It has always been a debate among fish hobbyists whether their fish are wild caught or captive bred. And the answer is that it could be either. Does it matter? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Before we start, let me clarify the terms ‘wild caught’ and ‘captive bred’. I was once asked by a newbie fish hobbyist whether a wild caught fish is more aggressive, territorial, and violent than a captive bred fish. That question caught me off guard and after a short pause, I clarified that “wild” does not have anything to do with aggression. Well you can’t fault him; after all, dictionary.com has seven entries on the adjective ‘wild’. But the correct definition for ‘wild caught’ is a fish caught in its native waters, living in a state of nature. It is neither tamed nor domesticated, and it is also not violent, furious, or crazy.

‘Captive bred’ fish are fish that have been cultured in farms or a fish hobbyist’s tank. They did not breed in the wild; rather, they were bred in captivity.

All fishes being sold in the aquarium trade could be either. In most instances, the fish hobbyist will never know where they came from. The ‘authenticity’ of a fish’s origin really depends on how true the information is that the fish seller can get and give you.

Some fish in the market are wild caught because they have never been bred in captivity. A fish quite popular among Filipino fish hobbyist is the Indo Tiger (Datnioides microlepis), and it’s a good example. I do believe all Indo Tigers in our tanks are wild caught because there hasn’t been any news of these being bred in captivity―unless, of course, the farms have kept a very tight lid on their breeding. No literature on their breeding has ever been published either. The supply of Indo Tigers also is very erratic and unstable. Thus, most likely, they are all wild caught. But hobbyists don’t seem to mind or make a big fuss about it.

The Clown Loach (Chromobotia macracanthus) is another fish that I assumed was already bred in captivity. The first time I ever heard of a Clown Loach, I was still in grade school. It was very rare and expensive then. But since the 70s, the Clown Loach has graced the tanks of many Filipino fish hobbyists. It has become a staple in the Philippine aquarium trade. The supply is fairly stable year round and they are available in sizes ranging from 2 inches to 12 inches. The price for these beauties ranges from PhP 100 to a few thousand pesos, depending on the size. These facts made me believe that they already have been bred in captivity, until fish importers revealed that their stocks are still wild caught. There are just so many of them in the wild that the supply and price have been fairly stable.

There are a host of other fishes that are sourced from the wild which we fish hobbyists will never know about. These just appear in shop tanks, and sometimes, even the sellers never know their true origin.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN F1 AND F16

However, among discriminating fish hobbyists, wild caught fishes are a source of pride and bragging rights. Among Cichlidophiles a wild caught fish is indeed highly desirable. Cichlids, for one, are highly breedable in captivity, but among avid Cichlid keepers, a wild caught Cichlid is the Holy Grail. But for a Cichlid ‘commoner’, the origin of the fish doesn’t matter. A true Cichlidophile is willing to pay ten times the normal price for an authentic wild caught fish and will avoid a captive bred fish of the same species.

I have been keeping Cichlids for many years and I must agree that wild caught Cichlids are more beautiful than captive ones. Cichlids in nature are what true Cichlid keepers should accept as standards. However, since Cichlids are easily bred in captivity, some captive bred Cichlids have lost their beauty along the line.

Among Cichlidophiles, the filial generation system is a way of keeping track of the generations a certain species has been bred. A wild caught fish is assigned F0 status. If a pair of wild caught Cichlid lays eggs, their brood is classified as F1. If the F1s breed, their offspring are F2. The count goes on as they are bred down the line.

Since the fishes have been bred for generations in fish farms, they often lose some traits that F0s have. Due to inbreeding, the colors are no longer as intense, fins may be shorter, bodies may be crooked, or the size may be smaller. Thus for serious Cichlid keepers, it is a big deal to have F0s or wild caught fishes because some captive bred Cichlids are simply not as beautiful as their wild caught counterparts. We used to joke that some Cichlids no longer look like Cichlids because they are F16s!

Among Bichir keepers, we also pay special attention to wild caught specimens because we observe subtle differences that may not be too obvious to average fish hobbyists. Many years ago the only Bichirs available in the country were the Senegal Bichir or what we Filipinos call the Dragonfin (Polypterus senegalus) and the Ornate Bichir (P. ornatipinnis). Early supplies of these were all wild caught until they were bred in captivity in Asian fish farms and soon, even locally. When the other species were introduced, they all started as wild caught specimens.

In the last few years, however, Indonesia has become a popular source for captive bred Bichirs. They have produced many Bichirs species in their farms. However due to inbreeding, some of the captive bred Bichirs have developed some traits different from wild caught specimens. Take the case of the Giant Banded Bichir (P. endlicheri endlicheri). Bichir enthusiasts observe that captive bred P. endlicheri endlicheri have different head shapes. The length of the head is short and not flat, and the eyes seem to be set higher. They also do not grow as large as the wild caught specimens and the markings are varied; some markings do not even resemble the dark vertical bands the species is known for.

It is also suspected that some farms crossbreed different Bichir species, so serious Bichir keepers tend to prefer wild caught specimens to captive bred ones.

THE CAPTIVE BRED FISH

On the other hand, captive bred fish are readily available for a majority of fish hobbyists. For one thing, they are generally cheaper than wild caught species because since they are farmed; supply is generally stable year round; production is high and the fish are always available. These are factors that keep prices low. This is why industry players prefer captive bred species: because the turnaround is faster.

For some species, captive bred fishes are your only choice. Take the case of the goldfish. All goldfish, whatever the variety, are captive bred in fish farms all over the world. Because of selective breeding through many centuries, the farms have produced different varieties, and none look anywhere near the wild caught goldfish (Carassius auratus).

Captive bred fish in the aquarium trade all come from wild caught specimens and have been farmed so that there is no need to collect them from the wild. In fact, some fish we have in the aquarium are said to be no longer available in their native waters due to the degradation of their environment.

The Asian Arowana (Scleropages formosus) is a popular aquarium fish, but the trade of wild caught specimens is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Thus, only farm bred fish are available to the hobby. Each captive bred fish is tagged with a microchip which is assigned a tag number with a corresponding certificate from a fish farm authenticating that the particular fish is at least a Second Filial Generation (F2) and is legal to own.

CONCLUSION

After reading this article, one may ask: wild caught or captive bred? The preference is up to the fish hobbyist. Sometimes it matters, and sometimes, it doesn’t because you won’t even know anything about a fish’s origin. To most fish hobbyists, no matter where or how a fish was sourced is not important. What is important is, the fish is in your tank and you are enjoying it.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s April 2015 issue.