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.
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.