Clownfish: Why Tank-Raised is Better than Wild Harvested
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Clownfish continue to be one of the most popular marine fish in the aquarium trade. There are few fish that are as beautiful and entertaining as the clownfish and with such a wide variety of species, there is a species of clownfish that will be suited for just about any saltwater aquarium.

Tank raised clownfish have a lower mortality rate than their wild harvested counterparts, and they have been aquacultured for more than 20 years. Clownfish are one of the most successful marine species that have been tank raised and are available for the commercial aquarium trade. The industry has continued to make improvements in aquaculture; especially with clownfish, the farm raised fish offer many advantages over their wild harvested brethren. This article will look at the advantages of both tank raised and wild harvested species.

Variety of species

There are over a dozen wild harvested species of clownfish available today and many of these are also available as tank raised. If you truly want one of the very unique species, the only way to acquire it may be wild harvested, since some species, though tank raised, are available only sporadically, and in limited numbers. However, the variety of available species that are tank raised is increasing all the time and the majority of the most beautiful and desirable species are now available, including:

  • Ocellaris Clownfish
  • Percula Clownfish
  • Tomato Clownfish
  • Maroon Clownfish
  • Cinnamon Clownfish
  • Clark's Clownfish
  • Black and White Percula Clownfish

The False Percula (Ocellaris), Saddleback, Red Saddleback (Fire), Orange and Pink Clownfish and the Australian Clownfish are also being farm raised, but their availability tends to be more sporadic.

Accustomed to people

Wild harvested clownfish, when first received, may be shy and afraid of people. Tank raised clownfish are usually just the opposite. Since birth, these fish have associated humans with food and often become excited when they see people approaching their aquarium. Many aquarists soon become very attached to their tank reared clownfish that are always 'happy to see them.'

Acclimating to aquariums

Acclimation from the wild to aquarium life is one of the most difficult and stressful transitions any fish can make. Moving from one aquarium to another, as is the case for tank raised fish, is generally less stressful. They have spent their entire life in an aquarium, so when you get them, they will merely be switching aquariums and are already used to confined spaces, artificial foods, and more tank mates. If you obtain wild harvested clownfish, you must be very careful in reducing the stress of acclimation; water quality must be excellent, light intensity high, and you may want to initially feed a diet of live foods or frozen foods. Thus, tank raised specimens may be better for the novice reef aquarist. But remember, placing a tank raised clownfish in an aquarium with poor water quality and improper conditions can lead to more mortality than properly acclimating a wild harvested clownfish in pristine water conditions.

Exposure to shipping stress

Shipping stress is an always present factor for fish, and appears to be much more severe in clownfish when compared to many other marine fish. Wild harvested clownfish are subjected to a much more stressful shipping process than tank raised fish. Wild harvested fish need to be collected, exported, imported, wholesaled, and retailed. Tank raised fish go through fewer handling stations and are able to handle the stress much better. In cases where tank raised fish are sold on-line, after they leave the producer, they are often handled only once before reaching the new owner's home.

Aggression

Wild harvested clownfish are very territorial. They have been used to defending their small space and their host anemone from invasion or attack by other clownfish. For them, it is either keep their territory or die, so aggression is literally a way of life. Aggression may be a major cause of stress and mortality in clownfish during shipping if the wild harvested clownfish are kept in a small confined space, and not bagged separately. Check with your supplier to see how your clownfish are shipped. When the clownfish are put in an aquarium setting, especially if there is an anemone present, the aggression continues. If there is aggression during shipping or in an aquarium environment, there is no place for the bullied fish to go. The result can be very stressful or even deadly for these fish.

Tank raised clownfish are not nearly as aggressive. Because these clownfish are raised in a group setting without host anemones, they usually do not develop these territorial aggressive tendencies. They are less likely to be aggressive to tank mates or other species of clownfish. In fact, one of the advantages of many of the tank raised clownfish is that they can be housed with other clownfish of the same or even different species. If the clownfish are added to the aquarium at the same time when they are young, they will often live together peacefully for their entire lives.

Rearing offspring

Many aquarium owners that breed clownfish prefer tank raised species for several reasons. They claim that the young of tank raised stock are calmer, more tolerant of cultured foods, and more tolerant of less than perfect water conditions.

Age of the fish

When you buy a small, tank raised clownfish you can be assured that it is less than a year of age. When purchasing a wild harvested clownfish, especially a larger specimen, you may be acquiring a fish that is several years old. Clownfish in the wild remain adolescents until they occupy a host anemone, so even some medium-sized specimens could be quite old when captured. This is one of the most often overlooked benefits of tank raised clownfish. Because you are assured of acquiring a young fish, you will get to enjoy it for its entire life span.

Parasites and disease

Parasites can greatly increase the stress and decrease the survivability of all fish. Parasites and bacterial infections can be a major concern in clownfish. Tank raised clownfish are well managed to prevent parasites and generally do not suffer from internal parasites like some wild harvested fish do.

Cost

Cost used to be a significant factor against tank raised clownfish, but due to improved technology and availability, this is changing. Tank raised specimens may cost slightly more, but because of the improved acclimation, less aggression, and other benefits, a tank raised clown may be one of the best bargains in the marine fish trade. As demand for wild harvested specimens decreases, the demand for tank raised clownfish increases, and the availability and cost of the two will become the same, and could even show a reversal.

Mortality

Mortality rates of fish, regardless of whether they are wild harvested or tank raised, will be significant if they are brought into an aquarium with less than optimal condtions.
Mortality is a topic that many people in the aquarium industry do not like to discuss, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Mortality exists in all forms of the aquatics trade both in wild harvested and hatchery raised fish. All aquarium keepers should be very concerned with the issue and strive to reduce fish mortality in any way they can. In the case of clownfish, if the tank raised fish are cared for properly, we can significantly reduce the stress and resulting mortality at every step along the way. The numbers lost in the capture, handling, and acclimation process in tank raised clownfish are much less than what they are in wild harvested fish. When you factor the increase in losses of wild harvested clownfish resulting from disease, parasites, and aggression, tank raised clownfish definitely have distinct advantages.

Again, it must be emphasized that mortality rates of clownfish, regardless of whether they are wild harvested or tank raised, will be high if they are brought into an aquarium with less than optimal condtions. In addition, it is important to obtain your clownfish from a reputable source who can supply you with a healthy fish, as well as the information you will need to help keep it that way.

Coloring and stripes

One of the issues that has arisen in the past concerning tank raised clownfish has been a reduction in color quality and an increase in the number of fish with incomplete stripes or variation from the wild harvested patterns. A tank raised clownfish may arrive with a dull color, but this condition will often improve when a high quality diet is fed coupled with excellent water quality. Concerning incomplete stripes or marking variations, they too, are becoming less common and when they do occur, are often looked at as novelties of nature that are unique and enjoyable. Because of the fierce competition and predation in the wild, many of these clownfish with unusual markings become easy prey and never survive to adulthood. If you find yourself the owner of one of these unique fish, consider yourself lucky.

Anemones

Clownfish and anemones are a natural. The reason that many aquarists want a clownfish is to recreate that natural wonder of the bond between a clownfish and its anemone. However, recreating that bond in an aquarium is not often as simple as it sounds, nor is it usually recommended. It should be understood that clownfish in an aquarium do not need an anemone to survive. In fact, in an aquarium setting, not providing a host anemone may be better for the clownfish, the aquarium, and the anemone. Adding an anemone or coral will increase aggression in both wild harvested and tank raised clownfish.

In addition, anemones have very specialized needs and some species do not do well in an aquarium. Under the care of an experienced aquarist, some anemones will survive and develop a long lasting relationship with a clownfish. If you are a very experienced aquarist that feels the need to recreate the anemone/clownfish bond, make sure you choose the correct anemone and provide the utmost care for it. Bubble Tip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) is one of the best choices for most clownfish. Purchasing a tank raised anemone has some of the same advantages as purchasing a tank raised fish. An alternative to anemones for many hobbyists include: the Mushroom Leather Coral, Hairy Mushroom Coral, or Elegance Coral. These corals will often provide a suitable host for the clownfish and are often much hardier than anemones. Remember that your clownfish does not need an anemone to thrive and your clownfish will do great without one. But if it is this symbiotic relationship you are looking for, tank raised clownfish will associate with anemones or corals just like wild fish.

In summary, if you are not set on a specific type of clownfish, the tank raised fish are ideal for most aquarists. They are usually less stressed, often healthier, easier to acclimate, more social, less aggressive, and may live longer. So, if you are interested in adding a clownfish to your aquarium, research the different species, choose the best one for your aquarium, and join the ranks of aquarists that have made this one of the most popular fishes in the home aquarium.

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Reprinted from PetEducation.com.