folks at Reed Mariculture who refined and released their new line of improved frozen phytoplankton pastes for marine fish breeding as the RotiGrow System. While not “sexy” like a new fish species or variety, these feeds may affect fish breeding in 2011 and beyond in ways we cannot fully anticipate or appreciate just yet!
It is important to note that none of these commercial producers would be in business if you weren’t buying, so bravo to those of you who realized you don’t *need* to have wild caught fish when there are captive-bred counterparts available. With the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) remaining on the IUCN Red List as “endangered” since 2007, I’m happy to report that most hobbyist Banggai breeders report having virtually no problem meeting demand and selling their offspring for a very good price to their fellow hobbyists. With commercial producers continuing to somewhat avoid this species, and wild caught specimens continuing to be imported and sometimes dying in droves, this species remains the domain of the home hobbyist breeder. It seems hobbyists are willing to line up to get their hands on captive-bred Banggais.
Not surprisingly, we also have non-commercial breeders to thank for some advancements in captive propagation. In September, 2010, notable marine fish breeder and author Matthew L. Wittenrich was selected as the MASNA 2010 Aquarist of the Year. While some incorrectly believe Wittenrich was the first to spawn and rear Mandarins (he wasn’t) it was his work producing them in such quantity that grabbed everyone’s attention. In my opinion, it is not this singular achievement, but rather a massive body of work including his 2007 Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes that earned him this long overdue recognition.
I’m hard pressed to think of any “species firsts” that occurred in 2010 when it comes to fish. But who cares when we have Richard Ross @ Steinhart and the California Academy of Sciences breeding the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi! (yes, there have been babies). This wasn’t the only innovation at Steinhart, with Richard Ross’s earlier reports on the captive spawning of Rhinopias sp. Scorpionfish (making it to 15 days post hatch) as well as Matt Wandell’s report on the captive spawning of Black Ribbon Eels. And talk about coming close, Atlantis Marine World’s Todd Gardner is continuing to push the envelop, getting captive-spawned Liopropomma Reef Basslets to 46 days post hatch! We are all watching with optimism to see if 2011 brings us captive-bred Candy Basslets!
In my opinion, breeders suffered a setback this year with the ongoing problems @ MOFIB (Marine Ornamental Fish and Invertebrate Breeder’s Association). While I’m hesitant to even bring it up being the ousted founder of the organization, honest and complete reporting requires that we share the disappointments as well as the triumphs. The current BOD has not released meeting minutes since the August 2010 meeting, and shortly after the 2010 elections, the board scrapped plans for progress towards charitable / non-profit status. More recently, member pleas for information or even to volunteer seem to be met with relative silence. The quality of day-in-day-out operations seems to have hit an all time low and the level of poor and misinformation showing up continues to rise. It would seem that the only real thrust this year was to have a presence at MACNA, but of course, a MACNA booth isn’t what MOFIB is all about. While MOFIB’s status is sad, other organizational developments at the hobbyist and academic level have me looking forward with the knowledge that just like in fish breeding, you may fail many times before you get it right!
Marine breeders found new encouragement in the form of the Marine Breeding Initiative, or MBI, spearheaded by Chad Penney and Tal Sweet of MASM. Conceived in late 2009, this universal Breeder’s Award Program (BAP) for marine breeders of fish and invertebrates rolled out in 2010 and continues to grow and gather attention (including this Reef Hobbyist Magazine article on the MBI). It brings the motivation of friendly competition to the pursuit of propagation, while also building a robust knowledge base of breeding data as part of the program requirements. The decentralized, universal BAP model brings breeding back to the local level, being a free program for every marine aquarium organization to join and participate in. The MBI/MASM also organized a possible “first of its kind” Marine Breeder’s Workshop in March, 2010, and is in the planning stages to expand on this event for 2011. Given the relatively small but growing interest group, this niche-within-a-niche marine aquarium event may turn into something really special in the years ahead. Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I do currently set on the MBI Council, and for anyone with the once-bitten, twice-shy mentality, the MBI leadership is a “benevolent dictatorship” model…no politics to worry about because we all know exactly who the bosses are!
Another non-commercial program, discussed at this year’s MACNA by Judy St. Leger, is Seaworld’s Rising Tide Conservation program. While this program is still in the infancy stages, Seaworld and other organizations are trying to once again bridge the gap between academic, commercial, and amateur breeders and fund projects in the realm of marine ornamental propagation. The goals and ideas have merit, and 2011 will hopefully show how this program comes together.
Still, day-in, day-out, hobbyist breeders continue to tread where the commercial breeders may not, or can not. We featured the work of Junkai Ong here on Reef Builders, being one of only a few people in the world who’ve ever spawned and reared the mean-spirited Mccullochi Dottyback (Cypho purpurascens). Of course, in browsing online, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out other acheivements by hobbyist breeders. Instantly coming to mind is the breeding of two ultra-mean Dottyback species normally ignored by commercial propagators, the Royal Dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnellae) and the Diadema Dottyback (P. diadema), by Graham (gpsmart on MOFIB). I should also mention the work of Amy Drehmel (Midnight Angel) who has succeeded in spawning the Ghost Ribbon Eel first in September 2009, but has since opted to retreat from the open-source breeding model of other breeders. Of course, how could we not mention the buzz around Marcel Triessl’s origination of Albino Ocellaris?
Perhaps the most interesting development on the non-commercial front is the remarkably high quality captive-bred Latezonatus Clownfish (Amphiprion latezonatus) produced by renowned breeder Karen Brittain in Hawaii. We may remember the first captive-bred Latezonatus hitting the commercial scene in late December of 2009. These fish from an undisclosed source in Australia were certainly exciting, but as things progressed, we learned while they were robust fish, they were virtually all misbars. While they entered the market at prices of over $300 each, the prices rapidly plummeted over the next several months and were seen as low as $120 each at times. This price drop represents two possibilities – simple economics of supply and demand, but also a likely reflection of the disappointment in a fish, also commonly known as the “Wide Band” Clownfish, lacking its namesake patterning! Well, admittedly I don’t know how she did it and I haven’t yet asked, but fully-barred captive bred Latezonatus clownfish from Karen Brittain became available in the last month and are back at the nice high price of $300 each!
In perhaps the strangest (or most surreal) move of the year, the commercial side of the industry reiterated through its choices just how important it believes sustainability is, and how much faith it places in captive breeding at the hobbyist level. In a move that surprised just about everyone, the sustainably-collected SEASMART PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish went not to the highest bidder, but to a breeder. And not a commercial breeder, but yours truly, who happens to be one of the staunchest anti-guppification advocates out there (but this is a wild form, so definitely falls under the preservation umbrella). While still humbled by the decision and thankful for all the support, the greater message is that our hobby and industry is not in it for the short term buck…if it was, SEASMART, Pacific Aqua Farms and Blue Zoo Aquatics would have seen this fish go to the highest bidder, and likely never be seen or heard from again.
As you can see, 2010 was a year simply chock-full of marine breeding news. I can’t even begin to imagine what 2011 has in store for us all. With marine breeding being the “final frontier” of our hobby (in my opinion), I look forward to the year that I simply cannot keep up? Will 2011 be that year?