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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

January 24, 2012

Promoting High-Mortality Rate Fish: Pro and Con

By Patrick Donston and David Lass


Expert-Level Marine Fishes: Pro
Is it right to promote—sell and capture—certain species with a high mortality rate? Species such as ribbon eels, pinnatus batfish, regal angels, assorted coral-eating butterflies, walking batfish and moorish idols die in most shops or home aquariums. As a result of this, there are justifying arguments as to why we shouldn’t sell these hard-to-keep creatures. I’ve even seen “species to avoid” lists dictating what consumers should not buy.

While I agree there are extremely challenging fish to keep alive, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are impossible to keep in general. The advancement of this hobby is quite amazing. I remember when an SPS corals could not be found in pet shops or public aquariums. Why? Because they never shipped well and perished shortly after collection. Now, we’re aqua-culturing and fragging them like aquatic plants.

Ribbon eel
I remember when six-line wrasses were like today’s green chromis. Most were imported from Philippine suppliers and could have DAA rate (dead after arrival) as high as a 90 percent. A good customer of ours wrote an article in TFH a few years back justifying the practices of trying to keep these so-called impossible fish: “If more aquarists knew of the challenges, we would probably figure out solutions to be more successful.” The problem isn’t so much their survival rate, the problem lies in educating the consumers regarding the needs of a species in an aquarium setting.

I do not advocate all shops keeping or selling “expert” marine fishes. A shop should only sell them if its staff feels confident enough—and is willing—to advance the hobby through experimentation. Said shop should also clearly indicate (by signs and/or by policy) to its staff and consumers which of its fish are challenging to keep. Lastly, the staff should be experienced enough—and willing—to give these fish the “TLC” they need and deserve.

This hobby will never advance if we close our minds to possibilities. Of course, that doesn’t mean careless or callous practices. If we study and act cautiously, we will build a stronger hobby.  —PD

Fish That Don’t Feed: Con
Fish food manufacturers have made terrific strides in the past few years in terms of offering new varieties of fish foods: dry prepared foods and excellent specialty frozen foods, such as a sponge/algae frozen formula for butterflies and angels. In addition, there are whole frozen foods, ranging from small brine shrimp and mysis shrimp all the way up to whole silversides and other fishes, and there are always live foods—worms, fish, etc. However, there are still some fish that simply will not take any food, period, when kept in captivity. These non-feeders are pretty much limited to marine fish and, unfortunately, they are among the most beautiful marine fish. Offering these fish for sale to hobbyists is, to my way of thinking, irresponsible in all but a few cases where we are dealing with expert hobbyists.

Leading off my list are Moorish idols. Moorish idols have the worst traits of the most difficult to feed angelfish and butterflies combined. They may feed on some of the specialized frozen diets, and if you have the right corals they may eat them. But this is a fish that should not be taken from the reef; settle for a Heniochus.

Next would be ribbon eels—all stages, sexes and colors. While it is possible to tempt these gorgeous fish into downing a live guppy or molly, they really never actively feed and are doomed to a slow lingering death in an aquarium.

Finally, there are the “obligate” feeders, fish that can only feed on specific things. The most common of these are the cleaner wrasses. They are specialized to eat only what they can clean off other fish. In the wild, a single cleaner wrasse will typically have a “station” where it services many clients. In an aquarium, they very quickly run out of food to pick off fish and die shortly thereafter. Certain butterflies are obligate coral eaters, but those are usually not offered for sale, as they don’t make it through the supply chain.

Offering any of these fish to your customers may make a small short-time profit for the store, but in very little time you will have an unhappy customer whose fish died because it wouldn’t eat.  —DL

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