Having your marine fish breed in your saltwater aquarium is considered to be the “Holy Grail” of the fish keeping hobby…
How awesome would it be to have your pet marine fish breed in your tank?
Well, to take on a challenge like this you need time, space and patience, but man is it worth it!
Before I begin with my romantic tips to get you fish in the mood; today’s post is in honor of my recently released on Amazon ebook “How To Breed Marine Fish For Profit Or Fun”, which people have been nagging me for years to write.
Once upon a time, even the thought of breeding the stunning marine fish species from the coral reefs of the world was an impossible dream.
Now the list of species that are able to be captive bred is steadily increasing every year. The reasons for this are many:
- the huge profile of the hobby
- techniques adapted from aquaculture in the food fish industry
- the work of public aquariums
- advancing scientific knowledge
- the desire to reduce collection impact on the coral reef environment
- breeding programs like “designer Clownfish” making captive breeding even more trendy
The bottom line is high demand from consumers; ultimately tank bred marine fish provide much less of a headache for the marine aquarium keeper and they are ecologically sustainable; I like to think of it as the difference between a wild animal trying to learn to cope with captivity versus a sedate, happy little fish going about its everyday life; think wild jungle cat versus a domestic cat.
Captive bred species are more robust, less stressed and less prone to disease, they are also less fussy eaters and less aggressive than wild caught fish of the same species. For the most part they live longer more happy lives if they are tank reared. This gives some pretty impressive reasons to go captive reared or better yet do it yourself!
Many species have now been documented to breed in saltwater aquariums such as:
- at least 11 different Angelfish
- 9 Blennies,
- 4 Cardinalfish
- 14 species of Clownfish
- 10 Dottybacks
- 12 Gobies
- 2 Grammas
- 4 Groupers
- 3 Puffers
- 9 seahorses and seadragons
- 2 wrasses
Plus 1 or a few species of many other fish families. This list is growing every day.
Some tips to get you breeding fish
The key strategy if you decide to breed marine fish is to concentrate on one particular species, do as much research as you can on the husbandry and breeding habits of that particular species, read as much as you can written by people who have had success breeding your particular species and write a plan detailing exactly what you are going to do and what equipment you will need for the scale you intend to breed at.
There are many considerations you will need to take into account before you begin to breed, such as:
1. Feeding the young: One of the hardest aspects of fish breeding can be raising and especially feeding the fry, for the most part you will have to culture their live food organisms they need to eat, for example algae, phytoplankton, copepods, rotifers and baby brine shrimp yourself as most cannot be readily purchased in any great quantity and it mostly is pretty easy to do this.
2. Dealing with numbers: What will you do with all your baby fish? Sell them, raise them into adults, give them away? You need to be aware of how many young you can expect, for example Clownfish can have hundreds of babies in a single brood, whereas Cardinalfish will produce around 12 each time. These little guys usually need to be housed separately from the main tank and be fed well appropriate foods before they are ready to leave home.
3. Tank logistics: How your set up will look and what aquarium volumes you will need as a single breeding tank or 1 or a series of “growing out” or fry raising tanks. Obviously this depends on the scale of your operation and your imagination!
4. Acquiring the parents: Where and how you can obtain your breeding stock, for example; Clownfish will probably need to be purchased as a wild caught mated pair, Cardinalfish are best brought in a group of 5-10 individuals to maximize chances of reproductive behavior and Lionfish are haremic spawners with one male to a group of females. Research will tell you what you need to do here.
How do you get marine fish to breed?
Marine fish can be induced to breed/spawn by providing the correct environmental conditions coupled with sexual maturity, numbers and sex ratios of individuals and obviously good health and nutrition is an important factor.
For targeted spawners different environmental parameters need to be optimised for each species that signal breeding time has arrived as in the wild, cues such as temperature, salinity and appropriate day-night cycle need to be mimicked which influence the fishes hormones and stimulate gamete (sex cell production), an example is longer days and warmer temperatures to signal summer is here.
The most important hormone is gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRH), which needs to be present, in sufficient quantities for the final step; releasing of the eggs/sperm, the actual spawning to occur. GNRH is produced in a healthy fish in response to gradual environmental manipulation and pristine water quality.
Some species will need appropriate nesting materials too, for example Clownfish are happy to lay eggs on a piece of terracotta clay pot. To be successful you need to find out general guidelines that have worked for other breeders of your target species. A fantastic resource for this is www.marinebreeder.org, which is a very helpful forum, there are also numerous books available on particular species.
Critical keys for marine fish breeding success
There are critical elements of success that need to be worked through for your planned breeding project to go through without a hitch:
1. Choosing the right fish: healthy, sexually mature specimens in the right sex ratios and numbers.
2. Conditioning your tank: it’s not just romantic music and candles 😉 different fish have different environmental cues that help induce spawning and/or tell the fish the conditions are right and safe to spawn. We are talking about temperature, photoperiod, absence of other species, nesting materials, availability of foods.
3. Provide optimal nutrition: Ask anyone who has raised Clownfish fry, once they get to the metamorphosis stage if nutritional requirements have not been met you get a LOT of fatalities.
4. Choosing an easy marine fish to begin with: Forget Tangs and Butterflyfish; which so far to my knowledge have been unable to be captive bred. Angelfish and Triggers will only grow to maturity when water and planktonic lifeforms from their natural ranges are present. The easiest fish to breed are Clownfish, Damselfish, Gobies, Dottybacks and Cardinalfish.
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