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Catch Up With the Latest Fish

Posted: December 22, 2011, 6:15 p.m., EDT

New aquatic species are frequently appearing in the hobby, but longtime favorites hold their own, too.

By David Lass

Importers and retailers are always trying their hand at introducing new and interesting fish and invertebrates into the aquarium hobby. Whether these species become established or not depends on their hardiness, beauty and price. However, both marine and freshwater fish seem to be doing well now for retailers.

“Saltwater fish and cichlids are selling well,” said Jason Schneider, owner of Fish R Us, in Houston. “Some of the Far-East stuff and community fish [are selling].”

Corals, alternatively, are having some trouble in the marketplace.

“Corals aren’t doing very well,” Schneider stated.

Captive-raised clownfish are in demand with marine aquarists.
This may be attributed to general price declines or broader business conditions.

“A lot of the corals are being aquacultured, and the economy is in the swamp, so more people are interested in the fish right now,” Schneider added.

Cost seems to be the determining factor, given the general economic malaise persisting in the United States.

“The small coral frags, because they’re cheaper, are good movers in general,” said Leroy Dyke, owner of Fish Safari in Virginia Beach, Va.

Each section of the hobby—fresh, salt and reef—is seeing previously unknown or unattainable species become available, and retailers reported success with both new fish and hobby mainstays.

What’s Fresh
What’s popular in freshwater species right now? Some retailers reported that old favorites are selling the best.

“I wouldn’t point at one specific item and say that’s the new thing,” Dyke said. “Bread and butter [species such as] tetras and danios are popular.”

Discoveries are also driving interest in the trade. Many new freshwater fish creating excitement in the hobby are coming from the wild.

“When we can get them, we have been doing very well with the red and orange Congo tetras,” reported Ned Bowers, owner of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass. “Small fish for the nano tanks are also very popular, and it seems like there are plenty of new rasboras, danios and the like coming from India and Burma.”

Two of the more popular new freshwater fish would have to be the roseline shark and the galaxy rasbora, also known as the celestial pearl danio, retailers reported.

“Roseline sharks are very popular in all sizes,” said Mark Janczak, who, along with his wife Caroline, owns Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles, Ill.

Harold Cheng, owner of Always Quality Aquatics, a large transshipper of Far East fish located in Los Angeles, is always seeing new fish.

“One of the best new fish this year has got to be the new woworae rice fish [Oryzias woworae],” Harold said. “They’re still a little pricey, but they should farm well, and the price will come down.”

When new fish are discovered in the wild, if they prove to be hardy and sell well, fish farmers will typically set to work commercially aquaculturing them.

“Green spotted puffers have been one success that the Florida farmers have had,” said Art Rawlins, president of Rawlins Tropical Fish in Lithia, Fla., and president of the Florida Tropical Fish Farmers Association. “And we are beginning to produce clown and yoyo loaches in small commercial quantities. The more oddball fish we can produce the better, so there is less reason to bring any fish from the wild.”

Marine Gold Mine

Industry Voices
What are hobbyists and retail stores looking for when it comes to new fish and invertebrates?

“Entry-level hobbyists are usually looking for bright, eye-catching colors in fish. The more advanced hobbyists are also interested in the new and the rare. All hobbyists want healthy, hardy fish at a good price.”
—Dustin Dorton, president of Oceans Reefs & Aquariums in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“With new fish, colorful is always No. 1. GloFish are very popular, with the improved and new colors. Electric blue [Jack] Dempseys for the same reason. Sometimes, a customer will ask for a new fish they found in a magazine or on the Internet.”
—Mark Janczak,co-owner of  Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles, Ill.

“Various color patterns of shrimps, crayfish and snails have become very popular – sparked by the Hagen and other manufacturers nano-tanks. Most stores are merchandising these very well.”
—Harold Cheng, owner of Always Quality Aquatics in Los Angeles

“Designer clownfish has been a good market for new fish, and we continue to produce new varieties like the ‘fancy white’ and ‘fancy snowflake.’ Hobbyists are always looking for new aquacultured marine fish, such as blennies, dottybacks and cardinals.”
—Chris Turnier, operations manager for Sustainable   Aquatics Jefferson City, Tenn.

“Rare and beautiful new species are always in demand, but the price has to be reasonable. The prices of some fish when they first hit the market can be really crazy.”
—Ned Bowers, owner of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass.

While new and rare wild marine fish frequently show up in the industry, most are expensive, many have been harvested from great depths, and they are always in short supply. However, many exciting new marine fish are being aquacultured all over the world.

“Perhaps the biggest selling point of captive-bred fish is that they are environmentally friendly,” said Soren Hansen, owner of Sea & Reef Aquaculture in Hancock, Maine. “They are from a sustainable source with zero impact on the world’s coral reefs.”

Just because a fish or coral is captive raised, however, doesn’t mean breeders are able to meet all demand. Ocean Reefs and Aquariums (ORA) in Fort Pierce, Fla., another major producer of aquacultured marine fish and corals, noted that demand for popular clownfish species, as well as specially bred clownfish, still outpaces supply.

“Prices on designer clownfish will eventually come down,” ORA president Dustin Dorton stated. “Right now, demand still outstrips supply, but that soon will not be the case.”

In some cases, well-known fish that are generally unavailable due to their rarity and short supply from wild sources are finding a wider fan base as they become captive-raised. For example, different varieties of cardinal fish, some of which have been considered threatened in the wild, are very popular with saltwater aquarists, and some species being raised in captivity are showing commercial viability.

“Banggai cardinals are popular, and have been since they came out.” Fish Safari owner Dyke said.

Captive breeding enterprises, such as those of ORA, are producing pajama cardinals in quantity.

“We are working with other cardinals,” Dorton noted. “We also are producing all three of the mandarins [aka dragonets]—blue, spotted and red. All of them feed well on pellets and frozen foods.”

Another difficult fish to breed in captivity may be making its way into the hobby, and the supply is tank-raised.

“Most any fish that is sustainable in captivity is available for purchase,” said Chet Bryant, sales director for Renaissance Aquatics in Inglewood, Calif. “We’ve introduced a tank-raised flame angelfish, which has never been available in a commercial setting. It may have been raised before in captivity, but now we’re dealing with a breeder that has the fish available for retailers to offer. It’s an expensive fish; the supply is limited. But retailers still want to buy it, because it’s interesting.”

The impetus to push for tank-raised specimens is driven in part by concerns of over-harvesting wild fish, and many in the hobby and industry are focused on sustainable collection practices.

“The recession has nullified the gains made by reformers in the trade, as people want it cheaper as it gets more and more depleted,” said Steve Robinson, owner of Cortez Marine in Hayward, Calif. “A blind eye continues to be turned to the trade in cyanide fishes...about half the marine fishes in the entire industry.”

This controversy, coupled with the inherent benefits of offering tank-raised fish, helps encourage aquaculture companies to meet demand for captive-bred species. It also serves to ensure that wild reefs face minimal impact from the ornamental aquatics industry.

Sustainable Aquatics in Jefferson City, Tenn., is involved with producing marine fish, with the goal of having little or no impact on the world’s reefs.

“Our Sustainable Islands program is dedicated to taking only very small, immediately post-larval, fish from the reef,” said Matt Carberry, president of Sustainable Aquatics. “No large fish are ever taken from the reefs—it makes no sense whatsoever to take large breeders, which are often the most desirable for local fishermen.”

While it may be feasible to only offer aquacultured animals, the industry needs access to fish and invertebrates that come directly from the wild if they want to offer hobbyists new species to keep. The challenge is doing everything possible to protect natural resources and reduce aquarium keeping’s impact.

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