research—as the pressure on fish destined to be eaten
increases, there is a chain reaction that will diminish the
number of many other species—dependent on the human-preferred proteins.
Even though the aquarium hobby has been
experiencing a major reduction in popularity over the
past 25 years, that doesn’t mean it is happening over the
entire globe. As money has streamed into countries that
were once somewhat restricted, the hobby is vibrant and
growing. I refer to the Middle East, much of Southeast
Asia and China.
Both Japan and Europe remain major consumers
of marine organisms—for both the aquarium and
consumption. As the economics of countries around the
globe are changing, along with cultural influences, so is the
availability of disposable income. Meanwhile, in the U.S.,
things like cell phones, smart TV’s, video games and an
endless stream of time-consuming electronic media garner
most of the free time of the public. This leaves precious
time for a hobby originally started as a way to get in touch
with nature, alongside the additional benefits of being
educational and calming after a long day at work.
Producers and collectors of marine organisms prefer
to sell their better products to places where they can get
the best prices. Unfortunately, that is no longer the U.S.
We are edging even further downwards on the totem
pole. Today, the rare fish go to countries willing to pay
the price. Certainly they show up here as well, but in
much smaller numbers and for higher prices than ever
before. This has a domino effect, reducing the number of
importers and wholesalers to a handful compared to what
it used to be. Competition is diminished and that raises
the prices of the livestock, which makes it even more
imperative that retailers keep the fish they have purchased
for resale alive and healthy.
Have you noticed how difficult it is to obtain medications
to treat disease and parasitic infestations in fish? We are up
against an uncaring bureaucracy when it comes to fighting
back. As our numbers dwindle, our power to resolve
these dilemmas also decreases. There are drugs, familiar
to me, that could save many species of fish, both salt and
freshwater, but they are no longer available to the trade and
certainly not to the consumer. With this in mind, I need to
suggest the best way to handle your marine imports.
BACK TO BASICS
Never mix new fish with specimens you already have
in your store. This is an extremely difficult thing for 90
percent of retailers to do. Space is at a premium, and
basically I am suggesting you have at least four systems, independent from one another.
First, keep coral in its dedicated system and only add fish you know to be healthy and
don’t intend to sell. Second, house your fish for sale in several segmented, but small,
systems. Try not to mix fish from the Atlantic with those from the Pacific or Indian
Oceans. Never keep Red Sea fish with species collected in the wild from other locales.
The Red Sea has a specific gravity of 1.034, and you should keep its fish at 1.030 or
higher. This will reduce losses. It will also mean you need to feed these fish frequently,
and don’t be stingy with the quality or quantity of food. The high salinity requires the
fish to maintain a high metabolic rate as they struggle to expel salt from their bodies.
Remember, all fish must maintain the same blood serum levels.
If you have been in business long enough, you know that certain countries and/or
locales collect fish in any way they can. Avoid such fish by always asking your supplier
where a fish came from. By putting your supplier on notice, he will be more reluctant to
lie to you, hopefully.
In the back of your store where customers are restricted is where you should house
all newly imported fish. That way, if problems occur, you can treat them without prying
eyes. Every single tank, from 10 to 100 gal., should be separately filtered with no water
exchange between these quarantine aquariums. If you catch any employees touching
the water without gloves on, fire them on the spot. All nets or other pieces of equipment
must be sterilized between tanks. This is serious business. On public display, however,
such severe measures are not recommended since it will freak out customers.
Fish are hard to get, but corals are a dime a dozen, and they’re being sold and
traded by “coral heads” all around the country. Frankly, if you play the frag game,
you cannot compete with hobbyists who know what they are doing. They are
passionate and will spend endless hours attending to their stock. I recommend
carrying medium to large heads of coral and leaving the frags to the amateurs.
If they make a few dollars, they believe they can open up a retail spot and become
rich. Leave them alone in their fantasyland. You are in business to make money
and serve the public, not play games with colored rocks. Even though they are
beautiful and fascinating, do it the professional way. Displays that impress can make
you money on a consistent basis.
If you want healthy fish, you have to feed them the right food twice a day.
Remember my comment on metabolism? Use lots of UV-sterilization on wild-caught
fish, even though prevailing philosophy is that it doesn’t help that much. I am a firm
believer in a large sump for any tank or system, and it should have a refugium which
houses live Caulerpa algae. If the algae seems healthy, there is a good chance the fish will
be equally so.
Use power heads, but don’t blow the fish out of the water. Lights on sumps with
refugiums should be good, but on the tank itself, I suggest a low level of lighting. Most
reef species live several feet below the surface and light is not as bright as you think. Once
you go scuba diving, you will know exactly what I mean. Use LED lights, but subdued.
You want the fish to come out, not hide in the rocks all day. The fish do need cover,
especially the active swimmers. Leave the substrate as open as possible and make low
and high caves—like duplex apartments. To sum it up, aquatic stores can still get healthy
marine fish, but you may have to look harder, pay more and be very cautious once the
livestock is in your possession. Good luck! PB
Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for more than 40 years as a retailer, live fish importer and
wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.