Aquacultured Versus Wild-Caught Marine Aquarium Animals
The Pros and Cons
Aquacultured corals and fishes make sense in many marine aquarium situations. Why do we say this? There are many reasons, but they can generally be grouped around two main points: environmental concerns on the supply side of the industry and husbandry concerns on the hobby end. At Blue Zoo, we believe a robust and sustainable marine aquarium hobby will need to rely on both wild-caught specimens and aquacultured specimens, and it’s important for you, the aquarist, to understand the reasons you might choose a wild-caught animal versus an aquacultured animal.
Understanding Supply and Demand in the Marine Aquarium Industry
Marine aquarium hobbyists create demand for certain species of fishes and corals (and other invertebrates), and people who live where popular aquarium species originate, supply wild-caught animals to meet the demand. This relationship can be beneficial for both the collectors and for the ecosystems in which the animals are collected because the marine aquarium industry has the power to provide both needed income and the requisite knowledge to conserve and protect the reefs upon which that income is based.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work in a manner where everyone benefits, and, in the worst case scenarios, local resources are exploited, ecosystems are degraded and species are threatened. As hobbyists, we should strive to support those suppliers that employ sustainable collection techniques and who appropriately manage the local reefs in order to avoid over-collection and destructive collection techniques. At Blue Zoo, we understand that it is often difficult, if not impossible, for the average hobbyist to know if a wild-caught animal was collected in a responsible and sustainable manner, and this is one reason we go to such lengths to insure that the wild-caught animals we sell originate with the best of the best suppliers.
When demand for a particular species is greater than the supply, one of several things may happen. In some cases, more collectors will begin targeting that species to attempt to meet the demand. In most situations, this increased collection does not pose a serious risk to ecosystems or species when compared to other pressures such as those created by the food fishing industry. This is, however, not always the case, especially in situations where the species being collected is endemic to a very limited range (as is the case with the Banggai cardinalfish) or grows in a way that makes its sustainable collection difficult (certain coral species).
Aquaculture as a Viable Alternative to Wild-Caught Specimens
Another possible solution to meet increased demand without putting additional pressure on the ecosystem in which the animals originate (nor on the species itself), is to turn to aquacultured animals. More and more marine aquarium animals are available as aquacultured specimens every year, and this is certainly one of the most exciting frontiers of the marine aquarium hobby. Fishes that were once considered impossible to breed in captivity have now been successfully bred in the aquarium, and it is not unreasonable to think that, in the foreseeable future, the marine aquarist will have such beauties as mandarinfishes and filefishes available as aquacultured animals.
While a few fishes are already readily available as aquacultured (e.g., clownfishes and dottybacks) animals, many more species of aquacultured coral are available to today’s marine aquarist. In fact, most reef aquarists who have success with their reef tanks find it necessary to become involved themselves in aquaculture through the pruning of corals that are growing too large for their aquarium. This “pruning”—also known as fragging, produces new coral “frags”, which can then be sold, traded or given to other aquarists.
Aquacultured animals, in addition to not affecting natural ecosystems (since they are raised in captivity), have many benefits from a husbandry standpoint, especially for the less experienced aquarist. In most cases, aquacultured animals are hardier and easier to feed, acclimate more readily, are less aggressive, and carry fewer parasites and infectious diseases than wild-caught specimens. For the beginning reef aquarists, beginning with aquacultured corals can make the difference between success and failure, and both aquacultured corals and fishes are more tolerant of the fluctuations common in a newer and less stable system.
Aquacultured Animals are Not Always the Best Choice
Are aquacultured animals always the better choice? We don’t think so. For starters, many of the most popular marine aquarium animals have yet to be bred successfully in captivity. Even less have been the targets of commercial breeding operations. Upwards of 90% of all marine aquarium species are still available only as wild-caught specimens, and, for the ones with no conservation concerns and a good record in terms of aquarium suitability, we support the import and sale of these animals.
Further, serious breeders will most often prefer to work with wild-caught broodstock rather than aquacultured animals. Finally, as already discussed, the marine aquarium industry has the potential to improve the socio-economic situation of many impoverished island nations through obtaining wild-caught animals from responsible, forward-thinking collectors. We are committed to supporting this positive growth, so long as it is sustainable in terms of the animals and the ecosystems in which they live.
Making an Informed Decision
The bottom line is that deciding between an aquacultured and wild-caught animal is a personal decision each aquarist needs to make for him- or herself. We believe it is our job to give you the information to help you make that decision. Having said that, you should know that Blue Zoo does enthusiastically support aquaculture. For many of the species of fishes and corals that are in both high demand AND readily available as aquacultured specimens, purchasing tank-raised animals makes sense in terms of both environmental considerations and husbandry considerations. This is why we at Blue Zoo will always do our best to offer you both options so that you can make the most informed decision based on your specific needs.