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Fishermen/women/folk be they seeking aquatic source protein for human consumption or ornament are actually "fishing for money" in the modern world. As such, it is imperative to understand ones potential catch/resource, catch gear, nature of the environment and market. For local collectors and the pet-fish interest, acanthurids from Fiji make tremendous sense. The mix of species includes some standard Tangs, the bottom is amenable to current collection equipment and practices, the fishes are plentiful, albeit not concentrated in large numbers like the Yellow Tang, Zebrasoma flavescens of Hawai'i... What's more and very important, the country of Fiji has a need for hard currency, good jobs, has many skilled divers... and established businesses that have demonstrated their diligence in proper holding and shipping facilities and practices. More tangs, surgeonfishes, Doctorfishes should be bought out of this South Pacific nation.
Fiji is blessed with some 333 islands, an expansive area in-between with relatively shallow (fish-able) waters, good, regular, even inexpensive air-freight service to major international marine livestock wholesale distribution businesses. Having dived there on numerous occasions and met with most of the folks involved in the trade of pet-fish in the country, I assure you that Fiji is a wonderful, sustainable source for many if not most of the livestock (fishes and non-fishes) of interest/use to aquarists.
Here I will make a lucid presentation of what the country has to offer in the family Acanthuridae found here, with notes on individual species suitability, husbandry, and collection.
Fijian Tangs on Parade:
All told there are some fifteen species of Surgeonfishes found in Fijis waters... a few more in sporadic numbers not yet accounted by science (as evidenced by my diving, FishBase.org's enumeration). Not all of these are currently used or even of use to the general marine hobbyist.
Good to Bad: Your Choices in Tangs
Best Tangs for Aquarists From Fiji:
By "best" I mean the species and individuals most likely to survive and do well in the arduous process of collection, holding, shipping... to adaptation to the conditions of captive care... and of course look nice, have interesting (and not terrible) behaviors.
Highest on this list are the three members of the genus Ctenochaetus, the Bristle-Mouth Tangs. These handy, hardy tangs are fastidious green filamentous and diatom algae eaters. To their credit, they are rarely aggressive, perhaps showing a bit of "jousting" with other closely related forms, but rarely rendering injury. Also, they stay quite small... rarely exceeding six inches in length in captivity.
Of the ten Acanthurus from the region, the mimic tangs, A. pyroferus are exemplary, and quite common in Fiji, the most individuals, density I've seen anywhere. They're reef-friendly and highest-rated for temperament and hardiness. The Spot-Cheeked Surgeonfish, A. nigrofuscus I've written about for years... for its small size, suitability for aquariums. It is a great choice, though drab in appearance somewhat. To a lesser extent, I'll give a "plug" to the Convict Surgeon, A. triostegus. This fish is also an industrious algae picker, but does well really only in large systems (a few hundred gallons) in a small grouping of its own species. Lastly for "plus" Acanthurus species, the relatively unknown Spotted Surgeonfish, A. guttatus deserves a mention. Given a system of good size (a couple of hundred or more gallons), plenty of live rock, this is an interesting, "oddball" surgeonfish.
Not So Good Fijian Tang Choices & Reasons Why:
The "other" Acanthurus species found in Fiji prove much more difficult to keep, by virtue of their belligerent natures, too-large size, easy-susceptibility to disease/anomalous loss or a combination of these factors.
Though they are darlings of many LFS and hobbyists as juveniles (the fish, not their owners), the Clown and Orange-Shoulder Tangs (A. lineatus and A. olivaceus respectively) often become pure terrors with growth... their advancing size accompanied by fish tank-mate slicing maneuvers. If you try these fishes, be on the look-out for signs of starting overt aggression.
For the most part, the Gold-Rim or Powder Brown Surgeonfish (A. nigricans) deserves its reputation as an "ich magnet"... this and the congeneric Powder Blue (A. leucosternon) of the Indian Ocean are probably responsible for a sizable percentage of hobbyists leaving this vocation... out of losses and frustration. Not easily kept... needing to be kept in well-established, large, stable surroundings... should be on the label of this/these fish/es at stores. A much better, hardier, and very-similar appearing choice is the White-Cheek Tang, A. japonicus. Select it instead of the Gold Rim.
The remaining Acanthurus, the Brown-Eared, A. nigricauda and Yellowfin, A. xanthopterus I list as unsuitable for their poor adaptability to typically small aquarium sizes, as well as their propitious proportions.
The Pacific Sailfin, Zebrasoma veliferum, is one of my favorite species of a much favored genus. Best acquired small ( a few inches in length), this fish can be spectacular kept in sizable surroundings and fed sufficient marine greenery.
"So-So Choices, The Naso Tangs From Fiji:
Here again I know folks will scream, "I've kept a Naso in a fifty-five gallon system"... but most members of this genus don't do at all well in the short or longer term in small confines. Imperative in their keeping is receiving not beaten up (by collection, holding, moving) specimens, quick acclimation to permanent housing, and immediate training on captive foods. Yes, both THE Naso (N. lituratus) and Shortnose Unicorn (N. brevirostris) Tangs can be kept in captivity... but large systems (six feet plus long) and capacities should be the rule, along with the above stated provisos in their selection and care.
Collecting Tangs in Fiji:
Can and should be done with conventional fence/barrier nets. These are transparent, one or so inch draw size nets of four-six feet height with a continuous lead line (to keep the bottom down snug) and float line that collected fishes are "pushed off their territory", the net set in an arc, and allowed to return to, then carefully pushed into and hand-netted off of.
Selection, Care Notes:
As stated at the beginning, Fiji is a good place to get your Surgeonfishes from for manifold reasons. There are good collectors, wholesale businesses, air freight service in the region... good numbers of suitable species to be found, in relatively shallow water (less stress, strain on the decompressed livestock), with ready access/time/distance to established markets worldwide. This being stated, the onus is upon you (as always) as the consumer to pick out the best of what you can find.
Time on hand: is still critical. Don't be too anxious to buy "just arrived" fishes even from Fiji. If there are going to be losses, anomalous perhaps, they will generally occur within a day to two days of arrival. Wait.
Looks: are important... as static photographs as well as kinetic behavior. Check out as many of the "new" shipment organisms as you can find... do any of them look shabby, frayed fins, swollen mouths, eyes, bloody markings....? These are strong warning signs that the whole batch may have been "delayed" in shipment, roughly handled. As a buyer of just one individual, it can be trouble to introduce a compromised animal into an established system. For a dealer, greatly multiplied.
About Coppering: Many businesses and individuals have developed and adhere to a "copper habit" to treat, prevent external parasitic problems in their "fish only" systems. Please don't do this with Tangs and their relatives (e.g. Rabbitfishes, family Siganidae). These fishes often suffer more than benefit from such exposure. Particularly should the "treatment period" exceed two weeks... beneficial microfauna in their guts may be impugned to the point that their capacity for nutritional uptake be disrupted (think of E. coli in your own intestines here). Don't over-copper Tangs dosage or time-wise, and avoid ones that have been treated thus.
The best livestock from the better locales should be presented to our interest, hobby and business. Such are some of the species of Tangs listed above hailing from Fiji. This island/s nation has all the other elements of infrastructure to support more vigorous trade in ornamental aquatics... ready trained personnel, wide-body jets (my fave Boeing 747's), and a steady need for foreign currency and trade. I encourage you to press for, select your livestock from Fiji.
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