Part of the fun of fishkeeping is the joy of spawning your own livestock. But is it always good to bring so many young into the world? While it feels like the right thing to do, is it really?
PFK associate editor Nathan Hill and staff writer Steve Baker go head to head over whether we should encourage hobbyists to breed fish at home.
How do you view home breeding? Is it a good thing that helps out with conservation, or is it something surplus to requirements, populating the hobby and the industry with heaps of undesirable fish it never wanted or needed?
SB: I’d say it has to be a bit of both and it all depends on the amount of thought the breeder has put in to sourcing, breeding and raising their fish. As a good example, just look at our reader visit this month (see page 38). Max Pedley has invested in wild-caught rare broodstock and made a real success of multiplying them for others to enjoy.
On the other hand, a tank full of incestuous Jewel or Convict cichlids is rarely of use to anyone, comes around too often, and causes an ethical problem of what to do with them.
NH: Yeah, but my question is, what is the wider impact of spawning fish at home? For example, I know that when it comes to wild-caught fish, there are some parts of the world where habitat conservation is intertwined with fish collection – species are caught and sold, and the revenue this generates is enough to stop destructive farming practices.
Say, for example, hundreds of hobbyists found a really easy way to breed Cardinal tetras at home, and flooded the market with hundreds of thousands of them. Would that not risk stopping demand for wild-caught fish, in turn giving the collectors in South America no incentive to continue habitat conservation?
Even if we could make the hobby selfsustaining, would that be the right thing to do? SB: I honestly don’t think it would hit the wild-caught sector. Just maybe, if British fish breeders went to town on breeding Cardinals, it would make an impact on sales of farmed Cardinals imported from Singapore to the UK. That could only be a good thing in my eyes as it could cut pollution from transportation and create industry at home.
The fact that we find it harder to breed tropical fish as economically as any tropical country means I can’t see us pushing the boundaries by breeding rarer fish we’ve now collected from the wild, or even challenging the major producers of the most basic fish.
NH: But my angle is that the current situation in South America is the lesser of two evils. Without the revenue gained from catching Cardinals, the locals would have to find money elsewhere – slash-and-burn forest clearance for crops, or the likes of gold-panning. These would be catastrophic.
Regarding the costeffectiveness of breeding in the UK, I think it’s only a matter of time. Fossil fuels are getting more expensive, and with the high-end stuff like Zebra plecs, it’s now more cost-effective to breed these fish in the UK, than it is to wild import. I think more species will soon follow.
But environmental concerns aside, how do you feel about the potential for messed-up bloodlines? If we cut to the chase, a decent understanding of genetics and inbreeding is essential to any successful breeding enterprise, and that’s not the easiest thing to grasp.
And then again, there’s good money to be made from deliberately spawning hybrids – just look at the Flowerhorn piece on page 22. Assuming more and more people bred at home, and put those hybrid fish up for sale online, as is incredibly likely, what would be the hobby ramifications of that?
Ideally, I’d like to see a new medication on the shelves, a fish-suitable contraceptive
SB: Even with a highly efficient breeding facility powered by solar and wind power, I can’t see the UK producing ‘trops’ more economically than a country that needs no heating or insulation, just mud ponds and good managment essentially.
Moving on to genetics and the muddle that is hybrids, that worries me indeed. As far as amateur home breeders are concerned, I’d be just as worried about health issues going undetected, let alone genetic troubles.
Look at the puppy farms; aside from all the genetic issues caused by irresponsible breeding, many puppies die from the viruses , infections or deficiencies they leave the puppy farm with, but new legislation is being brought in in an attempt to deal with this. On a business level, the new regulations should help quash the same issue arising with fish.
I’m more worried about people that don’t aim to breed. Accidental fry tend to come from less-desirable fish or fish with little value, like common livebearers. The owners gave it no thought, so the breeding pair came from the same tank (often meaning they are siblings), and the fry were fed on crushed-up flake, so weren’t offered the nutrition needed to rear strong, healthy fish.
As for hybrids, don’t get me started, but it’s just another area where humans do what they want to please themselves, and don’t consider what’s right for mother nature and the planet we rely on.
On the other hand, there are some excellent fishbreeders with integrity in the UK.
NH: I think you have more confidence in legislation controlling hybrids and poorquality fish than I do. But yes, I quite agree that accidental fry are a problem that needs addressing. It might be a pleasant surprise for someone to find that the pair of Jewel cichlids they mistakenly bought for a community tank have just bred, but then there’s the issue of what to do with that couple-of-hundred fry.
And there’s the extra whammy that a hobbyist doesn’t always value the urgency of culling runts and deformities – they feel bad about destroying substandard fry, and so the result is a surge of bad fish being rehomed.
With that in mind, should casual aquarists be actively looking to avoid breeding? In my own experiences, breeding fish was rewarding, but far from essential to my hobby. But then, my experience did help in my public aquarium days, when spawning for conservation.
SB: I’m sure you’re right. Most hobbyists aren’t breeding savvy and some might feel a sense of pride they raised a deformed fish – as if they’ve saved it, rather than realising the error of maintaining genetically weak fish. I suppose it doesn’t hurt if that fish is never bred from, but that’s a big ‘if’ in this situation. Should casual hobbyists actively avoid breeding? I think most will, given the choice. When selling common livebearers and known easy breeders like Jewel cichlids, I’ve always warned people about breeding issues – overstocking the tank, being unable to find homes for them etc – and most then want to avoid it by keeping male-only tanks or picking alternative species. But how many shop assistants give buyers all this information? Ideally I’d like to see a new medication on the shelves, a fish-suitable contraceptive. I think it would be a huge success with guppy, molly and platy keepers. It might even encourage me to keep Jewel cichlids again!
NH: While a water-soluble contraceptive would be great for hobbyists, the obvious danger is that it would eventually end up being flushed into our waterways and affect native stocks. There are already strong links between the decline of our native frogs and the use of human oral contraceptives. As I recall, the link goes that as they are passed out through the body into the sewage system, then back into our rivers, they affect the tadpoles’ development, leading to a severely skewed sex ratio.
I guess there are two important things for readers to take away here. First, there are consequences for breeding fish without any forethought. While conservation may be a great incentive, any aquarist who doesn’t understand genetics and inbreeding could cause more problems than solutions. And second, if a fish is that easy to breed, chances are the industry has plenty already.
INSET: Cute, but what will you do with 200 baby Convicts?