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FAQs about Sources of Help, Livestock, Drygoods in the Trade

Back to articles on: Sources, Quality Marine, TMC/Tropic Marine Centre, UWW/Underwater World


Tropical Marine Breeders Hi Bob, As a commercial tropical marine breeder myself, it was with much interest to read your article in October's FAMA about TMC. I personally have met both Mr Paul West and Daniel Stokes. They were at the Chicago Christmas Pet Trade Show last October. I invited them to my operation and even supplied transportation back and forth for them. As you know, back in the '50's, virtually all freshwater tropicals were natural caught. But over the past fifty years, virtually all fresh water tropicals are now farm raised. This same evolution has NOT occurred for tropical marines. These were first cultured in reasonable quantities in the early '70's. Several large, multi-million dollar operations were set up to commercialize propagation but many have gone under (Instant Ocean Hatcheries, Aqualife Research, et al). To my knowledge, there are five operations currently attempting to be successful. The first I'll mention, of course, is my own Reef Propagations, Inc. in the basement of a house in Hoffman Estates, IL. Because of my low overhead, I believe I can lay claim to being the first, if not the only, operation to ever be profitable. In the ten years of operation, I have raised and sold over 90,000 Clownfish and Gobies. The second operation is Bill Addison's C-Quest in Puerto Rico. Bill and I are close friends. We have been in business for the same length of time. Unfortunately, C-Quest has yet to turn a profit. But Bill is the true guru of the propagation of marine tropicals. I believe he now has in excess of 26 varieties including Mandarins, Pearl Headed Jawfish, and Royal Grammas. But his biggest success has been with Pseudochromis. He was the first to breed any variety of these. In the process of spawning, the female would invariably be destroyed by the male, usually by being sliced open. But Bill hung in there. Today he raises several different species. But the most critical concept here is that he has "domesticated" the family. Tank raised individuals were no where near as likely to kill each other in the process of spawning. Consequently, solely because of Bill's success, several other hatcheries are now raising this family based on Bill's off-spring. Bill is truly the patron saint of tank raised marines. The third operation is ORA (Oceans, Reefs, and Aquariums). They are located at Harbor Branch in Fort Pierce, Florida. This is a very high rent district. Harbor Branch is an ex-Johnson & Johnson research facility. I believe their volume is quite high now and they may in fact be profitable. Their marketing strategy is to sell directly to shops and avoid wholesalers. In this way, they can get a higher price per fish. I know that several years ago, this operation went into Chapter 11 but I suspect they are now out of it. The fourth operation in Mangrove Tropicals in Hawaii. This operation just came on-line within the past year and is no where near profitable. It is managed by Richard Masse, an ex-employee of C-Quest. Rich has high hopes and may well achieve success. The final operation is TMC. I have been trying to get a feel for just how successful they are. Your article states "generating tens of thousands of Clownfish and Gobies". To me that says they have reared less than 100,000, probably a similar number to mine but with a much higher overhead which implies a lack of profitability. I write all of this because I cherish the thought of you doing an article about my operation. As stated previously, it is difficult, if not impossible for major corporations to be profitable in this endeavor. But I would like to demonstrate that a small "mom & pop" operation in a basement may well be the route to be taken to get tropical marine breeding into the same status as fresh water breeding. Thank You, Joe Lichtenbert Reef Propagations, Inc. <Thank you for writing, and yes, am aware of the operations, folks you mention... and glad to hear "you're still out there" and know of Bill Addison's trials and tribulations (mainly weather/geography and money...) and know further that Dave Palmer and he are well-matched and on track for much better times... And Jeff Turner of ORA was out visiting us a month or two back... yes, they're now doing well apparently.... don't know anything about their having filed for bankruptcy. And TMC produces and sells a few tens of thousands of Clownfishes and a smattering of other species (fin-fish and non-vertebrate monthly. Their operation is the most serious commercial concern I've seen on the planet... and quite profitable.) Will gladly write a "pro" piece for the industry, hobby mag.s about your business, history should we have the occasion to get together. Do make my way out to your part of the world about once a year, so who knows? Bob Fenner, WWM>

RE: Tropical Marine Breeders Hi Bob, Based on your other statements, you certainly "up" on the industry. Not many know of the Dave Palmer connection at C-Quest and the new hopes and dreams. Thanks for listening. Take Care, Joe >> <Thank you for sharing! Glad to have fine folks in our interest. Bob Fenner>

Comments regarding PFK (Practical Fishkeeping, a monthly hobby magazine in the UK) Dear Mr Fenner, I write to you in relation to your letter in the July issue of PFK, where you made comment with respect to Dave Saxby's remarks on importing stock from Europe. I am new to the hobby and have just set up a fish only system. As such I have taken a keen interest in prices of stock and visited many retailers over the past few months. The first point I would make is that the £15 "cheap" Yellow Tang you refer to does not exist. I purchased one this weekend and nowhere can you buy for under £25, regardless of quality. I have joined a local club whose chairman knows Dave Saxby well, and I have had the privilege of seeing his tank on two occasions. I can tell you that none of the stock is of low quality, in fact the stock is of exceptionally high quality. Whilst I do not yet keep inverts myself I have had the chance to see what is in Dave's tank in comparison to the retailers, and I can assure you that there is no contest. The pure size of his clams alone are simply not seen in the UK market, so are either not selected by our importers, or are "diverted" to other countries. I have also talked to him about pricing, and on average livestock in Germany is half that of the UK, and often of better quality or stock that you simply don't see here. I would have to congratulate companies like TMC who have been very successful in their trade on a purely commercial basis, but have ended up as very much the dominant supplier to the hobby. As such they can deliberately or inadvertently have great influence on what is available at what prices. There is very little competition for them. In the same article TMC made the point about CITIES regulations, and this should obviously be taken in to account. However there are many inverts that can be moved within the European area that do not require any such documentation, and to leave that point out of the article is misleading and could easily be taken as the scare tactics of a monopoly company Yours sincerely, Ian Parker p.s. If you can tell me where I can find these £15 Tangs please let me know ! >> Thank you so much for forwarding this letter to me. A brief reply: Insomuch as I'm a brief visitor to your country (live principally in the U.S.), I cannot directly state what the prevailing conditions are that dictate pricing in the U.K. However, I am quite familiar with the ornamental aquatics industry worldwide and can assure you there are no grand schemes to monopolize any part thereof. I am given to understand that there are other principal players in the marine livestock wholesale field on your side of "the pond", and that both/all are effected the same by CITES, government, economic influences... Furthermore, that other western European, indeed most any part of the planet's countries may/do ship into the U.K. with their living wares. I will assure you as an example that there are plenty of Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) in Hawai'i that collectors would greatly like to ship there for, say, about $2.75 each in hundred lots, FOB the islands... Once you factor in the cost of freight, customs, box charges... acclimation, care, possible incidental losses, you may well find the 25 pound retail price not so unrealistic.  Towards the ends of further explaining/reconciling the difference between the "free" Yellow Tang in the wild and the cost at your door, let me extol the virtues of Tropic Marine Centre further. They' ve gone the complete route of helping establish collecting stations in many places in the world. Training local collectors, revisiting them to keep them informed, providing the highest quality livestock I am familiar with. All of this on their own initiative, and I warrant, not in the spirit or actuality of monopolizing the trade.  Let me close by stating that I sense a renaissance of sorts awakening anew in our hobby. With many more organisms being captive bred and reared (Look at the Arusetta Angels from the orient), and several new collecting stations being established, providing novel species for our use. What's more, I foresee an improvement in landed health and lessening of cost for this livestock... ala the efforts of hobbyists/consumers around the world as well as inherent features of competition. Bob Fenner, WetWebMedia.com

Re: Comments regarding PFK Dear Bob, Thank you for your very prompt reply, and your comments are interesting. However I do think that you have missed the point. I fully appreciate that there are many costs along the way from catching livestock to its final sale, including air freight, import taxes etc etc. However these costs would be the same for say Germany as they are for the UK,  <Actually... no, the costs of freight, government bureaucracy/taxation/interference, customs, relative currency valuation/ease of asset conversion... are VERY different between the two countries, indeed, around the world... Amongst friends, associates in the trade, there are people who charge more, less on these bases...> therefore the question still remains how can retailers there sell for 35 to 50% less than here?  <To some degree, "an explanation" that can be proffered is "volume", "emphasis on co-selling" of drygoods (i.e. lower mark-ups to drive higher margin items), "history or lower charge for livestock...". Between Germany and the UK, the cost of doing business in the field of ornamental aquatics is lower in the former...> This is even after you make an allowance for a relatively strong pound at present. Until there is a sound explanation put forward the ordinary hobbyist will be suspicious of profiteering, whether or not they are right. <You know, you sound like you're just the person to open up and trounce these "gougers"... Ever thought of becoming a multimillionaire as a retailer in the field? Ever work with, at, or even converse with any of the 600 or so shops in your country?> I have no axe to grind with any of the major importers, as companies like TMC have clearly made the hobby much stronger than it otherwise would be. <Indeed, and agreed. It (TMC) is the ultimate example of superlative practices in our industry> I look forward to reading any future comments you make in PFK on matters relating to the hobby. <And I gladly invite your offering them to the magazine, and our continuing dialogue>  Regards, Ian Parker. >> <Thank you, sir. Bob Fenner>

TMC livestock selection The following comment was published in Practical Fishkeeping magazine this month from 'a leading U.K hobbyist'. Could I ask you to comment as un un-biased authority based on your visit here and your article in FAMA? "We really need some competition in the supply of invertebrates and fish here in the UK because, as there isn't any real competition the prices are completely outrageous compared with, say, Europe. In Germany, for example, a hobbyist can buy corals and fish at 1/3 less than the cost here. I think this is bad for the hobby and as there isn't a range of suppliers here in the UK is also, of course, limits the choice." David Saxby. Naturally you can't comment on prices, but limited choice? Seriously, I would be interested in hearing your comments on how our stock compares with other wholesalers that you have visited. Cheers, Daniel. >> Thank you for asking. On "our" side of "the pond" here in the U.S. there are numerous mentionings of how much more certain goods are in the U.K. due to several factors. Don't really know that the prices for livestock are indeed all that much more in your country than other places though... as I would hasten to point out that the survivability of livestock I've seen in the U.K. for marines, Koi, and to a slightly lesser extent, freshwater, is greater than most everywhere here in the "States".  The point I'm trying to make is that the dearth of suppliers, and demand of consumers in your country seems to have conspired to demand better, healthier livestock... A "cheap" Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) of let's say 15 pounds... is no bargain after it dies in a short while, compared with one for 25 that lives for many months... In the U.S. we do indeed have both choices...  As to the charge of less selection, I do discount this. In my travels (about all I do), visiting collecting stations (many of them started and supported by Tropic Marine Centre), marine livestock wholesale and distributor around the tropics, I get a pretty good (the best of anyone in my estimation) glimpse of what who has... and the U.K. has about all that is steadily available plus "oddballs"... My last visit to the U.K. stores and wholesale ventures was in December 1999... No where else in the world do I see such assortments of small reef animals like gobies, blennies, Basslets, Cardinalfishes... About the only thing that is noticeably (and regrettably) missing are the stony corals of the family Caryophyllidae. No tears for the genus Catalaphyllia, but to not have the Euphyllias? But other species of Scleractinia, soft corals, algae, gorgonians...? You folks have in abundance... in good health... and at reasonable costs. If you have specific queries as to these assertions you are welcome to contact me in California through the Internet at BobFenner@WetWebMedia.com

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