Regular Saltwater Smarts readers might wonder why we often post profiles of fish or invertebrates that are very difficult if not impossible to keep in home aquariums. After all, if we want to discourage you from buying these animals, why on earth do we go to all the trouble of describing them?
Well, the answer is simple: because you’re going to encounter them for sale on the marine aquarium market anyway. One of our biggest frustrations as long-time hobbyists is the fact that, for whatever reason, many dealers out there continue to trade in species that have no business in hobbyists’ tanks. It’s wise to be armed with information about these animals so you’re in a better position to make responsible purchases.
If you want to help discourage the sale of off-limits livestock, here are some simple steps you can take:
In order to recognize animals that don’t belong in the aquarium trade, it helps to do some research on the various species you’re apt to come across when shopping at your LFS or online. That way, you’ll know what to buy and what to avoid so you don’t unwittingly support unsustainable practices with your dollars.
The various species profiles posted here at Saltwater Smarts (which are increasing all the time) are a good research starting point. I’m also a big fan of Scott Michaels’ Marine Fishes: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species (TFH Publications, 2001). This book has more than a few years behind it now, but it’s still very helpful in determining a species’ aquarium suitability and reef-friendliness. Plus, it’s small enough to fit right in your pocket or purse, so you can easily take it with you to your LFS when you’re ready to shop.
An excellent online source for helpful information on fish and invertebrate species is liveaquaria.com. Each profile on this site includes a designation of the animal’s care level—e.g., easy, moderate, difficult, expert only, etc.—which will help you determine whether it’s a good choice for you or not.
Don’t try to “save” them
Experienced marine aquarium hobbyists sometimes make the blunder of purchasing what is essentially a doomed specimen at their LFS because they figure it will at least have a fighting chance under their skilled care. Don’t do this! While it may seem noble to take on a hopeless case, what you’re really doing is rewarding the dealer with a successful financial transaction. If one specimen sells, he or she may just be inclined to bring in another.
Shop where suitable species are sold
Of course, the most significant thing you can do to discourage the sale of hard-to-keep livestock is to vote with your feet and pocketbook. That is, walk (or click) out of stores that regularly trade in off-limits species and support only those that make a reasonable effort to avoid them—or at least provide appropriate warnings with respect to their demanding nature.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that experiences with a given species—or individuals within a particular species—can vary considerably, so there isn’t necessarily going to be universal agreement on which species should be avoided. Plus, it’s not unheard of for dealers to receive hard-to-keep species from wholesalers as “substitutions” for animals they actually ordered. Thus, even very conscientious dealers may have what you or I might consider unsuitable animals in their sales tanks from time to time. So we have to be reasonable about this issue.
Share your concerns with the staff/manager
For many people, shopping elsewhere (at least as far as brick-and-mortar stores are concerned) may not be a viable option, as there may be no other stores within reasonable proximity. If that’s the case, or if the shop is otherwise pretty decent but perhaps sells a few dubious species, it might be worth a conversation with the dealer to express your concerns—ideally without being rude or confrontational, which is always counterproductive. You might just find that the dealer appreciates your candor. If face-to-face conversation makes you uncomfortable, a constructively worded letter or email might be a good alternative.
What’s your suggestion?
So, fellow salties, what do you do when you visit an LFS and see fish or invertebrates that aren’t suited to home aquariums on display? Let us know in the comment section below.