Stocking the saltwater aquarium can be an exciting challenge, especially when you have so many options to choose from. Before you purchase any fish, take the time to learn about the benefits of tank-bred versus wild-caught saltwater fish.
When you go to the pet store and walk down the aisles of aquarium fish, do you ever think about where those fish come from? Many freshwater aquarium fish are raised on fish farms, bred in large numbers to supply the aquarium hobby. Saltwater fish, for the most part, are not bred but harvested directly from the ocean. Though most saltwater fish you find in the pet store are wild-caught, it is possible to find tank-raised saltwater aquarium fish both online and in stores. Before you purchase fish for your saltwater tank, take the time to learn about the benefits of tank-raised versus wild-caught fish so you can decide which option is right for you.
Benefits of Tank-Raised Fish
The most significant benefit of tank-raised versus wild-caught fish is the lower mortality rate. Fish that are taken from the ocean and then kept in captivity are more likely to experience culture shock and they may have difficulty assimilating to the captive environment. Not only can the transition process be dangerous for wild-caught fish, but adjusting to the limited space and diet may also be a challenge. Tank-raised fish, on the other hand, are born in a tank and are raised to thrive in that type of environment. These fish are accustomed to the tank environment and are thus less likely to be skittish and fearful like many wild-caught fish are when first subjected to captivity. Tank-raised fish are also more likely to accept a commercial diet and are less picky in regard to food.
Another benefit of purchasing tank-raised fish for your saltwater tank is that it reduces the risk for exposure to harmful bacteria. The ocean is rife with bacteria and other pathogens which can be harmful if introduced to the contained environment of the saltwater tank. When you purchase wild-caught fish, you have no way of knowing exactly where they came from or what they have been exposed to. If you introduce these fish to your tank without invoking a proper quarantine period it could have serious effects for your other tank inhabitants. Purchasing tank-raised fish will not eliminate the risk of contamination or exposure to disease, but it will reduce the risk significantly compared to the risk posed by wild-caught fish. The main downside of tank-bred versus ocean-caught fish is the limited availability – not all species have been successfully bred in captivity and those that have may be limited in availability which may also result in a higher price tag than many wild-caught specimens.
Clownfish are one of the most popular species of saltwater aquarium fish and there are many tank-raised species available in the aquarium trade. Not only are these fish some of the most readily available tank-raised species, but they are also some of the most successful. Tank-raised clownfish are accustomed to being around people and they are more tolerant of cultured foods. Another benefit of tank-raised clownfish is that they are often less territorial and aggressive than wild-caught specimens. In the wild, clownfish fiercely defend their host anemone against predators and other clownfish but tank-raised clownfish are raised in a community without host anemones and are thus much more compatible with other fish. Some of the tank-raised clownfish species that are commonly available include ocellaris clownfish, tomato clownfish, maroon clownfish, percula cownfish, clark’s clownfish and the black and white percula clownfish.
Another group of fishes that have been popular for captive breeding are dottybacks. Dottybacks are those fish belonging to the family Pseudochromidae – there are around 100 species of dottyback, most of which are native to the tropical and subtropical Indo-Pacific regions. These fish are known for their bright colors and for the spines growing in the dorsal fin. Several species of dottyback have been successfully bred and raised in captivity and, in many cases, they have exhibited lower aggression than wild-caught specimens. Breeder Bill Addison noted that breeding tank-raised specimens was much easier than wild-caught specimens. In fact, the male in wild-caught pairs was likely to kill the female during spawning while tank-raised specimens exhibited less aggressive behavior.
Though less common than clownfish, saltwater angelfish are also becoming available in tank-raised form. Certain species like the annularis angelfish (Pomacanthus annularis) can easily be found online, often for the same price or slightly cheaper than their wild-caught counterparts. This species is known for its striking blue coloration – these fish have dark bodies with bright blue stripes running vertically along the body. This species can be fairly aggressive in the wild but tank-bred specimens generally exhibit semi-aggressive tendencies. Another species which has only recently been successfully bred in captivity is Watanabe’s angelfish (Genicanthus watanabei). This species is highly sought-after in the aquarium trade but it is notoriously difficult to capture and ship in good condition. For this reason, tank-bred specimens are likely to be very popular.
Another group of fishes that is becoming more readily available in tank-bred varieties is the goby. Several species of goby have been successfully bred and raised in captivity including the yellow watchman goby and the blue mandarin goby (Synchiropus splendidus). The blue mandarin goby is notoriously difficult to feed in captivity which is why tank-bred specimens are likely to be popular as their availability increases. These fish exhibit bright, ribbon-like patterns of blue, green, orange and red which makes the an attractive addition to the saltwater tank. Neon gobies (Elacatinus oceanops) are also available in tank-bred form. These fish are peaceful and generally easy to care for – they grow up to 2 inches long and are a good choice for stocking nano reef aquariums. This species is known for its dark blue body ornamented with light blue stripes that run the length of the body.
The royal gramma, also known as the fairy basslet, is another species of fish that has been successfully bred in captivity. This species (Gramma loreto) belongs to the family Grammatidae and they are known for their purple and yellow coloration – the head is typically bright purple, facing to yellow at mid-body with a black spot on the dorsal fin. These fish remain small, typically reaching a maximum length around 3 inches which makes them a good choice for the nano tank. Other basslet species that have been successfully tank bred include the candy basslet, black cap basslet and the swissguard basslet. Black cap basslets are a deep water species known for their bright purple bodies and black diagonal cap. These fish grow up to 4 inches long and they tend to prefer subdued lighting in the home aquarium. Swissguard basslets exhibit elongated red bodies with black and yellow horizontal stripes. This species is particularly well-suited to the reef tank and it is generally semi-aggressive with other species.
Tips and Other Information
In addition to purchasing tank-raised fish for your saltwater tank you might also want to consider using aquacultured live rock and corals. Corals and live rock that have been grown rather than harvested are not only good for the environment but safer for your tank. When you take live rock and corals from the ocean, the natural environment is disrupted which can have a significant effect on the ecosystem. Not only does aquacultured live rock and coral mitigate this damage but it also reduces the risk of introducing unwanted pests into your tank. Aquacultured live rock and corals are raised in a controlled environment free from many of the pests, invertebrates and problem algae that you might have to deal with if you use live rock harvested from the ocean. Another thing you might consider is culturing your own live rock at home – not only does this reduce the risk of introducing unwanted tank inhabitants but it also enables you to customize the shape of the rock to suit your tank.
If you have done any research on the benefits of tank-raised versus ocean-caught fish, you may have come across information regarding variations in coloration between the two. Early specimens of tank-raised fish, particularly clownfish, were significantly less colorful than their wild-caught counterparts. Thanks to developments in dietary research and breeding technology, however, modern tank-raised specimens are now just as attractive as wild-caught fish. There are times when tank-raised specimens may exhibit uncommon coloration as a result of being exposed to unfavorable breeding conditions, but these fish are still likely to thrive in captivity. In clownfish, specimens exhibiting broken spots or stripes are often labeled “mis-barred” and they are particularly appealing to some hobbyists for their unique appearance.
The pet trade gets a bad rap for exploiting wild animals but sometimes the opposite is true.
SALTWATER AQUARIUM ARTICLES
STOCKING THE TANK
The fish you choose to stock your tank is not a decision that should be made lightly. The articles in this category will help you understand the basics of fish compatibility and will provide you with other information you need to make an informed decision when stocking your tank.