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/Go Rin No Sho of Business

The Most Appropriate Marine Fishes for Aquaria/Retail

Selection, Display & Maintenance

Bob Fenner  

There are somewhere around fifteen thousand valid scientifically described fish species of strictly marine range and a few thousand that can and/or do venture into salty environs. Of these, a few, but growing percentage are seasonally offered to the trade. Of those available, only a part are well-suited for captivity. Many species do well only if picked up within a certain size range, or of a particular gender or geographic locale.

This is, of course, presuming appropriate capture, transportation and maintenance has been applied prior to your receiving these fishes.

Unfortunately, many of the organisms offered for sale at the distributor/wholesale level are inappropriate or shall we say, "too-challenging" for the target customer to have moderate success with. That is, they die on average, within too short a while after (or during!) purchase.

My range of experience in the aquatics industry spans most of the modern history of saltwater aquarium keeping; the last twenty five years. I have been privileged to work at all levels in the ornamental aquatics industry in the United States, Japan and the Philippines. These facts are mentioned to lend credence and background to this series of articles.

Explanations, justifications/rationale can be offered for the nefarious and practical techniques used in the gathering and distribution of marine organisms for captive use. Briefly: many of these fishes, invertebrates, plants and algae should be left whence they came; they just don't do well in captive environments. This situation has largely improved over the years, but many of the fishes and non-fishes on the wholesale market are doomed to live but a short while in your and your soon-to-be-ex-customers' systems.

The purpose of this series is to help you, and your customers through you, to be successful at 1) Selecting the best individuals of the most appropriate species and 2) Keeping & 3) Displaying them most effectively.

Before we go any further, I'd like to "let-on" to the source of "all this good information."

1) Practical (?) Experience: outright killing, trial and error with hundreds of thousands of individual specimens.

2) Word of Mouth: people in the trade, hobbyists & science types. The wholesalers know; ask and listen carefully. They need you to be your most successful; let them help you.

3) Literature: everything printed in the subject area; read it carefully and critically. Saltwater keeping is very much are art and a science. Especially useful are current magazines in the industry and hobby. See the bibliographies offered in this series.

As noted above, be open minded when taking my or others' opinions. There is the occasional Pinnatus Batfish and Moorish Idol that lives exclusively on cornflakes. What we are going to learn are narrow to large generalities.

In General:


Buy from local sources as much as practical, considering quality, service, selection and price in that order.

If at all possible, hand-pick your own livestock. It is human nature for a worker in a holding/shipping facility to catch and bag the easiest specimens to get. These may not be the one's (or any of them) that you would select. We'll get very specific about this as we discuss the various livestock groups involved.

Some Notes on having livestock shipped to you: 

If you have to forego the benefits of hand-picking your stock, please take heed of the following "rules for playing in the sandbox".

1) Deal in good faith: order what you can pay for and sell.

2) Pay your bills: Do not refuse an order without an explicit understanding with the dealer. If there is a foul up with the carrier, customs or other governmental bureaucracy, file a complaint, claim or other action for redress with them, not the dealer.

3) Think and feel for the organisms. They are going to suffer for delays on your part. Arrange to receive and place them in your system in the shortest time possible. Call the shipper and meet their arrival.

More About Suppliers: 

Ask regarding acclimating procedures used, treatment systems, quarantine. Do they use natural saltwater, synthetic, a blend? Are the fishes fed? Do they test for cyanide? What is their policy on cyanide? In advance of purchase, establish a clear, agreed-upon policy of credit/replacement, if any, dead in transition and "anomalous" losses.

Wild sources: 

Are your suppliers willing to tell you where (generally) the fishes you're buying hail from? A yellow tang from the Philippines may look the same as one from Hawaii, but it will not live as long, by far, on average. Buy value, buy quality.

Check Out:

The holding facilities you're buying from for yourself. Are they adequate? Clean? Are the livestock apparently healthy? The staff knowledgeable, friendly, interested in the livestock and your business?

Try them. My advice is to buy from two to a handful of saltwater purveyors depending upon your flow volume. Do not try to buy from "everyone under the sun". This will save you from handling costs, grief and controversy over whose stock died, infected whose, .....

Buy American (!):

Because with salt-water it makes sense. Where possible, livestock collected in "American" waters by U.S. controlled regulation are by and large superior to "foreign" sources. Hawaii, Florida, Guam, California among other states, have exemplary programs for licensing and monitoring collection, holding and the industry in general.


 Thanks to Mr. Ed Chua at All Seas wholesale marine in El Segundo, California for friendship, insights and allowing photos.


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