Where have all the captive-bred Mandarins gone?

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I have to get something off of my chest that really has been bothering me. Of course, I’ll once again start with my famous disclaimer that this is MY opinion, and I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of anyone else, nor am I putting myself or my company up on a pedestal here. This applies to all of us.

First, a bit of background:

As you know, Unique Corals in general, and myself in particular, have been rather staunch supporters of captive propagation, sustainable sourcing, and responsible handling of animals in the hobby. We took a very solid position about this from day one of our operation, and have gone to great effort to support responsible operations within the industry whenever possible. We were the first organization to offer “eco-labeled” fishes from Papua New Guinea back in 2012, and have continuously supported global and domestic coral and fish propagators, such as Dan Rigle, Mark Poletti, ReefGen, Sustainable Aquatics,ORA, responsible mariculture facilities in Bali, and highly regarded, eco-sensitive collectors in Australia. We propagate a significant percentage of our corals “in-house” as well.


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The "Golden Nugget Wrasse" from PNG...Gone forever?


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Ecolabeling...A great idea- just a few years too early- and a few bucks too much, I guess.

Although we’re by no means operating even close to 100% fully-sustainably-sourced livestock in our product inventory, we believe that we have been supportive when possible, proactive when necessary, and outspoken often in support of the sustainable aquarium trade. We have been highly transparent in discussing our successes, failures, and challenges towards fulfilling our mission statement of providing a “conscientious, sustainable, and responsible” source of marine livestock for the aquarium hobby. Let’s hit the “outspoken” part this morning, as I would like to relate a story that hit me in a bad way yesterday, and I’ll share my thoughts with you (I mean, when have I ever been shy about that? LOL).

So you know, UC is a big supporter of ORA in Florida, and we have proudly offered their corals and fishes on our website. Their mission, focus, and great work in captive propagation have been legendary and, really, exemplary. For years, ORA has delivered on the promise of responsible, sustainable propagation of marine animals.

I was talking with one of their personnel yesterday, and I was inquiring about wether or not there were any more tank-bred Mandarin Dragonets available from them. They just sort of fell off the radar after initially launching with such fanfare a few years back! I was told that the breeding program has been retired until “absurdly inexpensive wild-caught Mandarins stop flooding the market.” The response both saddened and angered me. She went on to explain that verbal support for the captive-bred Mandarins within the hobby was initially great, but that, ultimately, retailers and consumers didn’t want to pay the much more expensive price for a captive-bred fish, and that they (ORA) did not see an economically viable way to keep producing them.


Unknown.jpeg

The object of my disappointment. The captive-bred Mandarin. Too much? Really?

To put it simply, the mass market didn’t want to pay $40 for a captive-bred fish they could get for $12 from wild-caught sources. If I may interject with some emotion…That sucks. Actually, I used more colloquial phrasing when discussing this with my colleagues, but that’s essentially the gist of it!

Time for me to give us a collective spanking…


Shame on us, as a hobby, for not doing more to support efforts like this. Granted, Mandarins are not for everyone, and even the captive-bred ones had to be fed generously and frequently, but to NOT support what amounted to a groundbreaking effort in sustainability from a globally-recognized leader in the trade is nothing short of astounding.

Should I be shocked? Not really. I mean, when we offered the first eco-labled fishes from PNG in 2012, we received similar pushback from many consumers. Why would they want to pay twice the price for a fish they could pick up anywhere much cheaper? Just because the fish was collected on a quota and handled differently was not a significant enough factor to justify the higher price. As a result, the collectors, EcoAquariums PNG, had to suspend their operations. Sales just couldn’t justify the expenses associated with the operations. Sad.

Look, I’m a business person, and I get it; The old expression that “business without profit is like eating soup with a spoon” makes sense (unless you’re talking about Chunky soup, lol). But seriously, we talk a great game in the hobby about how supportive we are of sustainable efforts, yet we failed the Eco-labeled fish and the ORA Mandarins big time. How short-sighted…Especially when we (the hobby and industry) are facing- right NOW- proposed legislation that could severely curtail the importation, possession, and trade of marine life in this country. The very existence of our hobby is under threat by people who have no clue just how responsible we really are…Yet we show extreme hypocrisy by failing to support a great effort because the fish are “too expensive.”

We need to, as a dear friend says, “get over ourselves” here. We think nothing of shelling out hundreds of dollars per “eye” (they are NOT EYES! They are MOUTHS! Sheesh!) to some vendors for a chalice that, in reality, was not “propagated”, but simply hacked off of a wild colony that was pulled from the reef weeks before and “marketed” as “LE”, but we will not support a fish that was painstakingly bred, reared, and marketed by dedicated professional fish breeders. An effort that, if accepted more widely, would have not only helped ease pressures on wild stocks of a fish with a difficult reputation, but would have sent yet another firm message to our hobby’s detractors.


rainbow-oxypora-chalice-coral-3.jpg

HOW MUCH for an "eye?"


It baffles me.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

In our defense, we’ll pay hundreds of dollars for captive-bred Clownfish, and you typically have to look kind of hard to find wild Percs and Ocellaris these days, so bravo to us! Breeders are supplying an ever-increasing quantity of captive-bred Clowns to the market. That’s awesome. And firms like Sustainable Aquatics are offering more and more captive-bred varieties of other fishes, and larval-caught, tank-reared fishes of al sorts.

The “frag swap” has been a part of reef keeping culture for years, and it’s one of the most pervasive, yet under -reported (to the non fish-keeping world) rituals of our hobby. Pretty much as sustainable as it gets- reefers trading and selling stuff they grew in their own reefs! Do you even realize how important that is?

Bravo.

Look, I will dish it out, but I will also take it…and give compliments where deserved!

photo.jpg

The frag swap- our greatest hobby tradition!


As vendors, industry types, store owners, and consumers, we need to do a better job to promote sustainability. We need to, as Bob Fenner often says, “Vote with our pocketbooks” and, once in a while, feel a bit more pain and pay for something that’s more expensive because of what it represents, not because “&^&*^^&*%&*^ Coral .com” is telling us that it’s an “LE.” No one said that this hobby is cheap…a viable, responsible, sustainable market comes at a price.

If we don’t pay some of that price now, there is a good chance that we’ll pay it later- in the form of a highly restricted, highly regulated activity that could be a shadow of what it is now. And more important, the animals which could have been spared collection off of the wild reefs of the world will pay an even heavier price, even potentially disappearing under other environmental pressures that couldn’t be simply “regulated away” like our hobby can be.

We need to step up and redouble our efforts to support those who are doing their best to breed, propagate, and rear fishes and corals. It’s our hobby future, and our childrens’ hobby future as well.

Let’s not blow this.

Regards,

Scott Fellman
Unique Corals
 
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ritter6788

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I think everyone thought that the captive bred mandarins would survive on feeding them ova once a day. Once people realized it doesn't matter if a mandarin eats, mysis, brine, pellets, whatever it still needs food about 21 hours out of the day. The ORA mandarins where seen as a miracle to the hobby since they were trained to eat prepared foods. You still need a sustainable supply of copepods no matter what you train your mandarin to eat. The hype over the ORA bred was high when they came out since everyone thought they would be able to keep these in 12 gallon biocubes and feed them pellets. Folks are always going to take the cheapest route all things being equal.
 
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I think everyone thought that the captive bred mandarins would survive on feeding them ova once a day. Once people realized it doesn't matter if a mandarin eats, mysis, brine, pellets, whatever it still needs food about 21 hours out of the day. The ORA mandarins where seen as a miracle to the hobby since they were trained to eat prepared foods. You still need a sustainable supply of copepods no matter what you train your mandarin to eat. The hype over the ORA bred was high when they came out since everyone thought they would be able to keep these in 12 gallon biocubes and feed them pellets. Folks are always going to take the cheapest route all things being equal.

Agreed about the feeding. Indeed,the person at ORA I spoke with talked about "negative feedback" that they received about the need to feed the fish..I had to laugh, really. I mean, if you're craving a Mandarin, or any fish for that matter, one would hope that you'd have some basic understanding of their needs before purchasing, and subsequently trashing- a fish. I mean, just because coral is "propagated" doesn't mean that it's immortal or doesn't require the basics of coral care. Yet, people purchase non-sustainably sourced, wild-collected Mandarins by the thousand- and they STILL need foods- and no one seems to have a problem with that. Weird.

Just highlights a strange dichotomy of inconsistency within the hobby, I suppose!
 

nonstopfish

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I also think the people buying "LE" $$$ corals are more likely to spend the difference in price to get captive bred. They are two separate groups of people. Though I could be wrong.
 

ritter6788

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I can recall one thread a while back when those came out where everyone was complaining that theirs didn't eat prepared foods. I can imagine that there was some unwarranted negative feedback. Everyone was so excited when the ORA mandarins where released.

The difference in the clownfish comparison is that the clowns are "unique" and have varying patterns. Tank bred mandarins still look and act like wild mandarins. If ORA (or anyone else) can breed designer mandarins the sky would be the limit.

I think any livestock we can aquaculture or breed in tanks should be done. No reason to even take clownfish or mandarins from the ocean anymore. No easy answer though.
 

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I also think the people buying "LE" $$$ corals are more likely to spend the difference in price to get captive bred. They are two separate groups of people. Though I could be wrong.

I think it has more to do with how patient people are and how much they care about their reefs. For example, in my tank I have yet to purchase a single wild caught fish or coral and am very proud of that (one generation out, probably, but never direct ocean to tank). Yes, it cost me significantly more for my fish, but I have saved obscene amounts of money by purchasing most of my acros from friends for a fraction of their price.

When it comes down to the money, you can save significantly by taking your time and getting everything from your local reef community and getting those "must haves" from places like Unique after you found everything else you could locally. The problem is people don't want to wait - they want a reef packed to the rim in a couple months not realizing all the beautiful reefs you see as a "TOTM" take YEARS to build and you can't just buy that.
 

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Agreed about the feeding. Indeed,the person at ORA I spoke with talked about "negative feedback" that they received about the need to feed the fish..I had to laugh, really. I mean, if you're craving a Mandarin, or any fish for that matter, one would hope that you'd have some basic understanding of their needs before purchasing, and subsequently trashing- a fish. I mean, just because coral is "propagated" doesn't mean that it's immortal or doesn't require the basics of coral care. Yet, people purchase non-sustainably sourced, wild-collected Mandarins by the thousand- and they STILL need foods- and no one seems to have a problem with that. Weird.

Just highlights a strange dichotomy of inconsistency within the hobby, I suppose!

The problem the way I see it is that people did know the requirements of the fish and therefore held off on buying one because they were afraid they couldn't provide the proper nutrition for. That is how I felt and other I spoke with as well. I had a 2 year old 75g tank with a healthy pod population but was still weary. When the ora mandarins came out one of the big selling points was that they ate prepared foods and therefore people saw this as an opportunity to finally be able to keep this fish without fear of losing it to starvation. Of corse you have to feed the fish, it's just ridiculous to think you wouldn't have to. It's just people though feeding would be easier. Also these mandarins weren't $40 when they first came out, they went for over $100 and I remember thinking I got a great deal paying only $80 and I felt good knowing that I waited and did the right thing with this purchase. My mandarin never ate prepared foods for me and before I knew it I couldn't find pods in the tank anymore. Even though I tried augmenting the pod population I ended up losing her. A few months later I went back to the lfs and we talked about it, by then you could find these fish for $40, and after I saw the fish eat we decided that maybe it was just a fluke and I tried another. While I was able to keep this one longer in the end she went the same way. I haven't tried another since wild or not. I believe this is the reason they lost they're popularity, they just didn't live up to expectations.
 
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I also think the people buying "LE" $$$ corals are more likely to spend the difference in price to get captive bred. They are two separate groups of people. Though I could be wrong.

i was kind of wondering that, myself. Although I would think (hope) that anyone contemplating the purchase of a Mandarin is aware of the challenge, has some "reef" experience, and is also willing to pay more for better/sustainable...I may be unrealistic, though, and probably need to see the bigger picture. We as hardcore reefers are a very small part of a very small part of the overall aquarium world/market, and I suppose I take a myopic view at times...sigh

Scott
 
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I can recall one thread a while back when those came out where everyone was complaining that theirs didn't eat prepared foods. I can imagine that there was some unwarranted negative feedback. Everyone was so excited when the ORA mandarins where released.

The difference in the clownfish comparison is that the clowns are "unique" and have varying patterns. Tank bred mandarins still look and act like wild mandarins. If ORA (or anyone else) can breed designer mandarins the sky would be the limit.

I think any livestock we can aquaculture or breed in tanks should be done. No reason to even take clownfish or mandarins from the ocean anymore. No easy answer though.

A big Amen!
 
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I think it has more to do with how patient people are and how much they care about their reefs. For example, in my tank I have yet to purchase a single wild caught fish or coral and am very proud of that (one generation out, probably, but never direct ocean to tank). Yes, it cost me significantly more for my fish, but I have saved obscene amounts of money by purchasing most of my acros from friends for a fraction of their price.

When it comes down to the money, you can save significantly by taking your time and getting everything from your local reef community and getting those "must haves" from places like Unique after you found everything else you could locally. The problem is people don't want to wait - they want a reef packed to the rim in a couple months not realizing all the beautiful reefs you see as a "TOTM" take YEARS to build and you can't just buy that.

Very well stated...Patience is truly the "X" factor in successful reef keeping, and the "I have the money and I want it now" is equally as dangerous as ignorant or inexperienced people buying fish and corals that they don't know anything about..That's the real "value" of hobby forums like R2R- promotion of the "culture" and information about our hobby...

-Scott
 
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The problem the way I see it is that people did know the requirements of the fish and therefore held off on buying one because they were afraid they couldn't provide the proper nutrition for. That is how I felt and other I spoke with as well. I had a 2 year old 75g tank with a healthy pod population but was still weary. When the ora mandarins came out one of the big selling points was that they ate prepared foods and therefore people saw this as an opportunity to finally be able to keep this fish without fear of losing it to starvation. Of corse you have to feed the fish, it's just ridiculous to think you wouldn't have to. It's just people though feeding would be easier. Also these mandarins weren't $40 when they first came out, they went for over $100 and I remember thinking I got a great deal paying only $80 and I felt good knowing that I waited and did the right thing with this purchase. My mandarin never ate prepared foods for me and before I knew it I couldn't find pods in the tank anymore. Even though I tried augmenting the pod population I ended up losing her. A few months later I went back to the lfs and we talked about it, by then you could find these fish for $40, and after I saw the fish eat we decided that maybe it was just a fluke and I tried another. While I was able to keep this one longer in the end she went the same way. I haven't tried another since wild or not. I believe this is the reason they lost they're popularity, they just didn't live up to expectations.

Again, excellent points- well stated. The old expression, "Expectations are resentments under construction" comes to mind. You went in with a realistic attitude about the fish, not expecting that they'd eat Tetramin and do tricks, as apparently some hobbyists did. Education on the part of the vendor as well as feedback from people who work with the animals is super important, and should be taken into consideration when we make buying decisions. Sadly, it seems the trend lately, as far as hobbyists helping "influence" buying decisions, is more like " "Look at my Subatomic Nuclear Proton LE Chalice! Only $400 an eye but it's so hot! I've got a siiiick collection going!" I think there is nothing wrong with hobbyists being outright open about any coral from any source. I'd be just as thrilled (really!) if I saw someone saying- "UC's Strawberry Shortcake is a real PITA! The frag arrived beautiful but lost color and didn't regain it for two months!" Information that can be fair and balanced (I sound like a certain cable news outfit, huh?) is helpful. Outright bashing or attacking fellow reefers for venturing into uncharted waters is not helpful, but advice and observations based on experience is. Honesty is how we (hobbyists, vendors, etc.) get better. When I screw up (and UC, by extension), I need to know about it, so that we can improve. It's all part of improving the "fabric" of our reefing "culture", I suppose. Thanks for your feedback!

-Scott
 

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I have asked the same ting and searched google for them too. Sad to see that people would only by then because they thought they would eat prepared food. Even if they did proper husbandry would make you want to put it in a place where it could feed naturally.
 

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Thanks for this post! I dont have alot of time on this reply cause I am at work. BUT i had to reply. SOmetimes I feel I might be accused of being "Elitist" cause I can afford to but CB and I can afford to pay for quarantine. But reallly a difference in cost between $15 and $40 for a fish that we hope will be with us for many years that is happy and healthy and wasnt taken from the sea and has like a 10% chance of survival (like a WC mandarin Goby). Every time I read a post about 1 of these gobies in distress and looking like a stringbean from starving it is so heartbreaking. I have seen mandarin gobies in the wild (see I told you I was elitist...LOL...) and they are so incredible! I just wouldnt buy a fish I couldnt care for and if given a choice to spend 20 more bucks to support CB I would so advocate it!!! Just my venting.... humble... peace....
 

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I have asked the same ting and searched google for them too. Sad to see that people would only by then because they thought they would eat prepared food. Even if they did proper husbandry would make you want to put it in a place where it could feed naturally.

A very important and interesting point...I mean, ORA did let people know that the fish needed some specialized feeding, but somehow, the words "Accepts prepared foods" got perverted into "Just dump the food in and they'll eat!" You can't undo millions of years of evolution and feeding instincts in a generation...right?" Need to get my buddy Matt Pedersen to chime in here...I'm sure he may have some thoughts on this...

-Scott
 
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Thanks for this post! I dont have alot of time on this reply cause I am at work. BUT i had to reply. SOmetimes I feel I might be accused of being "Elitist" cause I can afford to but CB and I can afford to pay for quarantine. But reallly a difference in cost between $15 and $40 for a fish that we hope will be with us for many years that is happy and healthy and wasnt taken from the sea and has like a 10% chance of survival (like a WC mandarin Goby). Every time I read a post about 1 of these gobies in distress and looking like a stringbean from starving it is so heartbreaking. I have seen mandarin gobies in the wild (see I told you I was elitist...LOL...) and they are so incredible! I just wouldnt buy a fish I couldnt care for and if given a choice to spend 20 more bucks to support CB I would so advocate it!!! Just my venting.... humble... peace....

I don't consider being conscientious "elitist" at all! I know when we first launched in 2012, we came on with what the fishy press called "..almost a manifesto" about being "conscientious, sustainable, and responsible", and it rubbed a bunch of people the wrong way- as if we were claiming that everyone else was doing it wrong and we were the only "right thinking" organization in the industry, which was absurd. And it's the same with your mindset, Barbara- you are by no means "elitist" by caring! And no one here is...It's the positive side of our hobby for sure!

-Scott
 

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I had a mandarin that I loved...whether it was captive-bred or not, I don't know, but after a few months of buying pods he started eating bloodworms and nls small fish pellets (shocking, I know! - as for mysis, his mouth was still too small). He was fat and healthy and I'm fairly sure I was out of pods pretty quickly, lol, but he just kept growing nicely...I only lost him because of a nasty tank crash that killed all three of my finbabies T.T

That said, I am admittedly a very heavy feeder.

I currently have a rescued scooter that started VERY thin. She attacked the ova I gave her the very first night, and though I've been short of pod cash lately and have not seen one on the glass for months, she appears to be thriving on a mixture of nls small fish, nutramar ova, and frozen rotifers. I don't feed brine shrimp if I can help it and she doesn't appear interested in mysis.
She has definitely fattened up and is active :)

I want to try keeping a mandarin again too once I get my upgrade together, and I'm saddened to hear that ORA no longer breeds them. I wonder if anyone else on the forums does? Failing that, I'll go back to where I got my first beautiful boy.

I have watched some youtube videos and it appears that they pick up on frozens faster if there's another dragonet in the tank that already regularly eats it.

Edit: I will not purchase a mandarin until I have saved up for a ton of pods. The safety net shall be in place!!!! Then, if it's not going for the frozens or if it starts losing condition on my usual regimen, I can get on it right away.
 
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