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5:25 AM   April 19, 2015
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The Bottom Line on Breeding

Hobbyists often discover baby fish fry in their tanks and hurriedly seek products to maintain them.
By Steven Bitter

One of the most exciting things for aquarium hobbyists is seeing their fish breed. While certain types, such as live-bearing guppies and mollies, almost inevitably breed at home, other fish, such as egg-laying tetras and cichlids, can be a bit more of a challenge. In the marine side of the hobby, however, home hobbyists are just starting to develop successful programs. So how do retailers facilitate this process and keep customers coming back?

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More hobbyists are breeding their fish at home than in previous years. Courtesy of the American Pet Products Association’s 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey
Wayne Woo, owner of Riverfront Aquariums in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, noted that few hobbyists actually set out to breed fish.

“Customers get a thrill out of breeding their fish, but a lot of times, it’s unintentional,” he said. “It’s common for a lot of newer hobbyists to breed things just by taking them home, and then they’ll see their fish have babies by accident.”

Woo said this most often occurs with his customers who purchase livebearers, but many cichlids end up breeding, too, which he thinks is because the fish like the area’s hard alkaline water. His company offers aquariums as small as 2 gallons but can provide custom tanks for hobbyists who choose to delve further into breeding.

Given that baby fish fry often arrive by surprise, however, and many fish species eat their young, a customer often has to creatively take advantage of existing in-tank filtration. This can be accomplished by sectioning off an area of the aquarium either with a full-length divider or an in-tank “breeder,” a plastic or mesh container that isolates fish while allowing water to flow in and out.

“We stock five different sizes of tank dividers and five different sizes of in-tank breeder containers,” said Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets in Quincy, Mass. “We also sell live java moss and floating plants for baby fish to hide in.”

Plants can be a more natural-looking approach for sheltering baby fish, but they have their own care requirements both for the retailer and the customer to consider.

For in-tank breeders, Tara Roberts, customer relations representative for Lee’s Aquarium and Pet Products in San Marcos, Calif.,  emphasized the importance of flexibility.

“We have two, three and five-way guppy breeders,” she said, adding that each size has removable dividers. “They modify very well for specific configurations, allowing for a wide range of purposes, like if a larger fish needed more space.”

The basic concept behind the removable dividers is to separate the mother fish from small fry after giving birth. Tank dividers that are siliconed in place on both sides can also work well for fry, although they’re intended more for long-term separation.

“The net breeder is the best for really tiny fish, but it’s more of a containment area, and the mother would have to be removed after the fry are born.”

Feeding baby fish can be a breeding challenge as well, and having the right foods available can mean a big difference in the level of success.

R.D. Webster, sales manager for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif., suggested feeding newly hatched brine shrimp or marine Cyclops, such as the company’s product of the same name.

“We offer frozen baby brine shrimp in both a flat pack and cubes,” Webster said. “It saves the trouble of having to hatch brine shrimp. They’re cryogenically flash-frozen, so they hold their integrity very well when thawed out.”

Some customers who breed finicky species prefer to hatch their own foods. For such customers, San Francisco Bay Brand offers brine shrimp eggs and a hatchery kit.

“We have eggs in a bulk vial or in a ‘hatch mix,’” Webster said. “Our hatchery is designed for use with a soda bottle and an air pump. The shrimp will hatch in anywhere from 18 to 36 hours, and then the nauplii [larvae] can be removed from the bottom of the bottle. It’s very easy to use.”

Live brine shrimp are popular sellers at Lovely Pets. Richmond said the store stocks hatchery kits and eggs, while also offering live brine shrimp and other live foods.

“We sell it pretty well,” he said. “And most of the people that buy that stuff seem to be buying it for baby fish.”

Although freshwater breeders have multiple feeding options, live food is an absolute must for most marine fish larvae. While freshwater fish breeding is rather well established in the hobby, such success with saltwater fish is often still elusive.

“We’ve had people whose clownfish have spawned,” said Richmond. “But there just aren’t a lot of other [marine] fish that are readily breeding in captivity.”

Many people in the fishkeeping industry see breeding as an important next step in marine fishkeeping, and some dedicated individuals are working toward expanding the number of species that hobbyists can breed successfully.

One such hobbyist is Matt Pedersen of Duluth, Minn. His recent success in breeding the orange spot filefish has captured the attention of saltwater hobbyists and professionals alike.

“The information is getting more widespread about how to get fish to spawn,” he said. “But the feeding of larvae is still a stumbling block.

There are things that marine breeders will need that an average store doesn’t carry. Rotifers—specifically, live rotifers— are one of the hardest things to find at a retail store.”

He noted other aquaculture items that are of use to marine fish hobbyists who attempt to breed at home include larval screens, phytoplankton culture discs, rotifer eggs, larval traps and vitamin supplements.

“[A store] won’t need a lot of inventory for this, but just having it available would be very helpful,” he added. “As more and more people start breeding in the next few years, these will be important things to be able to find.”

Specialty retailers can put themselves ahead of the competition by keeping tabs on these fish breeding trends and seeking out products to fill these needs that most other stores aren’t addressing. <HOME>

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