The State Of Captive Breeding Marine Species In 2015

The year 2016 will see the release of this year’s breeding accomplishments, but it already seems pertinent to mention a few successes of particular note.

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens). Via Ryan Poplin /Flickr

Each year we are able to add new species to the list of marine ornamentals we can now successfully breed in captivity, making the trade more sustainable with every step. Last year (2014) was no exception and 17 species were added to CORAL’s annual list including but certainly not limited to zebra batfish (Platax batavianus), pygmy seahorses (Hippocamus bargibanti), and purplemask angelfish (Paracentropyge venusta), all of which are truly amazing achievements.

H. bargibanti for example requires its host gorgonian, Muricella paraplectana, to thrive, and this coral species was consequently maintained in captivity explicitly for this purpose. The degree of difficulty associated with rearing some of these animals is extremely high, yet the drive to gain new ground continues to grow. Check out more about these tiny seahorses here.

 Coral Magazine’s 2014 List of Captive Bred Successes

ORA (Oceans Reefs and Aquariums)

  • Whitespotted Pygmy Filefish (Rudarius ercodes)
  • Orbic Cardinalfish (Sphaeramia orbicularis)
  • Girdled Goby (Priolepis cincta)
  • Fleck fin Dottyback (Pseudoplesiops wassi) – accomplished in 2013, but not publicly mentioned until 2014
  • Spotnape Cardinalfish (Apogon notatus)
  • Red Sea Mimic Blenny (Ecsenius gravieri)
  • Jaguar Goby (Gobiopsis quinquecincta)
  • Kamohara Blenny (Mieacanthus kamohari)

Bali Aquarich:

  •  Zebra Batfish (Platax batavianus)
  •  Scribbled Angelfish (Chaetodonotplus duboulayi)

Sustainable Aquatics:

  •  Staghorn Damselfish (Amphyglyphidodon curacao)

Fisheye Aquaculture:

  • Smallmouth Grunt (Haemulon chrysargyreum)

Steinhart Aquarium

  • Bargibant’s Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

Ross DeAngelis

  •  Madagascar Clownfish (Amphiprion latifasciatus)

Karen Brittain

  •  Purplemask Angelfish (Paracentropyge venusta)

Other Scientists / Researchers

  •  Two-striped Cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus quadrifasciatus) – Published in 2013, but only came to our attention now
  • Purple Firefish (Nemateleotris decora)

The year 2016 will see the release of this year’s breeding accomplishments, but it already seems pertinent to mention a few successes of particular note. I will cover three of the most impressive and promising developments of 2015 beginning with what I consider to be the most groundbreaking: aquaculture of the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens). Captive bred tangs are the holy grail of any marine fish breeder and they have been a notoriously difficult species to make headway with for many years. While there have been reports of captive bred blue tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus) out of Taiwan since 2011, the lack of photographic evidence and detailed documentation have drawn much skepticism, leaving many to question the extent of the truth behind this claim.

Yellow tang larvae. Photo by Ocean Institute Hawaii

Conversely, the captive breeding of Z. flavescens at the Ocean Institute (OI) in Hawaii is being closely documented at each step and can be followed via the Rising Tide blog here.  According to OI, “The culture of this species bears significant importance to Hawaii and represents a considerable economic opportunity and critical conservation strategy in coral reef ecosystem protection.” Considering this is the most collected reef species in Hawaii making up for 81% of all aquarium catch there, cultured yellow tangs could possibly take the place of the thousands of wild yellow tangs collected annually.

As published on the Rising Tide blog on October 14, 2015, the oldest tangs they currently have are now over 70 days old—referred to as 70dph or days post hatch—and their dorsal and anal fins are starting to form, an indication that larval settlement will begin soon. They also reportedly have a group of about 100 tangs around 50dph that is already eating frozen cyclopeeze and seems to be developing quickly. If these most recent tang rearing attempts at OI are successful, we will officially have a breeding protocol for these fish that can hopefully be replicated elsewhere around the world, opening up the possibilities of rearing other pelagic spawners in captivity. Optimistically speaking, we very well could have captive bred Z. flavescens on the market by mid to late 2016.

Klein butterflyfish (Chaetodon kleinii) in various stages of captive bred development. Photo by Frank Baensch

One of the other exciting breeding firsts of 2015 is Frank Baensch’s success with the Klein’s or sunburst butterflyfish, Chaetodon kleinii. This is actually the first time any species of butterflyfish has been bred in captivity, making this an even more noteworthy achievement. Baensch has been a pioneer in this field for decades, having bred angelfishes from the genus Centropyge over 14 years ago. He also reared the schooling bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes) last year from wild-collected eggs. Now consider the fact that all his work is done independently with no governmental or institutional funding, and the results are even more impressive.

According to Baensch, it took 94 days for the larval butterflyfish to settle out of the water column as juveniles and the only larvae that survived were those primarily fed wild plankton. In discussing his efforts, Baensch said, “The good news is that C. kleinii makes an excellent guinea pig/lab rat for the experimental rearing of Chaetodon larvae – to further grind through the bottlenecks of this group. It is a durable species, can be housed as pairs in relatively small tanks, forms strong pair bonds and responds to temperature and photoperiod conditioning.” This fish is considered one of the hardiest and least picky of butterflyfish species, making it more conducive to aquarium life in comparison to many other Cheatodontids. It is also known to eat Aiptasia and could become a much more robust substitute to the copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) currently available in the hobby. For more information, check out The Blue Reef blog here.

The last new species of 2015 I will mention here is also the result of yet another captive breeding victory by Frank Baensch.  The colorful and extremely beautiful Hawaiian Christmas wrasse, Halichoeres ornatissimus, has now been added to the ever-expanding list of marine ornamentals reared in captivity. Baesnch reports that “Several temperate wrasse species (goldsinny, rock cook, corkwing, ballan wrasse) are aquacultured as cleaner fish to combat sea-lice infestation in salmon farms,” but H. ornatissimus is one of only a few tropical ornamental wrasses that have ever been successfully propagated in a captive setting.

Hawaiian Christmas wrasse (Halichoeres ornatissimus) in various stages of development. Photo by Frank Baensch

Baensch described this wrasse as “difficult to rear” due to the delicate and small-mouthed nature of the early larval stage, but also said “Juvenile H. ornatissimus appear ideally suited for aquaculture. They are attractive, hardy, fast growing, and not aggressive toward each other at higher stocking densities.”

Considering how many attractive and reef safe species there are in this particular family, there will be many opportunities to try out Baensch’s rearing techniques with other similar wrasses. For more information, check out The Blue Reef blog here.

It’s an exciting time to be a breeder and new discoveries are being made on a seemingly weekly basis. More species will likely be bred for the first time before the year is out, but for now, we will have to wait until CORALs 2016 list is released in January to know for sure.

Alex Rose
Alex Rose holds a B.S. in biology and a M.S. in aquatic biology, and she has a wide variety of experience in the biological sciences, including bioacoustics research, exhibit construction, science writing, teaching, public presentation, and aquatic animal husbandry and breeding. Alex is a professional violinist, photographer, PADI divemaster and lover of all things aquatic. Her driving goal is to find ways to protect our world’s marine habits through diving, writing, education and research. Visit her website at You can also read more on the Sustainable Reefkeeping page

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Article Categories:
Fish · Saltwater Fish