While starting to research unsuitable fishes for SAIA, I remembered this article from a couple of years back. Hopefully this should explain some of the rationale behind restricting the availability of certain species of fish. Personally I would not want to see the trade in these species banned, rather that availability should be restricted to: those with the capacity to provide suitable accommodation – in the case of large species, advanced aquarists – in the cases where it’s a matter of nutritional limitations.
Criteria for Unsuitability.
SAIA’s criteria for unsuitability include: size (organisms growing too big for the average hobbyist tank), feeding (specialist feeders), and sensitivity to transport conditions. We believe that as part of our goal of an ethical and sustainable marine aquarium trade that we can reduce the demand for unsuitable species by making information available to both the trade and the hobby. Below are a few further comments on some of the criteria for unsuitability.
Generation replacement time.
Many fishes have a slow generation replacement time; meaning collection for the aquarium trade can affect the sustainability of the breeding population.
Rarity in the wild.
Some very desirable species are comparatively rare in the wild.
Limited natural range.
A good example of course being the Banggai, a limited range implies a small population that can be easily over-exploited by the aquarium trade.
Method of capture.
Owing to their habitat there are fish species, which are difficult to capture, fishes such as dwarf angelfishes and mandarins come to mind. Cyanide is still in use, along with a number of other chemical agents that are used to knock out fishes to make collection easier.
If you can’t feed it, you can’t keep it!
Just because some retailer tells you, “No problem, it’ll eat anything” it doesn’t mean that they’re correct. Research fishes’ nutritional requirements, if you cannot accommodate a specialist feeder do not buy it thinking it’ll acclimate to aquarium food in time, it won’t, it’ll starve to death!
This is of particular importance in view of the public aquarium Big Fish Campaign, launched in 2006, which aims to educate aquarists about the potential sizes of fishes in the trade and point out that public aquaria cannot be relied upon to take care of poorly thought out purchases, when they outgrow home aquaria.
Remember, when you buy a fish it shouldn’t just be something to keep until it outgrows your system, you should be making a commitment to keep that fish for the length of its natural life, something that in many cases should be measured in decades not months!
On the subject of size, there is also the question of what size fish should be collected for the trade, this can affect the sustainability of the breeding population of a species. Size can also have an influence on how well a particular species survives the process of collection and transportation.
10 Marine Fishes You Shouldn’t Even Think About Buying.
Elasmobranches, sharks and rays, should remain the provenance of public aquaria. The only exception to this rule is if you can provide facilities similar to those of a public aquarium, both in scale and in technology.
I’d particularly like to draw your attention here to the Blue-spotted stingray, Taeniura lymma. This is an animal that is being put into danger by collection for the marine aquarium industry and features in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It’s of particular concern as it has a poor record in captivity with a significant number of those brought in for public aquarium display failing to survive the acclimation process. If public aquaria, with their knowledge and facilities, find these difficult animals what chance do hobbyists have of keeping them alive?
Few, if any, fishes from this family are suitable for the home aquarium. The Golden Trevally, Gnathanodon speciosus, is my poster fish for animals that should not be imported unless ordered specifically for a public aquarium display. It is completely irresponsible for these fishes to be imported and held as a matter of course, it’s inevitable they’ll end up in the wrong hands (i.e. outside the public aquarium industry) when picked by people ignorant of the size of these fishes. At 6 -7 cms it’s a cute colourful fish, full grown at 120 cms, it becomes something that smaller public aquaria may have problems housing.
Wild Caught Clownfishes.
You might find this one a bit of a surprise but it makes complete sense. Every Clownfish taken from the wild means the potential demise of its host anemone, a potential that becomes even greater when it’s a pair that’s been collected.
All Clownfishes can be bred in captivity with differing degrees of difficulty, and contrary to uninformed opinion the colours of captive bred fishes can be just as vibrant as those of wild ones.
Rhinomuraena quaesita, with its nasal extension is a very striking fish. It’s unique amongst the Muraenids in displaying sexual dichromatism, males and female being differently coloured. It’s a protandrous hermaphrodite starting off life black, as it changes to male it takes on the very attractive blue colouration associated with this fish, finally becoming female at around 85 cms when the colour changes to yellow or yellowish green/blue. These fish are difficult to feed, rarely surviving for more than a year in an aquarium; consequently, the female colouration is seldom seen in captivity.
Wild Caught Banggai Cardinalfishes.
Perhaps another surprise, but this is a classic example of an animal that is easily bred in captivity yet endangered in the wild by the aquarium industry. This fish inhabits a limited range; it produces small broods, and is limited in the number of broods it can produce over the course of the year.
Unless you’re prepared to devote a separate aquarium to coral cultivation, one that can keep up with the demands of the fishes being kept, you shouldn’t buy any obligate corallivores. These are fishes that are obliged to eat coral polyps as a mainstay of their diet. Typified by Butterflyfishes plus the gorgeous Blue-spotted filefish Oxymonacanthus longirostris.
This one is difficult for me as, along with many other aquarists, this is one of the fishes that attracted me to the hobby in the first place. There are two concerns about Mandarins the first is a question of nutrition but if carefully considered there’s no reason why these fishes can’t survive their natural lifespan in an aquarium. The second is harder to defend and is concerned with the manner in which these fishes are collected. There is a tendency for the largest males to be targeted for collection, which has been proved to have a deleterious affect on the local population.
Labroides dimidiatus, the familiar blue cleaner wrasse, is a perpetual concern. They’re commonly seen for sale at a moderate price yet the majority of them are doomed to death by malnutrition. They’re obligate cleaners that feed on external parasites, mucus, and fish scales. To survive long-term they need to be kept with a large community of fishes. There is no excuse for an aquarist with an average sized reef to go out and purchase one of these fishes as, even though these fish will be seen to feed, they are unable to properly assimilate aquarium foods and will die prematurely.
Importantly, they cannot be considered a cure for diseases such as white spot – one of the main reasons hobbyists purchase this fish.
Cowfishes & Boxfishes.
Ostracion cubicus, Yellow or Cube Boxfish, Lactoria cornuta, Longhorn Cowfish, etc. are often seen as cute little “croutons” about 2 cms cubed, hovering in dealers’ sales tank, these are not fish to be taken on lightly. With an adult size of around half a metre, and the potential to wipe out a complete system with the toxic slime that they exude when stressed, they certainly represent a species unsuitable for the average marine aquarist.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I’m currently compiling a list of unsuitable fishes for SAIA, if you would like to suggest any species that you believe should be included in this list please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org