World’s Oldest Aquarium Fish Turns 80 - from the good folks at Amazonas Magazine

World’s Oldest Aquarium Fish Turns 80

20 Sep, 2013

Affectionately known as "Grandpa," this Australian Lungfish just marked his 80-th year in residence at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Image: © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Affectionately known as “Granddad,” this Australian Lungfish just marked his 80th year in residence at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Image: © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

When the dinosaurs first appeared on earth some 230 million years ago, the ancestors of modern-day lungfishes had already been paddling around for 150 million years. And when the great extinction that took out Tyrannosaurus rex and Company, 66 million years ago, the lungfishes swam right through the global upheaval.

“You can’t kill them,” says one aquarist who keeps lungfishes, and, indeed, the world’s oldest-living aquarium fish recently was toasted for having delighted visitors to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium for the last 80 years.

Australian Consul-General The Honorable Roger Price kept his hat on but saluted Granddad’s many years under the care of Shedd’s aquarists. © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Australian Consul-General The Honorable Roger Price kept his hat on but saluted Granddad’s many years under the care of Shedd’s aquarists. © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Affectionately known as “Granddad,” this curiously fossil-like creature is an Australian Lungfish,Neoceratodus forsteri. His keepers at Shedd say they have no idea how old this venerable fish was when he arrived, and members of his species are reported to have lived a full century, reaching 1.5 meters in length and more than 40 kg (5 feet long and almost 90 pounds in weight).

Slow moving and generally sedentary, the Australian Lungfish can breath air and survive for days out of water if kept moist. (African lungfishes are even tougher, being able to endure months of dessication in a cocoon buried in dried mud.)

Birthday cake fit for a lungfish: the Shedd Aquarium's recipe included melt, shrimp, herbivore gel squares, yellow squash, green peas, grated carrot and sweet potato. © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Birthday cake fit for a lungfish: the Shedd Aquarium’s recipe included smelt, shrimp, herbivore gel squares, yellow squash, green peas, grated carrot and sweet potato. © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

With obvious physical similarities, lungfishes are related to the ancient-looking coelacanths, also often described as living fossils. Both are classified as sacopterygians, or lobe-finned fishes.

Let Him Eat Cake

“As a special treat,” reported the Shedd Aquarium, ” the old timer received an ice cake with smelt, shrimp, herbivore gel squares, yellow squash, green peas, grated carrot and sweet potato frozen inside. Two tiers are covered with seaweed frosting and garnished with shredded escarole greens, carrots and raspberries.”

Granddad’s comments are unavailable, but in the wild lungfish are primarily carnivores, feeding on small fishes, tadpoles, frogs, worms, snails, and shrimp, along with some plant material.

Australian Lungfish are typically found in quiet pools in slow-moving waters in southeastern Queensland. Although not considered endangered, they are a protected species and may not be caught without a special permit.

Aquarium Lungfish

Jindalee International Pty Limited, in Brisbane, doing business as, is CITES-approved and licensed to breed, sell and export lungfish from Australia.

“Australian Lungfish make ideal aquarium fish,” according to company literature. “They are very hardy, almost indestructible and can have a lifespan of 100 years. (You may like to make some provision for them in your will). These fish are easy to care for and undemanding regarding tank conditions and feeding. They are non-aggressive and can be handled and hand-fed.”

To qualify for CITES approval, each fish must be DNA tested and tagged with an implanted microchip.  Exports must be approved by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage.

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October 8, 2013 - 11:59 AM No Comments

Scandinavian scientists issue Pacu Warning to male skinny dippers

MAWS – Beware the Fishy Herbivore?

05 Sep, 2013

Pacu caught by a fisherman in the waters between Denmark and Sweden in summer, 2013. Image: Henrik Carl/University of Copenhagen.

Pacu caught by a fisherman in the waters between Denmark and Sweden in summer, 2013. Image: Henrik Carl/University of Copenhagen.

Scandinavian scientists issue Pacu Warning to male skinny dippers

Summer months, often the doldrums for hard news, annually bring out shark-attack scare stories and flashbacks to hair-raising scenes in the movie JAWS, but for northern European swimmers the mid-summer chill this year has been provided by a herbivorous fish caught in the strait of Oresund between Denmark and Sweden.

In early August, fisherman Einar Lindgreen brought ashore a fish he had never before encountered, and, thinking it might be a piranha, sent it to the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.

Ichthyologists were quick to identify the specimen as a pacu, a mostly herbivorous tetra that can attain massive sizes and that periodically turns up far from its native range in South America. Aquarists are usually blamed for releasing pacus notorious for outgrowing most home-scale tanks.

While reassuring the public that piranhas were not swimming free in Scandinavian waters, the museum scientists were not shy about warning male Danes and Swedes to think twice about skinny dipping where there was a possibility of more pacu lurking. “Anyone choosing to bathe in the Oresund had best keep your swimsuits well tied,” they advised.

Pacu, the biologists pointed out, have been nick-named “nutcracker fish” and “ball-cutters” for their reputed history of attacking and biting human testicles. Unverified reports from Papua New Guinea blame an introduced population of pacu for two fatal attacks on men who were castrated while wading in the Sepik River and bled to death.

"Extreme angler" and host of the River Monsters series on Animal Planet, Jeremy Wade theorizes that transplanted pacu may be developing a taste for more than plant matter.

“Extreme angler” and host of the River Monsters series on Animal Planet, Jeremy Wade theorizes that transplanted pacu may be developing a taste for more than plant matter.

Jeremy Wade’s “Hungry Pacu” Hypothesis

Jeremy Wade, “extreme angler” and host of the Animal Planet show River Monsters, helped etch the tale of the unfortunate Papuans with an episode entitled, The Mutilator. Wade says that the pacu were introduced in large numbers by a government agency in Papua New Guinea  in the mid-1990s to provide a new source of protein and a fish prized for its excellent eating qualities. However, the pacu are reported to have seriously upset the local ecosystems, overgrazing native vegetation to the point where the pacu were left ravenously hungry. Wade did catch a 40-pound pacu in the same region where the genital attacks were reported to have taken place.

Esquire Magazine recently interviewed Wade about his encounters with pacu: So when you were fishing for them did it make you nervous, knowing their reputation?

JW: I’m in a boat. The thing about the pacus in the Amazon is they’re normally vegetarians. If there’s plenty of their normal diet around, then they’re gonna be happy with that. It eats nuts and seeds that fall from the trees. They have got very powerful jaws and teeth, because some of these nuts are quite hard to crack. Some people say that the teeth look like human teeth, people in the fish world say that the closest thing to them is the teeth of a horse. The problem in Papua New is if there isn’t the normal food they’ll figure something out. So you think they’re attracted to testicles because they resemble nuts?

JW: I think if they’re hungry enough! For instance, lets look at “why do fish bite the parts that they bite?” A fish with a big mouth, like a catfish, they’ve been known to bite people’s legs. Normally not because they’re hungry, but because they’re protecting a nest or something like that. But piranhas, for example, are known to first bite the nose or ears, places where they can get some purchase. They’re not going to get purchase on a flat surface. They need a protrusion for them to get their mouths on, as they’ve got a very small mouth. That’s why I think if the pacu is really hungry… The other thing is, visibility is often not very good in fresh water. So if a fish bites something, a part of the body, it doesn’t actually always realize that it’s part of a body. It just sees something sort of waving around in front of it.

Pacu, Colossoma macroponum, also known as the Cachama, for sale in the Manaus Fish Market, Brazil. Image: Thorke Ostergaard/Wikipedia.

Pacu, Colossoma macroponum, also known as the Cachama, for sale in the Manaus Fish Market, Brazil. Image: Thorke Ostergaard/Wikipedia.

AMAZONAS Magazine‘s translator Stephan M. Tanner, Ph.D. was also interviewed by the Discovery Channel in the wake of the Scandinavian pacu stories and he said that fears of pacu proliferating in northern waters are extremely overblown.

“It’s a plant eater,” said Stephan Tanner, an editor and translator at Amazonas Magazine. “If you release it in Denmark, it won’t survive the winter. If you release it in Florida, it may swim for a long time. Will it reproduce? That’s another question.”

Meanwhile, another pacu measuring a foot in length was hooked by a fisherman in the River Seine in Paris in early September, fueling yet more lurid headlines and fear among ichthyophobes. Screamed The Mirror, of London, Testicle-eating ‘ball-cutter’ fish could be heading for UK after being spotted in France.”

A number of different species carry the common name “pacu,” and the two most recent European catches have not yet been positively identified.  All are primarily herbivores, although they will also consume insects and smaller fish.

Reports of pacu caught in U.S. waters are commonplace. Wikipedia lists citations for catches in some 32 states: “Discoveries in the United States have been reported in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky , Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

State wildlife authorities typically advise home aquarists who wish to get rid of overgrown pacu to cut the heads off the fish and dispose of them as garbage. However, Habitattitude, a U.S. national initiative led by the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force, recommends humanely disposing of the fish through a veterinarian or pet retailer, returning them to retailers, or donating them to a local aquarium society, school, or aquatic business.”

Large Pacu on display at the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago. Image: Omnitarian.

Large Pacu on display at the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago. Image: Omnitarian.


Amazonas Magazine. Species Profile: Pacu.

Wade, Jeremy. The Nutcracker Fish, Animal Planet. Original air date: 10 April 2011.

Joiner, James.  Jeremy Wade Weighs In On The Nutcracker Fish.

Niler, Eric. Testicle-Munching Fish: All That Dangerous? Discovery News, August 13, 2013.

Fishbase. Pacu, Piaractus mesopotanicus (Holmberg, 1887)

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September 9, 2013 - 7:37 AM No Comments

Brittle Stars: White Wedding - From the good folks at Coral Magazine

Brittle Stars: White Wedding

28 Aug, 2013

Spawnign brittle stars scurrying to the surface.

Spawning brittle stars scurrying to the surface.

By Daniel Knop
Web Bonus Content from the September/October 2013 Issue of CORAL Magazine
Additional Bonus Brittle Star Articles

Spider-like, they emerged from all cracks and crevices. It looked almost like an alien invasion in a science fiction movie. Countless arms waved through the water, probed the environment, and attached themselves to rocks to pull themselves up. Each individual wanted to be first, to find the best place. The urge of a brittle star to climb—from the rock structure, up the aquarium glass, to the surface—is so powerful that some specimens came out of the water, standing on the bodies of their fellows. With almost blind zeal, half a hundred of these echinoderms assembled, as if following a secret command. However, it was not blind obedience or fear that drove them, but the irrepressible wish to reproduce: a brittle star wedding was imminent!

Brittle stars’ arms intertwined in a dense network.

Brittle stars’ arms intertwined in a dense network.

Unlike other invertebrates that mate and exchange their genetic material directly, free spawners must synchronize their germ cell release. Therefore, they need a trigger that sets in motion the complex reproductive process. For these brittle stars, often referred to as Ophiocoma pumila in the hobby, that trigger is a sudden change in the environment—in this case a partial water change. As soon as the fresh sea water had flowed into the aquarium and mixed with the old water, the first arms stretched out from under the rocks. Within moments the aquarium, which had shown no sign of a brittle star before the water change, was teeming with them. These animals normally hide during the day and come out at to scavenge at night, but now they suddenly moved out into the open, despite all the dangers, to comply with their biological directive: reproduction.

The crowded animals compete for the highest spot, and some specimens even climb out of the water.

The crowded animals compete for the highest spot, and some specimens even climb out of the water.

While most brittle star species are dioecious, some are hermaphroditic. Some free-spawning hermaphroditic species exclusively release sperm, while the oocytes remain in the body and are fertilized by the sperm of other individuals. The larvae of these hermaphroditic breeders remain in the respiratory cavities, or bursae, and mature there.

Thick white clouds of sperm exit from the genital slits.

Thick white clouds of sperm exit from the genital slits.

On each side of the armpit on the oral side there are slit-shaped genital openings to the bursae—sac-like invaginations that are usually used for respiration. The animal reduces its volume by contracting the oral disc muscles to eject water and increases its volume by breathing in oxygen-rich water. The bursae also contain the gonads. Here, the sperm mature and are stored in a low-liquid form. During spawning, the gonads empty the sperm into the bursae, which serve as reservoirs. The germ cells are diluted with water, so the amount of sperm that finally emerges through the openings at the bases of the arms appears to be very great.

This is a typical posture: the oral disc is raised to squeeze the sperm out through the genital slits.

This is a typical posture: the oral disc is raised to squeeze the sperm out through the genital slits.

In seemingly endless swells, this white mass exits through the genital slits, drips down, and forms elongated streaks in the open water. In contrast lighting, the five or six-armed stars look like comets with white tails. The sperm gradually mixes with the surrounding water to form a homogeneous, whitish mist that envelops everything.

Others join in from near the water’s surface.

Others join in from near the water’s surface.

Within about an hour, most of the 50 brittle stars had released sperm. Some had remained near their hiding places in the typical spawning posture, with exposed oral discs. However, most of the small echinoderms had taken the more daring path, climbing up to the water’s surface in order to ensure that their own genes were spread as widely as possible. Some in top form unloaded huge masses into the 16-gallon (60-L) aquarium. The turbidity was significant, but none of the other aquarium animals developed signs of a lack of oxygen or other discomfort. The skimmer continued to work normally and showed no tendency to bubble over. A short time later, the tiny reef had returned to normal and there was no sign of the brittle stars’ “white wedding.”

In contrast lighting, the five- or six-armed stars exhibit a white comet tail—reminiscent of a “white wedding.”

In contrast lighting, the five- or six-armed stars exhibit a white comet tail—reminiscent of a “white wedding.”

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August 30, 2013 - 8:56 AM No Comments

Banggai Rescue – Sneak Preview

Set to launch at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA 2013) in South Florida, The Banggai Cardinalfish book represents almost two years’ of work and the involvement of hundreds of saltwater aquarists, marine biologists, aquarium industry leaders, and many conservation-minded supporters.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

For a preview of the book, see this video by Matt Pedersen that runs through the entire 304 pages in about a minute and shows the scope of the international Banggai Rescue Project.

The book will be distributed by Julian Sprung and Two Little Fishies in partnership with Reef to Rainforest Media, publishers of CORAL and AMAZONAS Magazines.

“This book should make us all proud to be marine aquarists,” says Editor & Publisher James Lawrence. “The marine aquarium community has rallied to respond to a situation in which a uniquely beautiful and fascinating fish has been threatened by unregulated collection in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. We have unwittingly been part of the problem, but now we can feel that we are part of the solution.”

“Perhaps the most important outcome of the Project so far has been the collaboration between our science team and their counterparts in Indonesia who are working to reform the Banggai Cardinal fishery while supporting the livelihoods of indigenous fishers in their own waters.”

Book Credits::

Ret Talbot • Matt Pedersen • Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D.

Foreword by Dr. Gerald R. Allen

with Martin A. Moe, Jr., Roy Yanong, V.M.D., and Thomas Waltzek, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Publishing Team:

Edited by James M. Lawrence

Designed by Linda Provost

Production: Anne Linton Elston

Copyediting: Louise WatsonAlex Bunten

Business Manager: Judith R. Billard

Project Corporate Sponsors

Books will be available at MACNA, August 30 to September 1 at the Two Little Fishies booth.

Announcements coming soon about how to order the book.


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July 23, 2013 - 10:04 AM No Comments

New from Amazonas Magazine…

India’s Underground Fish Trade

28 Jun, 2013

Redline Torpedo Barbs, Puntius denisonii. Image: Melanocromis.

Redline Torpedo Barbs, Puntius denisonii. Image: Melanocromis.

New Paper Suggests Sustainability is Not Just a Discussion for Saltwater Aquarists

By Ret Talbot

Over the past few years, freshwater aquarists may have noticed activists increasingly targeting their saltwater counterparts, seeking, for example, the complete ban on marine aquarium fish collection and exports from Hawaii. Other advocacy groups are attempting to have some common fish and coral species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

While many attacks on the marine aquarium trade are bluster born of emotion and largely devoid of accurate scientific data, there do exist real concerns about the overall sustainability of the global marine aquarium trade. Those concerns are, in the best of cases, spurring discussions amongst stakeholders—amateur aquarists, importers, representatives of public aquaria—about the future of the trade and its impacts on ecosystems, fishers and fisher communities in impoverished developing island nations.

The same level of debate is not occurring amongst freshwater aquarists. This is generally assumed to be because the freshwater trade is primarily reliant on aquacultured livestock, not animals collected from the wild.

While roughly 90 percent of the marine aquarium trade’s animals originate on reefs, only about 10 percent of freshwater aquarium fishes have ever seen a natural ecosystem. Is the freshwater trade therefore above reproach when it comes to sustainability? Perhaps not: A paper just published in the journal Biological Conservation about India’s freshwater aquarium trade is the most recent paper to document problems that may warrant freshwater aquarists taking a more active role in the aquarium sustainability dialog.

Dawkinsia rohani. Image by Tabrez Sheriff posted on the Kolkata Aquarium Club site.

Dawkinsia rohani. Image by Tabrez Sheriff posted on the Kolkata Aquarium Club site.

Threatened and Endangered Endemic Fishes

At the heart of the Biological Conservation paper is the concern that India’s freshwater aquarium trade is having a detrimental impact on endangered, highly endemic fishes frequently harvested and exported for aquarium usage.

Just shy of one-third of all freshwater fishes exported from India for the aquarium trade between 2005-2012—the paper pegs the number at about 1.5 million animals—are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as either threatened or endangered. While some of these 30 species are exported in small numbers, others such as the Malabar Pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), Zebra Loaches (Botia striata), Denison Barbs (Puntius denisonii) and P. chalakkudiensis (the latter two commonly called Redlined Torpedo Barbs or RLTBs) are exported in relatively large numbers. Most of the fishes are exported to Southeast Asian markets, where some are re-exported—many no longer bearing their country of origin information—to North America and Europe.

In addition to the aquarium trade’s impact on threatened and endangered species, the paper explores the impact on India’s endemic species. According to lead author, Rajeev Raghavan of University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in the United Kingdom, at least 22 endemic species of freshwater fishes are threatened by India’s aquarium trade. While nine of them show a continuing decline in their populations, they continue to be harvested with very little (if any) science-based, adaptive fishery management in place. What little regulation has been put in place following several years of growing concern about these fisheries is, according to the paper, routinely subverted or simply ignored.

An Obscure, Open-Access Trade

The trouble with India’s freshwater fishery is alluded to in the paper’s title—“Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and aquarium pet markets.” “Obscurity,” in one form or another, is a common problem when it comes to resource management in developing nations with resource extraction industries like forestry and fisheries. Lack of management, lack of transparency, lack of scientific data, and lack of regulation all contribute to the precarious position of vulnerable natural resources.

While there have been some efforts to protect endangered endemic fishes in India, fishers—and even more importantly middlemen who purchase from fishers—have proven effective at circumventing regulations. In several examples cited in the paper, endangered species only existing in protected areas where no fishing is allowed are being exported for the aquarium trade.

“In India,” Raghavan and his co-authors write, “the country that harbors the most number of endemic freshwater fishes in continental Asia, collection of such species for the aquarium trade is entirely open-access, unregulated and even encouraged by certain governmental and semi-governmental agencies.”

The paper focuses on the example of the RLTBs, “whose unmanaged collection during the last two decades is associated with severe population declines and an ‘Endangered’ listing in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.” As the authors of the paper recount, the growing global concerns about this fishery did in fact lead to increased regulation in India. In 2008, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the Department of Fisheries issued a government order, which restricted collection and exports and applied several adaptive management tools. “[R]ecent studies indicate that these regulations were developed with minimum scientific input and offer little protection for the species,” say the authors. For example, a closed season was established based on assumptions about when the fishes breed, but scientific study has shown the assumed breeding times are incorrect. Further, with a lack of reliable, comprehensive data about the trade, it has been difficult to set effective quotas and size restrictions.

The Orange-spotted Snakehead, Channa aurantimaculata. Image by Melanochromis.

The Orange-spotted Snakehead, Channa aurantimaculata. Image by Melanochromis.

Speculation Rather Than Facts?

Raghaven is not without his critics, and some of them worry the paper focuses undue and disproportionate attention on the aquarium trade as the primary threat to the species in question. They point out the data presented in the paper is, at best, incomplete, and without complete data, it is easy to extrapolate conclusions that lack context and are more speculation than fact. They maintain India’s freshwater aquarium trade is “not an obscure one” and that the Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPDEA) under the Commerce Ministry in India, while not perfect, is doing a competent job of managing the trade. “The fact that the authors were not able to take data from MPEDA and customs in Kochi, India does not mean that the customs and MPEDA do not maintain these files or records,” says one industry insider in India, contradicting statements made in the paper.

Most of the individuals critical of the paper, many of them industry observers with firsthand knowledge of India’s freshwater fishery, agree in principle with the paper’s thesis—that there are significant problems with the freshwater aquarium fishery—but they warn the situation is far more nuanced than the paper suggests. “Mislabeling species and dodging regulations is business as usual in India’s aquarium trade,” says one stakeholder. “Overfishing is common and management is non-existent, but the situation is not as bad as the paper makes it out to be. It’s a very small number of fish that are collected by fishers.”

Many stakeholders in India and abroad are taking an active role in making the Nation’s freshwater aquarium trade better. Stakeholders are addressing issues such as reporting and oversight, supply chain mortality and a lack of emphasis on breeding India’s endemic species in India. In 2012, The Conference on Sustainable Ornamental Fisheries; Way Forward identified key challenges India’s ornamental fish industry will have to face in the future and recommendations for moving forward with a sustainable freshwater aquarium trade reliant on a combination of wild harvest and aquaculture. Identifying challenges and making recommendations for improvements is an important step as India moves along the path to a more sustainable freshwater aquarium trade, but actually implementing those recommendations is the hard part, especially given the coordination required between government and non-government entities.

As one industry insider in India says, “It is high time that the ornamental fish industry in India stands united and look at this issue of conservation and the conservationists seriously and try to justify if the activities carried out by them fall to a sustainable trade.”

Aquarium Trade Unfairly Singled Out?

Critics of the aquarium livestock industry, both freshwater and marine, have a longstanding habit of singling out the trade when other issues are having a far larger impact on ecosystems and species.

“I am not saying that the information provided by the authors on the state of the indigenous Indian species is wrong,” says an industry observer. “I fear that the situation might indeed be very bad for some of the species. I am also not saying that the ornamental fish trade is innocent. It is very likely that there is overfishing in some—possibly in many—areas. But I do get the feeling that a small-volume, high-value trade has been singled out as an appropriate target because of its visibility, rather than because of its size.”

The paper acknowledges other anthropogenic stressors such as sand mining, construction of dams and pollution from pesticides are all contributing to the crisis for many of these highly endemic fishes. Further, the paper points out, some of the species are targeted as both aquarium fishes and food fishes, and indiscriminate fishing and blast fishing are both relatively common in India.

As is frequently cited by advocates of the aquarium trade, collecting fishes for aquarium usage certainly has an impact, but they maintain it’s very small compared to much more significant assaults on aquatic ecosystems. While this may be true, conservationists point out the impact of even minimal fishing on a species restricted to an extremely small area can be profound. An example cited in the paper is the endangered species Garra hughi, the Cardamon Garra, a stone sucker with an endemic range believed to be less than 300 square kilometers (116 sq. mi.). Should this species really be harvested from its extremely small range for the aquarium trade?

Easy Answers, Easy Targets and Shooting Fishes in Barrels

If the aquarium trade’s impact is so minimal compared to other impacts, why does it receive a disproportionate amount of attention from those claiming to be “speaking for the fishes”—people like Robert Wintner or any of the numerous NGOs with anti-trade agendas. One easy answer to this question is that the aquarium trade is, to use a cliché, the lowest hanging fruit. Largely disorganized, underfunded and fragmented, the aquarium trade has proven relatively ineffective at presenting a unified front with a science-based sustainability platform. To continue with the bad idioms, attacking the aquarium trade is a bit like shooting fish in barrel.

Sea Shepherd Vice-President Robert Wintner is a veteran campaigner against the aquarium trade and its devastating impact on Hawaii reefs. Photo: Deborah Bassett / Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd Vice-President Robert “Snorkle Bob” Wintner is a veteran campaigner against the aquarium trade and what he calls its “devastating impact” on Hawaii reefs. Photo: Deborah Bassett / Sea Shepherd

That’s the easy answer—that the trade is an easy target. The far more complex answer must take into account the totality of the trade. Sure, far fewer fishes are harvested for aquaria than are harvested for food, and even the most careless aquarium fisher does considerably less damage than a trawl net or blast fishing. But keeping an aquarium is never framed as a necessity the way eating fish is. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide—many in developing nations—depend on eating fish as a critical source of protein, but how many people’s lives hang on keeping an aquarium?

Most people perceive keeping an aquarium as a pastime or hobby—even a luxury one—and as such the environmental impacts associated with collecting aquarium fishes invite greater scrutiny. The average member of the public—a non-aquarist—hears that endangered, endemic fishes in India are being further threatened by collection for fish tanks, and what is he or she to conclude? Thinking about the aquarium trade this way makes it perhaps a little easier to understand why some people believe the easy answer is that if there is to be an aquarium trade at all, it should be 100-percent dependent on aquaculture.

Aquarium Fisheries as Agents of Positive Change

Of course the easy answer of relying exclusively on the farming of fishes, invertebrates, and plants for the aquarium trade fares no better than other easy answers.

While only a small percentage of freshwater fishes originate in the wild, collection impact can, nonetheless, be significant. For example, a well-documented freshwater aquarium fishery in Brazil is showing how sustainable aquarium fisheries can provide some of the best incentive to conserve critical habitat, while at the same time providing important socio-economic development opportunities that keep local fishers and fisher communities connected to the resource.

Unfortunately, the opposite can also be the case as the paper in Biological Conservation contends. While the fishery in Brazil’s middle Rio Negro basin is a model suggesting more sustainable freshwater aquarium fisheries in the developing world could be a real asset from both an environmental and socio-economic standpoint, India’s freshwater aquarium fishery, as presented in the paper, is an example of what can go wrong when a fishery remains largely unregulated and understudied.

As in the example of Brazil’s middle Rio Negro basin freshwater fishery, we know sustainable aquarium fisheries can be primary drivers behind critical ecosystem conservation. We also know sustainable aquarium fisheries can be very good for fishers and fisher communities from a socio-economic standpoint. In some cases, sustainable aquarium fisheries can be the best, most expedient paths to creating real economic incentive to conserve, and there are already pilot programs and plans to turn India’s freshwater aquarium fishery into a success story similar to the middle Rio Negro basin, but these programs need the support of the aquarium trade and, ultimately, aquarists.

The real answer to all of these complex questions is for those of us who care to have the dialog. Freshwater aquarists, like their saltwater counterparts, need to be thinking more about sustainability in the big picture. They need to engage in discussions at their local fish stores, in their clubs and through the aquarium media. They need to be willing to use their purchasing power at the point of sale to make educated choices that will help move the aquarium trade down the path to greater sustainability. And they must, of course, keep in mind that the clock is always ticking for species like the Zebra Loach, a highly endemic species that is thought to occupy less than 400 square kilometers and yet was identified in the Biological Conservation article as one of India’s main aquarium exports.

About the Author

Ret Talbot writes frequently about sustainability issues and is a senior contributing editor of AMAZONAS and CORAL Magazines. He lives with his wife Karen in Rockland, Maine.


Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and the aquarium pet markets
Rajeev Raghavan | Neelesh Dahanukar | Michael F. Tlusty | Andrew L. Rhyne | K. Krishna Kumar | Sanjay Molur | Alison M. Rosser

Biological Conservation
Volume 164, August 2013, Pages 158–169


While the collection of fish for the aquarium pet trade has been flagged as a major threat to wild populations, this link is tenuous for the unregulated wild collection of endemic species because of the lack of quantitative data. In this paper, we examine the extent and magnitude of collection and trade of endemic and threatened freshwater fishes from India for the pet markets, and discuss their conservation implications. Using data on aquarium fishes exported from India, we try to understand nature of the trade in terms of species composition, volume, exit points, and importing countries. Most trade in India is carried out under a generic label of “live aquarium fish”; yet despite this fact, we extracted export data for at least thirty endemic species that are listed as threatened in the IUCN Red List. Of the 1.5million individual threatened freshwater fish exported, the major share was contributed by three species; Botia striata (Endangered), Carinotetraodon travancoricus (Vulnerable) and the Red Lined Torpedo Barbs (a species complex primarily consisting of Puntius denisonii and Puntius chalakkudiensis, both ‘Endangered’). Using the endangered Red Lined Torpedo Barbs as a case study, we demonstrate how existing local regulations on aquarium fish collections and trade are poorly enforced, and are of little conservation value. In spite of the fact that several threatened and conservation concern species are routinely exported, India has yet to frame national legislation on freshwater aquarium trade. Our analysis of the trade in wild caught freshwater fishes from two global biodiversity hotspots provides a first assessment of the trade in endangered and threatened species. We suggest that the unmanaged collections of these endemic species could be a much more severe threat to freshwater biodiversity than hitherto recognized, and present realistic options for management.

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June 29, 2013 - 9:32 AM No Comments

First Batch Of Lightning Clowns are up for Auction…

The First Lightning Maroon Captive-Breds: What Am I Bid?

21 Jun, 2013

First-generation captive-bred "Lightning" Maroon Clownfish. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

First-generation captive-bred “Lightning” Maroon Clownfish. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

Three years after a strikingly pigmented aberrant morph of Premnas biculeatus was collected off Fisherman’s Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and quickly made headlines throughout the aquarium world, the first captive-bred Lightning-type offspring are about to reach the open market via an online auction.

Dubbed the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish, the prize catch was imported by Dave Palmer’s Pacific Aqua Farms in Los Angeles and placed with amateur breeder Matt Pedersen through its retail affiliate Blue Zoo Aquatics.  Pedersen was the MASNA Aquarist of the Year in 2009, in recognition of his breakthrough success in acclimating and breeding the Harlequin Filefish,Oxymonacanthus longirostris, an obligate corallivore. (Full disclosure, Pedersen is a CORAL Magazine senior editor.)

Group of F1 young descendants with Lightning Maroon genes. Not all display the distinctive lattice-like white pigment pattern.

Group of F1 young descendants with Lightning Maroon genes. Not all display the distinctive lattice-like white pigment pattern. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

An online auction is set to begin sometime on the weekend beginning June 22nd of a limited number of young Lightning Maroons, as well as several full siblings that display white bars but none of the distinctive dappling of the original wild broodstock. Pedersen says that the first round of bidding will include “five F1 offspring: two with the “Lightning” pattern (and presumably Lightning genetics) and three non-Lightnings with more classic “White Stripe” patterning, the normal 3-stripe form, although one fish in particular has some additional spotting.  (Images of all fish are being posted on the Lightning Maroon blogsite.)

According to Blue Zoo Aquatics director Mark Martin, “These F1 PNG beauties are the only available PNG bloodline Maroon Clownfish left on the market AND they are the first Lightning patterned clownfish to hit the market since Mama Lightning was imported and sold to Matt almost three years ago. The auctions will be open to anybody with an eBay account in the US and the first shipments to the lucky winners will hit around the first week of July.”

Details of the auction can be found on the Blue Zoo site. Martin invites interested aquarists to sign up for newsletter updates. More details on the breeding of the fish can be found on Matt Pedersen’s blog, The Lightning Project.

Breeding Considerations

“Since we don’t know how Lightning genetics work,” says Pedersen, “I cannot say whether the regularly patterned siblings carry an important Lightning genetic component (like a hidden recessive gene) or not.  It is my hunch, however, that the Lightning trait is either a dominant or partially dominant trait, although with the 50/50 split (Lightnings to “Classic Maroons”) in the first generation offspring, the possibility of a recessive trait is there.

Future Stock Available?

Will more be coming? “If things go well with the initial five being auctioned by Blue Zoo, there are approximately 25 additional siblings that we’ll sell in this manner,” says Pedersen.

His Lightning broodstock are on hiatus right now, following the recent birth of Matt and Renee Pedersen’s second child, a daughter named Audrey.

Lightning Project blog is a journal documenting the challenges and successes of Matt Pedersen encountered in his attempts to breed this unusual clownfish.

Lightning Project blog is a journal documenting the challenges and successes of Matt Pedersen encountered in his attempts to breed this unusual clownfish.

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June 25, 2013 - 3:43 PM No Comments

New Tetra Discovered - from Amazonas Magazine.

New See-Through Nano Tetra Discovered

12 Jun, 2013

Cyanogaster noctivaga, the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer Tetra.

Cyanogaster noctivaga, the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer Tetra. All images by Dr. Ralf Britz, Natural History Museum, London, UK.

“It is a strange little animal, completely transparent with an otherwise unique colour pattern,” says London Natural History Museum fish ichthyologist Dr. Ralf Britz of a tiny new tetra he helped identify and name.

It’s been dubbed the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer, Cyanogaster noctivagaCyanogaster meaning blue belly and noctivaga meaning night wanderer. It is 17mm long, and in addition to its bright blue belly, it has large eyes, and unusual-looking snout, mouth and teeth.

Dr.-Ralf-BritzIt is only 7mm longer than the world’s smallest fish, and seems to only appear at night, but the bright blue belly of a miniscule Amazonian fish caught the eye of a team of scientists who spotted that it was a new species and genus.

Britz worked with expedition leader Monica Toledo-Piza, George Mattox and Manoela Marinho from the University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil, on the scientific expedition in 2011, with the fish’s scientific description recently published in 2013 in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. Britz is an AMAZONAS contributor and a world-renowned expert on tiny fishes.

Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. Red dot indicates location where the new tetra was collected.

Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. Red dot indicates location where the new tetra was collected.

The blue-bellied fish was discovered in the Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. This area of the Amazon basin is probably one of the best explored, so finding not only a new species but a new genus too, was quite a surprise.

The team could only find the blue-bellied fish in one place on the Rio Negro, and it could only be found at night. “The fish appeared as a fast swimming blue streak in the net,” says Britz.

Not only was the fish hard to find, but as soon as it was lifted out of the net it died. In order to get a photo of the live fish to show its unique colouration, Britz had to improvise.

‘I set up a photo tank right at the shoreline with the camera and flashes ready to shoot. Then my colleague George and I went into the water and pulled the net towards the shoreline. I then used a large spoon to scoop them out of the net and transfer them into the photo tank without lifting them out of the water.’

World’s smallest fish similarities

The Blue-bellied Night Wanderer is tiny, but how does it compare to the world’s smallest fish, which Britz helped study in 2006?

“The largest Cyanogaster individual we collected was 17.4 mm long, which is about 7 mm longer than the largest Paedocypris progenetica.”

The two little fish seem to prefer similar habitats too. Britz explains, “The Rio Negro in Brazil, like the Asian peat swamp forests, has acidic blackwaters and like the peat swamps, it harbours a large number of miniature species.

“Small size seems to be favoured in mineral-poor water and Cyanogaster is another example of this rule.”

Strange teeth

The number and shape of teeth, or dentition, is very useful for naming and classifying fish and especially those of the order Characiformes, the group the blue-bellied night wanderer belongs to.

The fish skeleton is stained to make it easier to study its tiny structure, which is only 7mm longer than the world's smallest fish.

The fish skeleton is stained to make it easier to study its tiny structure, which is only 7mm longer than the world’s smallest fish.

The blue belly has 2 rows of teeth in the upper jaw, an inner and outer. There are only 4 teeth with several cusps (cusps are the tips) in the inner row and 1 conical tooth (only one cusp) in the outer row.

The blue-bellied fish has a unique dentition, number and shape of the teeth in the upper jaw – a single conical tooth in the outer row (marked with a dotted line) and 4 teeth in the inner row.

“All other members of the subfamily Stevardiinae and actually most members of the family Characidae have a different number and arrangement of teeth. So this helps to demonstrate that our little ‘bluebelly’ is something quite different, a new genus,” says Britz.

More specimens found

And there was a final surprise. While the scientific description of the new fish was being prepared, more specimens of the fish were discovered.

Britz explains, “My Brazilian colleagues found a few specimens in the museum collection in Sao Paulo, (Museu de Zoologia, Universidade de São Paulo), which were collected as early as 1980, but had remained unidentified.”

Britz concludes, “This demonstrates again the importance of maintaining museum collections, in which previously unknown diversity can still be discovered.”

From materials released by the Natural History Museum, London, UK

All images courtesy the Natural History Museum.

Once dead and preserved, the colour is lost, as seen in this museum specimen collected by the expedition.

Once dead and preserved, the colour is lost, as seen in this museum specimen collected by the expedition.

Cyanogaster noctivaga, a remarkable new genus and species of miniature fish from the Rio Negro, Amazon basin (Ostariophysi: Characidae)
George M. T. Mattox, Ralf Britz, Mônica Toledo-Piza and Manoela M. F. Marinho

Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 297-318, 11 figs., 1 tab., March 2013
© 2013 by Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany

Cyanogaster noctivaga, new genus, new species, is described from the Rio Negro, Brazil. It
is a miniature fish of the Characidae belonging to the Stevardiinae based on the presence of ii + 8 dorsal-fin rays and four teeth in the inner premaxillary tooth series. The new taxon can be distinguished from all other members of the Stevardiinae by having the reduced number of i + 5 pelvic-fin rays and the presence of a single conical tooth in the outer pre-maxillary tooth series. Other non-exclusive diagnostic features of Cyanogaster within the Stevardiinae are the lack of maxillary teeth, the incomplete lateral line, transparency of the body and conspicuous blue abdominal region. Mature males have hooks on the pelvic- and anal-fin rays. A detailed osteological description of the new genus and species is is presented with comments on its putative relationships.

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June 17, 2013 - 8:42 AM No Comments

Aqua Blue Distribution, named the first Australian business to be awarded the Foxtel Business Grant Award.


QLD company, Aqua Blue Distribution, named the first Australian business to be awarded the Foxtel Business Grant Award.

10 April 2013 – Foxtel has today announced that local aquarium, aquaculture and reptile supplies wholesale company, Aqua Blue Distribution, will be awarded the inaugural Foxtel Business Grant. The prize consists of tailored business coaching from Switzer Group valued at over $10,000.

Husband and wife team, Tim Jacobson and Robin Brown, started Aqua Blue Distribution in 2002 and have since steadily grown their business year on year. Tim and Robin import quality products from all over the world, and also manufacture in Australia where possible. They proudly represent some of the world’s most innovative and premium brands, and back this up with exceptional customer service.

As the Managing Director of Aqua Blue Distribution, Tim said “This award has come at an ideal time for us – both Robin and I are thrilled to have won. We’re so excited to start the coaching; having a customised, one-on-one session with an expert is absolutely invaluable for a small to medium business like ours”.

Tim said they will use the coaching session to find new ways to actively grow their expanding business in a sustainable way, and to simply gain some insights into more efficient business practices.

Marco Miranda, Sales Director at Foxtel said “Foxtel is delighted to provide Aqua Blue Distribution with the very first Foxtel Business Grant Award. Tim and Robin are very deserving winners and Foxtel is proud to provide them with the opportunity to grow their business and improve their trading practices”.

About the Business Grants Promotion

Foxtel for Business, in collaboration with the Switzer Group, will provide four $10,000 business coaching packages to Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) quarterly in 2013.

Foxtel for Business understands the challenges facing Australian SMEs and so has created the Foxtel Business Grant Award in a bid to further support these organisations and provide the opportunity for selected businesses to develop and grow their practice.

Foxtel for Business is passionate about providing simple and cost-effective business solutions, through tailored entertainment packages and is one of the most efficient ways to create atmosphere, keep staff motivated, attract new customers and keep them coming back.

Foxtel also has the unique ability to tap into talent and expertise not only in the business space, but across a range of industries through their entertainment network, which means they can deliver better experiences for their customers.

For more information about the Foxtel Business Grant Awards or to apply in the next draw, visit The current round runs from 18 March – 3 May 2013.

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April 11, 2013 - 4:17 PM Comment (1)

Sunset Montipora Video

March 3, 2012 - 8:46 AM No Comments

Amazonas Magazine soon to be available in Australia

Arriving shortly at Aqua Blue Distribution

January 16, 2012 - 10:38 AM No Comments