Rich Ross

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2013 Marine Breeder’s Year in Review

From Reefbuilders
by Matthew Pedersen 

It’s the 4th annual installment of the Marine Breeder’s Year in Review (see past installments at 20102011a2011b, and 2012) and frankly, it’s been an interesting if not arguably “slow” year for a change, and yet I’ll probably write more than ever!

Breeders are pursuing all sorts of projects, but ‘success’ in terms of new species reared or otherwise projects meeting their goals often proved to be elusive. Perhaps the fact that this year’s biggest breakthrough was only written about once, and happened to be an “achievement by accident”, underscores the way captive breeding went in 2013.

New Fish Species for 2013

As Tal Sweet and I wrapped up the 2014 Annual Captive-bred Marine Aquarium Fish Species List for CORAL Magazine, it became clear that truly there were only a handful of “species firsts” in 2013.  Of the 19 species we chose to add to list that kicks off 2014, the vast majority do not represent breakthroughs that occurred in 2013, and a few of these may have been touched on in my 2012 end of year review as well.  Here’s the 19 new additions to the list for 2014:

26 day old Maze Angelfish - courtesy Bali Aquarich26 day old Maze Angelfish – courtesy Bali Aquarich

Chaetodontoplus cephalareticulatus, Maze Angelfish – new for 2013 by Bali Aquarich, Story #1 and Story #2

Chaetodontoplus septentrionalis, Bluestriped Angelfish – done years ago along with Pomacanthus asfur and P. maculosus but somehow never made it onto the lists before this year. This oversight has been corrected.

Jake Adams holds a pair of groundbreaking, two captive bred clarion angelfish for the history books. Photo J. SprungJake Adams holds a pair of groundbreaking, two captive bred clarion angelfish for the history books. Photo J. Sprung

Holacanthus clarionensis, Clarion Angelfish – accomplished in 2013 by Bali Aquarich, the most covered breeding breakthrough of the year on Reef Builders!  Follow the story from start to finish; Article 1Article 2Article 3Article 4Article 5.

The Black Cardinalfish - a new species reared by ORA in 2013.The Black Cardinalfish – a new species reared by ORA in 2013.

Apogonichthyoides melas, Black Cardinalfish – new for 2013, accomplished by ORA

Apogonichthyoides nigripinnis, Bullseye Cardinalfish – a species purportedly done at least a few years back, simply one we’ve overlooked and have difficulty finding information on but do no doubt its voracity.

Pseudochromis dilectus, Dilectus Dottyback – done before 2013, but only made the list this year.

Kuhlia mugil, Barred Flagtail – accomplished by Todd Gardner in 2013, story on

Crested Oyster Goby – Cryptocentroides gobiodes – quite a looker! (image courtesy Matthew L. Wittenrich) – Male Above, Female BelowCrested Oyster Goby – Cryptocentroides gobiodes – quite a looker! (image courtesy Matthew L. Wittenrich) – Male Above, Female Below

Cryptocentroides gobiodes, Crested Oyster Goby – cracked by Amy Drehmel in 2011, but that success was not publicly shared at that time. It wasn’t until 2013 that this species come to our attention via Rising Tide.

Pectropomus leopardus, Coral Trout – reared as a food fish, possibly for decades, and well it finally just “made the list”. It is likely that more grouper species which are occasionally kept in aquariums may make future additions as we come across the information.

Haemulon flavolineatum, French Grunt – another very late 2012 announcement that didn’t make the last list, this one accomplished by Rising Tide and capitalized on by Fisheye Aquaculture in 2013.

Opistognathus punctatus, Finespotted Jawfish – done in 2010, but only hit public awareness very late December 2012, after last year’s list was done.

60 day post settlement Baldwini PIpefish – Copyright Jim Welsh, 201360 day post settlement Baldwini PIpefish – Copyright Jim Welsh, 2013

Dunckerocampus baldwini, Flame Pipefish, Red Striped Pipefish – accomplished by private aquarist Jim Welsh in 2013and possibly the only hobbyist-sourced species first for the entire year!

Arthoron nigropunctatus, Dog-faced Pufferfish – initially we were skeptical, so this species remained off the list.  It is tentatively added based on information from Dr. Andy Rhyne who suggests this was acheived some time back by Maritech.

Sphoeroides annulatus, Bullseye Pufferfish – a foodfish record which came to our attention in 2013 but has been done in years past.

Siganus guttatus, Oranged-spotted Rabbitfish – reared as a foodfish, with references going back to as early as 2007

Siganus vermiculatus, Vermiculated Rabbitfish – another reared as foodfish, this species as early as 2000

Eastern Hulafish - a late addition to the captive bred list for 2013!Eastern Hulafish – a late addition to the captive bred list for 2013!

Trachinops taeniatus, Eastern Hulafish – accomplished by ORA in late 2013.

Atelomycterus marmoratus, Coral Catshark – something we’ve been aware of but only recently noticed we didn’t have it on the list!  Examples go back to 2010 and assuredly, probably years prior with some further searching.

Labroides dimidiatus, Cleaner Wrasse – accomplished by Bali Aquarich in 2013.

History is messy and often not very well documented, and most of the “new to the list” fish represent documentation that only came to our attention in 2013, but perhaps happened a year (or several) prior.  Often such discoveries stem from foodfish research and production – case in point, several Siganus species have been cultivated as foodfish, but we have yet to come across a captive-bred Rabbitfish marketed for the aquarium trade.  Still, it’s important to know that when species like Siganus guttatus are being bred for food, there is no reason we shouldn’t investigate the methodologies used to apply them to related fish like the Foxfaces.

Of course, in maintaining such a list, subjective calls have to be made; do we include temperate species?  With the growing interest in coldwater marine aquariums, it is quite possible that you’ll see many species added  in future lists not because they were new for the year, but because we didn’t really think of them as home aquarium species (or important relatives) prior to that point in time. And we’ll continue to struggle with breeding accomplishments that don’t quite fit the “Captive bred” definition (case in point, I think of Martin Moe’s work with Holacanthus tricolor, the Rock Beauty – will you see us retroactively adding it to the list for 2015?)

As exciting as a captive-bred Clarion Angelfish may be (it pretty much represents a first for the genus Holacanthus), from a species accomplishment standpoint, it is my opinion that the breeding of the Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, is bar none the mostgroundbreaking accomplishment of the year.

While the “captive bred list” we maintain has included two wrasse species in the past, one is a temperate species and neither is typically thought of as aquarium fare. So it’s really the successful breeding of a small, tropical, pelagic-spawning wrasse that has opened up the door to an entire new family of marine fish as breeding candidates.

This is no small feat; hobbyists have been spawning Labroides dimidiatus in Germany and the US for years now, but none have managed to rear any.  Many other wrasse species are spawned in captivity as well (I recall the utter excitement of Tony Vargas and his Flame Wrasses spawning in a small nano cube type setup).

The fact that Wen Ping Su managed to rear the Cleaner Wrasse now dares other breeders, commerical and hobbyist, to rethink the possibilties of working with wrasses as breeding candidates. Even more interesting is that the Cleaner Wrasses were co-cultured by accident alongside Angelfish (Clarion) rearing attempts, which means that the protocols used to rear the angelfish also work to rear the wrasses.

Connecting the dots now, we’ve had public disclosure of how to culture Angelfish for years now, and more recently through the hard efforts of multiple zooplankton companies, but particularly AlgaGen, we now have the “tools of the trade” (in the form of multiple available copepod species)  ready and waiting for the intrepid aquarist to tackle the project.

We’re not saying it’s going to be easy, in fact it’s going to be damn tough, but it is now within the realm of possibility that a home hobbyist could tackle one or more wrasse species in the near future and really push us all forward. I cannot overemphasize that while news of things like Clarion Angelfish breeding is sure to grab the attention of the aquarium world, it’s the breeding success with a more mundane species like the everday Clearer Wrasse that really deserves our attention.

So what else happened in 2013? People Moved Around

Two noteworthy “staff changes” occurred in 2013 which no doubt will have an impact on academic breeding research efforts.  Todd Gardner left his full time position with the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center, where he accomplished such noteworthy feats as being the first to breed Liopropoma (among many other species firsts) for a professor’s position at an area college.

Gardner’s move is particularly bittersweet as he had just been recognized as the 2013 MASNA Aquarist of the Year, a recognition earned as a direct result of his breeding contributions (among other reasons).  Dr. Wittenrich also departed the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab / Rising Tide, with his future plans not publicly disclosed.

To be blunt, with the (hopefully temporary) loss of these two powerhouse breeders, who had the luxury of pursuing species firsts as part of their full time jobs and the proper resources and tools behind their efforts, I am left to wonder if we’ll see an inevitable slowdown in 2014, at least as far as new species breakthroughs are concerned. Will Wittenrich and Gardner return in the years ahead, or will other as yet unknown aquarists rise in to fill the gaps left by these two legends of the breeding world?

Dreaming Big Takes Time, Requires Risk, and a little Daring

Looking at the species list above and seeing so few truly “new” species added as 2013 comes to a close, during 2013 many of the breeders I know are dreaming big and working on long term projects with lofty goals and aggressive goals.  The higher we dream, the easier it is to fail (which we often don’t hear about), but even in failure (or simply daring to try) we take away valuable lessons.

Richard Ross and Kevin Erickson embraced the “go big or go home” attitude with their latest installment of Ross’ Skeptical Reefkeeping Series.  In Part 8, Animal Origins, Some Proposed Definitions, the duo took the bull by the horns and insisted we disambiguate terms like “captive-bred” and “tank-raised” once and for all.

It’s fair to say that over the past decade these terms have become cluttered and confusing in the marine aquarium trade and ultimately, someone had to put their foot down and say “enough is enough”, particularly in light of the fact that at times, livestock may well be accidentally or intentionally mislabeled and thus become a deceptive offering.  Most reasonable folks can agree to the proposed definitions set forth by Ross and Erickson; hopefully we’ll see universal adoption of these terms and definitions going forward.  It won’t happen overnight.

Banggai Cardinalfish - the new book by By 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.Banggai Cardinalfish – the new book by By 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.

In other long-term projects, 2013 saw the publication of the Banggai Cardinalfish book,of which I was a co-author. This book took a comprehensive look at Pterapogon kauderni, which is still very much in need of our attention as breeders and aquarists. Despite being initially asked by project leader James Lawrence to simply summarize our total knowledge of the fish from a breeding perspective in 2012, I was compelled to plan deeper research into artificial incubation and the problems around pairing and male brooding failures as well as the notion that the Banggai could not be profitably bred by home aquarists.

While the expedition set out to hunt down BCIV(Banggai Cardinalfish IridoVirus) in the wild and chain of custody, while examining the fishery for this species, I stayed back to focus on small scale breeding research to bring whatever new insights I could make for my contributions to the breeding portion of the book. With an initial research timeline of only 4 months in 2012, you could say I did set optimistic and lofty goals, and frankly on paper it would have worked. Setbacks with BCIV , under-aged broodstock, and broodstock DOAs, all combined in an “everything that could go wrong did go wrong” scenario, leaving me with only fraction of the research I had hoped to accomplish even when delays with the virus research expanded the timeframe in which I could continue to tinker.

Still, setting such aggressive goals did yield some promising insights for the culture of the species at home and was far better than the “book report” type project I had been asked to contribute. But perhaps most importantly, investigations into the genetic components of captive species preservation drew me to the inescapable conclusion that large-scale commercial production of Pterapogon kauderni represents the best genetic safeguard we have for this species in captivity.

Since we now have at least one large scale commercial producer of Banggais in full swing, it is now more important than ever that we vote with our wallets and be sure to support the captive-breeding of the species, which remains on the IUCN Red List as an “endangered species” at this time.

In my own fishroom, I am surrounded by lofty goals and long term projects. I look at things like my 3 year old Queen Angelfish pair, raised from small juveniles, and realize they are probably still another year from being sexually mature. While I managed to spawn Oxymonacanthus halli in 2013, that project suffered a setback with the loss of the spawning pair during a tank crash; in fact I also personally spawned Acriechthys radiataand continue to spawn Sparisoma automarium, but have nothing other than eggs and hatched larvae to show for my efforts.

My Foureye Butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus) project is finally at a place where I feel confident I’ll get some spawning soon – and as a breeder, that alone might be success enough, at least to start out. I’m revisiting my near success with the Bundoon Blenny (Mieacanthus bundoon). The shoal of Moorish Idols that share the 300 gallon pond may never amount to much, but if we’re ever going to have captive-bred Zanclus, someone is going to have to start trying!

Milletseed Butterflyfish Breeding Project at Rising Tide - image courtesy JMD / Rising TideMilletseed Butterflyfish Breeding Project at Rising Tide – image courtesy JMD / Rising Tide

Others are in the same boat – it seems everyone has hard projects set up. I’ve watched the team at Rising Tide patiently pursuing their own butterflyfish breeding project with the Milletseed Butterflyfish, Chaetodon milliaris; this project is headed up by Jon-Michael Degidio.  There has been progress reports in late June 2013, and again this December 2013, but to date we have no juvenile captive-bred butterflyfish out of Rising Tide. Frankly such a project may take years to conclude successfully, even with Rising Tide’s near success a couple years back with Heniochus diphreutes.

Not everyone is working with tons of space and resources.  For example, Chad Vossen (best known for his larval snagger) is working hard on replicating the work of breedingOxymonacanthus longirostris, a feat that no one as repeated despite a full disclosure of methods back in 2008.  Chad’s getting close, consistently getting eggs now – it’s only a matter of time.

Richard Ross goes big, and does it at home, with a pair of Dr. Seuss Fish!Richard Ross goes big, and does it at home, with a pair of Dr. Seuss Fish!

Perhaps the biggest dream project out there at the moment is Richard Ross’s pairing of Dr. Seuss Fish, Belonoperca pylei. Anyone brazen enough to make the investment and roll the dice in trying to pair such a rare and expensive species deserves some success (in my opinion).

Karen Brittain isn’t sitting idly either; between pursuing a revisit of Frank Baensch’s success with Centropyge interrupta as part of her Girlfriend for Fabio Indiegogo campaign, and her more recent efforts at trying to crack the code of Paracentropyge venusta, Karen’s 2013, like many of ours, proved to be more about the hard work that goes into breeding than the highly publicized success that only occurs at the very end. Near misses are certainly par for the course; earlier in the year, Todd Gardner came very close with both Genicanthus bellus and G. melanospilus.

No doubt many other breeders are quietly toiling behind the scenes, trying hard to surprise us in the coming 12 months!

Crustacean Breeding is in Vogue

It’s more of a random observation, but in watching the MBI reports and invertbrate breeding journals flow in this year, it seems that the breeding of shrimps and hermit crabs has been very popular in the past 12 months. Hermit Crabs gained increased focus, and several journals covering the various species of the Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata sp.) complex were filed. Given our better understanding of species identification within the peppermint shrimp complex, we might have even seen a “first documentation” of a species that perhaps was reared before, but under an incorrect ID! We even saw the return of captive-bred Fire Shrimp, Lysmata debelius, to market through Live Aquaria’s Diver’s Den this fall and winter.  Sexy Shrimp success stories rounded out the year’s revival in motile invert breeding, but that’s not all.

Private Aquarist Breeds Tridacnas at Home in Australia

Aquacultured Tridacnids aren’t new, but this will still blow your mind, as it’s proof that things we tend to think of as “only viable at commercial scale” may actually be something we can scale down.

His name is “Allan van Zijl, 34 years old, Perth Australia. Been a reef aquarist/Acropora culturist for about 10 years”; He’s become known by his online shorthand “Acro Al” this year; a private aquarist working in a home setting, quietly rearing home-spawnedTridacna clams with the help of Gerald Heslinga (Indo-Pacific Sea Farms) and Phil Dor (

Home-bred Tridacna clams now hitting the 3 cm mark - image courtesy Acro Al

Home-bred Tridacna clams now hitting the 3 cm mark – image from 12/29/2013, copyright and courtesy of Acro Al

No joke, this guy is breeding giant clams, you know, like oh, nothin special…just Blue Squamosa, and T. maxima, in his back yard.  I think every coral fragger just got put on notice. You could say we’ve been following Acro AI’s Facebook page with a little enthusiasm.

We’ve still got a lot to say about the state of captive breeding in 2013, so check back soon for part 2 of the 2013 Marine Breeder’s Year in Review. 

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