Fragging Corals: Easy to Do, Easy to Sell
By David Lass
As the industry/hobby has gotten better at maintaining excellent water quality in reef tanks, it has become much easier to maintain most of the corals hobbyists keep. In fact, it is also pretty simple to "frag” them. Fragging corals refers to reproducing specimens in an aquarium by either cutting pieces from a mother colony or by allowing the coral to grow onto another piece of rock or other stratum, which then can be removed to become a new colony.
Fragging Corals' Lower Impact on Environment
|Coral fragging has become a popular and easy alternative to coral heads acquired in the wild, among hobbyists and retailers who are seeking to propagate healthy tank reefs. Credit: David Lass|
While the vast majority of the animals and invertebrates sold on the freshwater side of the hobby are commercially farmed, this is not the case with marines. In fact, the typical response to the marine side of the hobby is, "You fishkeepers are destroying the reefs in nature.” The reality is that food fishing, the Chinese medicine industry and careless boaters do much more damage to the reefs in the wild than anything connected with the aquarium hobby.
However, we are very visible and easy to point the finger at. Farmed fish are still quite limited to clowns, gobies, dottybacks and seahorses, but there is no reason why all of the corals in stores can’t be commercially farmed or produced by devoted hobbyists.
"I strongly feel that the large focus on growing and propagating corals in captivity makes the hobby much easier,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager for Instant Ocean at United Pet Group in Cincinnati. "The chance for success is far greater when buying fragments of corals that thrive in captivity.”
There are basically three ways to obtain aquacultured corals (as opposed to animals taken from the wild reefs) to sell in pet stores: 1) buy commercially raised animals, 2) grow them in the store and 3) buy them from customers (definitely the most popular method). Let’s look at each method separately.
Buying commercially raised frags is always possible. You can buy direct from the producers in Florida or California, or you can buy commercially produced coral frags from your regular livestock wholesaler. The biggest problem with buying commercial is that many of the supposedly "fragged” corals may not be true frags, but simply larger coral heads that have been cut apart (i.e., "chopped”). Corals such as these are still considered corals taken from the wild.
Growing frags in the store is very easy to do, as long as you have the room and are willing to make the investment in tank space and lighting. One of the major benefits of doing frags in your store is that you can demonstrate to your customers your concern for the environment and the fact that you want to contribute to its well-being.
Buying frags from customers is becoming the easiest and preferable method for most stores.
"It has become so easy to keep a reef tank that most good hobbyists are able to frag all but the most difficult corals,” said Allen Fefferman, owner of Old Orchard Aquarium in Skokie, Ill.
Jeremy Russell, an owner of Coral Reef Aquarium in Seekonk, Mass., said, "We are doing much less of our own fragging, as hobbyists are all getting so good at keeping corals very well, and [they] provide us with most of what we need.”
Buying frag corals from your customers is just plain good business, according to Caroline Chalk, assistant manager of the fish room at Rumford Pet Center in East Providence, R.I.
"Most of what customers propagate are Xenia, mushrooms and buttons, and we give customers credit of one-third of the retail price of the coral,” she said. "Often customers will use the credit to buy more expensive corals, and we hope that they can propagate those also.”
The only problem, depending on how big your customer base is, can be what Jon Simmons called "saturation of the market.”
Simmons, owner of Massachusetts-based Boston Aqua Farms LLC, a supplier of fragging equipment, pointed out that "eventually most of your customers will have most of the corals other customers have produced, and you will have to bring in new and different types.”
Dan Engmark, owner of Garland, Texas-based Deep Sea Aquatics, a major manufacturer of custom marine tanks, also recognized the importance of store customers and fragging.
"Stores that work with their customers with frags will position themselves as a leader, as well as a much-needed resource for this emerging segment,” he said. "I would encourage stores to set up ‘swap’ events with their customers to meet other hobbyists with the same interests, and at the same time generate revenue for the store.”
Fragging Made Simple
- Reproducing corals through "fragging” is easy to do and is infinitely preferred over taking corals from the wild.
- Fragged corals are available from importers, commercial coral farmers and livestock wholesalers.
- Store customers can be your best source for coral frags. Usually you can use store credit to buy frags from customers, which makes for a shopping incentive for your customers as well as profits for you.
As reef-tank keeping has advanced, corals that were considered "difficult” 10 years ago are now regularly kept and reproduced by fragging.
"All it really comes down to is live rock, live sand, protein skimming and water movement,” Russell said. "What animals can be kept is purely a function of the lighting and feeding the hobbyist is willing to provide.”
In general, the easier a coral is to keep, the easier it will be to reproduce.
"Mushrooms are usually the starter coral that a hobbyist will get frags from,” Simmons said. "If you just move mushrooms from one place to another, anything left on the rock will produce a mushroom on its own. You can also simply divide them.”
With Zooanthids, Pulsing Xenia and other corals that tend to spread over the substrate, it is a matter of encouraging them to spread onto a new piece of substrate, be it rock or artificial substrate. Given ideal water conditions, sufficient light and additional feeding as required, these corals are easy to get frags from. With the stony corals, it is required to cut pieces from the growing tips of the coral, similar to trimming a rose bush or a small pine tree. The process is quite simple: Use commercially available tools, have plugs to put the frags on and attach them using cyanoacrylate superglue.
One of the best places to go for information and learn more about the process is the Boston Aqua Farms website. <HOME>
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