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/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Choosing Captive Bred Marine Fishes



by Bob Fenner  


The choice to purchase captive bred and reared versus wild-collected livestock is clear on a few valid points. Compared to the wild, captives are far hardier; more likely to live in your system. They’re already trained to accept commercially prepared, available foods; whereas wild specimens may not recognize, nor feed on much of anything you offer. Captives are far less aggressive; and hence more likely to get along with your other livestock.

            There are only two genuine complaints you can find advancing wild-caught over aquacultured specimens: First, that the captive-produced are smaller in size to start with… a matter of economics. And secondly that they cost a bit more than wild-collected; which I would definitely argue that the fact that aquacultured specimens by and large outlive wild greatly outweighs their slightly higher price up-front.


Some Captive-Produced Fish Examples:

            There are several dozen fish species cultured for the ornamental trade nowayears; as well as many invertebrates and macro-algae for our use. Here is a smattering of fish group choices.

Clownfishes: First and Foremost: The original aquacultured marine fishes

With about 30 identified species the Clownfishes are the most longstanding and intensely cultured family of marine ornamentals. Wild-collected specimens have a dismal survival history in captivity that is practically reversed with captive-produced stocks. The principal species are shown below in order of their preponderance in culture and use in the trade.

At right, some of ORA's captive-produced Clownfishes.







Gobies, Family Gobiidae: Though many species of gobies of this large family have been captively spawned and reared, only the Cleaner Gobies, principally of the genus Gobiosoma are presently commercially produced. Along with the Clownfishes the cleaner gobies make up the bulk of the ornamental marine fish culture market.



Gobiosoma oceanops (Jordan 1904), THE Neon Goby. Tropical West Atlantic; southern Florida to Belize. To two inches in length.

Here’s a nice pair out in the wild on a reef in Key Largo, Florida.



Dottybacks, Family Pseudochromidae: Dottybacks can be very aggressive when wild-collected. As with many cultured freshwater fishes, captive-produced generations are much more easygoing.


Pseudochromis fridmani Klausewitz 1968, the Orchid Dottyback. Known only from the Red Sea, but cultured in commercial numbers. To three inches in length. This photo taken in Sharm, Red Sea.


Cardinalfishes, Family Apogonidae: A few species of this male-mouthbrooding family have been spawned and reared in captivity. As of now, the only commercially valuable species under culture is the Banggai Cardinal.


Pterapogon kauderni Koumans 1933, the Banggai Cardinalfish. Restricted in distribution to Banggai Island, Indonesia, though commercially produced in good numbers in Indonesia and elsewhere. To three inches in length. A darling of the ornamental aquatics industry and hobby. Readily reproduced in captivity. Young cluster about the spines of the Urchin Diadema setosum when threatened. Pictured here in the wild in N. Sulawesi.

Even captive specimens die easily if moved when too small. Wait till they are a good ¾” overall length before buying.


Seahorses (and related Pipefishes) are both collected in the wild and captive-produced. Unless you’re up for a real challenge, or want to try breeding a new species; or both (!), I’d definitely go with aquacultured species/specimens.

Hippocampus kuda Bleeker 1852, the Common or Spotted Seahorse. Indo-Pacific; Pakistan, India, to Hawai'i, Society Islands. To a foot in length (stretched out). Found in calm waters amongst algae, seagrass. A brown one in captivity.


Other cultured stocks include more fish families, snails like conchs, large red, green and brown algae… All of these are superior for aquarium use coming from aquacultured sources. The only valid reason for buying the same species from the wild is it being otherwise not available, or your earnest desire to attempt culture yourself.



            The choice is clear where there are both wild-caught and captive-produced individuals of the same species available for purchase. Though ones “made in captivity” are generally smaller, perhaps a bit more expensive; THEY LIVE much more often and longer than wild-collected. Do yourself and the planet a favor and cast your vote for aquacultured livestock: Less wear and tear on the environment; no imported pathogenic disease issues, readily accepting of readily available foods, and no captive-system issues.  


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