CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List – Project Homepage
Introduction to the 2015 Captive-Bred Marine Fish List in CORAL Magazine, by Tal Sweet. Rudarius ercodes filefish image courtesy ORA

Introduction to the 2015 Captive-Bred Marine Fish List in CORAL Magazine, by Tal Sweet. Rudarius ercodes filefish image courtesy ORA

Last updated: June 6, 2017 at 16:05 pm

The aim of this page is to provide a static reference point for the annually-updated CORAL Magazine captive-bred marine aquarium fish species list. This annual project, undertaken by CORAL Magazine and the Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI), has for the past several years produced an annual accounting of first-time tropical marine fish breeding accomplishments, as well as taken a pulse of the perceived accessibility of captive-bred marine aquarium fishes within the marine aquarium hobby and industry.

Our yearly reports are published in the print and digital publication CORAL Magazine, with the full species list generally produced annually online, but are only printed every other year. Note that our lists generally debut in the January/February edition of the print magazine, so a list dated 2016 would represent experiences and observations for the year 2015, roughly to late November of the year. The 2017 list was compiled and published one issue earlier than normal, appearing in the November/December 2016 issue of CORAL Magazine.

The information contained on this page represents a summary of our most recent list. All reports and lists are available online and provide a historical context and reference point.

2017 Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Species List Recap Summary
Total Number of Species in the Current List 330
Number of Species Added Since Prior List (including provisional listings) 18
Number of Species Commonly Available as Captive-Bred, Jan.-Sept. 2016 (CB) 27
Number of Species Moderately Available as CB 38
Number of Species Scarcely Available as CB 29
Total Number of Species Available as CB 94
Number of Species Not Seen Available as CB 236

The Yearly Reports

CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List, 2017
CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List, 2016
CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List, 2015
CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List, 2014
CORAL Magazine’s Captive-Bred Marine Aquarium Fish List, 2013

Definitions and Terms

As discussed in the 2014 report, the definitions of “captive-bred,” “tank-raised,” “aquacultured,” and other similar terms have caused boundless confusion in the marine aquarium hobby and trade. Richard Ross and Kevin Erickson proposed a modernized set of working terms, which we largely adhere to at this time.

As these definitions pertain to our lists, it should be clear that it is our intent to specifically capture those species which are “captive-bred” as defined:

captive-bred [CB]

Even so, we must acknowledge that this is a narrow definition that individual species on the list may, or may not have, fully met. As an example, all the captive-bred fishes produced by Bali Aquarich are bred in systems that utilize natural seawater, the implication being that they are in-fact “connected to the wild habitat” in some fashion. We still consider these captive-bred. Of course, all captive-bred organisms are originally descended from wild-harvested broodstock. Some captive-bred organisms may have required access to live feeds that were wild-collected, but this doesn’t preclude the aquacultured fish or invertebrate from being “captive-bred” by definition.

Moreover, the intent of defining something as captive-bred is as important as defining what isn’t captive-bred. Fishes and invertebrates brought into captivity and “grown up”–whether harvested as gametes, larvae, pre-settlement juveniles, or some other later live stage–are not captive-bred by definition. True, one could harvest wild broodstock, place it in an aquarium, and immediately induce a spawn through hormone injection…and that is by definition still the starting point for a captive-bred end product. We acknowledge that it is perhaps an arbitrary line in the sand, but by the same token, it represents the reality that, hypothetically, the next generation could be brought forth in captivity by the same methodology. We also acknowledge that this is why some cultivation programs do not truly consider an organism captive-produced until it has itself been produced by the offspring of captive-mated animals, in other words, only at F2 are the fish or inverts truly “severed” from their wild ties (as is the case in some CITES-related breeding exemptions).

Debates over these finer semantic points will probably continue for some time, but the organisms that raise these questions are the outliers. The bulk of the species on our list will never raise a question over whether they’d qualify as “captive-bred,” nor whether their populations could be maintained solely in captivity over multiple generations. It is largely at the beginning, when ground is first being broken, that the definition of captive-breeding comes into question.

About Availability

Our annual listings have generally included color-coding to denote perceived availability of a species as captive-bred within the U.S.-based aquarium hobby and industry. To simplify, the perceived availability can best be thought of as being meant to address the following question: “Between the last list and this one, could an aquarium hobbyist find and purchase this species as a captive-bred animal?”

Simply put, that question is a yes or no answer, but even within that first answer, we must acknowledge that if we didn’t see something available, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t. We don’t see every fish in every shop, research facility, wholesaler, or hobbyist’s basement. These color codings are subjective, but we believe they are still quite valid despite their subjective nature; these values are assessed by people who have had long-term stakes in the interest of captive-breeding, and generally speaking these determinations are informed by ongoing availability of species as noted both through public and retail channels, as well as aquarium industry trade data in the form of availability lists, often sent out on a weekly basis. We would not suggest treating the color coding of our lists as “hard data,” but rather as “well-informed independent assessments.”

Generally speaking, commercial aquaculture facilities are pretty forthcoming with a gauge of their production and availability during the calendar year. But this is not the only source for captive-bred fish. Smaller hobbyist breeders, boutique mom-and-pop producers, and researchers all play a role in producing fish, and when you rear a lot of fish, you can’t keep them all, so sooner or later, some get sold.

Within this context, we see a wide range of availability. It ranges from the ubiquitous Ocellaris Clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris–which you can probably find just about anywhere as a captive-bred fish–on one end of the spectrum; at the other extreme you find the 2017 public auction of only two captive-bred Pacific Blue Tangs from the first ever known produced by the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory. In both cases, the species qualifies as being “available,” although clearly they are at different levels.

Availability of species fluctuates from year to year, with species being produced, falling out of favor, seeing resurgences, or failing to make long-term inroads into mainstream commercial production. Reviewing the availability rankings for species or families year-to-year no doubt may provide fascinating insights into the way the hobby and industry are working to make progress.

It should be noted that availability does not equate to commercial production in either direction, but some generalizations can be made. For the most part, species that are listed as commonly available are those likely produced by multiple for-profit large-scale marine aquaculture companies such as ORA, Sustainable Aquatics, Proaquatix, and so forth. Species listed as moderately available are by and large also the products of these operations, although often it is only one of the major producers bringing the fish to the mainstream market, and/or the species may be a lower priority offering, so individual producers only bring it to market a few times per year, or produce only limited quantities of the species to meet what is likely limited demand.

It is the last group of species, the ones marked as scarce, which may or may not have large-scale commercial backing behind them. Some species, such as the Clarion Angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis), are only available through one commercial producer, and even then, they are only available at intentionally limited quantities. Of course, for a fish that retails for $4000, the market is rather small, and even highly-restricted production can certainly handle the global demand for the species. They are scarce by design, and there is no reason to assume that they couldn’t be produced in greater volume, should it be desired.

Then again, the species marked “scarce” can often be the products of research and hobbyist projects, but they may represent emerging commercial offerings that may or may not be carried through.  For example, ORA produced large quantities of the Dwarf Whitespotted Filefish (Rudarius ercodes) in the calendar year 2015. However, in 2016, these fish were largely available only at the beginning of the year, and had not been seen since in the marketplace, whether in offerings from wholesalers or online vendors or local shop advertisements. Why the species was largely unavailable isn’t known by the authors when compiling the list, only that it’s become rather scarce and wasn’t seen most of the year. If these fish are not being produced any longer by ORA, then the odds are good that when creating the 2018 list at the end of 2017, this species will then be listed as unavailable.

Dragonets of the genus Synchiropus are another great example of the historical ebbs and flows of availability, with the species at times being produced through commercial efforts that seem to get only limited traction, and at other times handfuls being produced randomly at the hands of a few intrepid amateur breeders. So, yes, the reality is that if one hobbyist produced six Red Scooter Blennies (Synchiropus stellatus) and sold them on their local forum in a calendar year, that species would qualify as having been available and would have been noted as “scarce” by the list’s authors and editors. You may have had to be at the right place, and known the right people, in order to get them, but they were technically available.

How Do New Species Get Listed?

The foundation of our list harkens back to similar lists that were produced by third parties in the past, most notably perhaps the work of Frank Baensch’s captive-bred species list on his website for Reef Culture Technologies, which was last updated in 2011.

When building off Baensch’s lists, and other lists that were published on the internet, in most cases, it became clear that the fact of a species being captive-bred was simply not even up for debate; the evidence was overwhelming. It is fair to say that Baensch’s list was the seed list for the MBI’s species database. Over the years, a few of the more arcane species on Baensch’s list have been re-investigated by members of the MBI with various degrees of success and support, simply to ensure the relative validity of the list.

There are two main avenues for new species to be added onto the list as captive-bred. For the most part, researchers and aquaculturists are aware of the list, but also of the author’s and editor’s general interest in aquaculture breakthroughs. As such, there is a certain level of self-reporting by hobbyists, industry players, and academics. Some accomplishments from trusted sources are taken at face value, but most also have sufficient if not copious documentation behind the claims being made.  These days, breeding something new seldom goes unnoticed by the curators of the MBI’s species database, and thus, the list published here.

Academic literature and journal articles are a second source for new species additions, although these often come in the form of uncovering historical documentation that had previously gone unnoticed. There have been, on occasion, claims of breeding success that have fallen short; most of the time, that means reports of spawning and early larval development, but no settlement/metamorphisis, no juveniles produced. Such academic reports, while inspiring for fish breeders, fail to constitute an actual captive-breeding success, and as such aren’t on the list. By the same token, claims of such success without proof have at times been listed as provisional, or withheld from listing. There is a certain amount of subjectivity that must be applied to the curation of the list, and that starts with how much we trust the source.

This also raises an interesting point of debate: which species qualify to be on a “marine aquarium species” list? Most of the time, the answer is rather obvious, but sometimes we struggle. Would the captive-breeding of a Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) at the Mandalay Bay Aquarium put that species on our list? Probably not, despite the fish being a tropical marine species and one that some rather wealthy private aquarists (and even an aquarium shop or two) might keep on display. On the flip side, one might question the inclusion of the Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) on our list as a “marine aquarium species” that has been captive-bred. We do so because on occasion the species might enter the general aquarium trade, but more often, there are related species from the genus that are routine aquarium offerings. As such, the success in breeding the Humphead Wrasse is noteworthy because of what it represents for its more popular cousins in the aquarium hobby and trade.

Every year, in the run-up to the publication of a new list, the authors and editors of the list once again reach out to commercial aquaculturists, public aquarists, academics, and researchers, in an attempt to compile the most comprehensive list possible. No sooner do we publish a list than more accomplishments start piling up–these will be added.

Citations Of This Project

Check these links to see examples of how our project’s data and observations are utilized in other publications.

Lombardi, Linda. 2016. Keeping captive-bred fish has gotten easier. The Washington Post [accessed 6/6/2017].