Scientist produces wild fish in lab
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 01:02
The topic of fish breeding isn’t one that frequently emerges in everyday discussion, but on Wednesday evening in the Tarpon Room of the Marshall Student Center, an audience of about 20 students, members of the Aquarist Club, sat attentively, eager to learn about the field.
Unlike most of their meetings, at this month’s Aquarist Club meeting, Matthew Wittenrich, a representative from the Rising Tide Conservation Lab in Ruskin, Fla., spoke about his lab’s work in commercially
breeding and growing exotic saltwater fish that can only be found in particular regions of the world — a process that minimizes the depletion of the fish population.
Wittenrich said approximately 22 different species, which have the potential to become available for commercial sales to aquariums and zoos, have been raised at the lab’s facilities so far.
Funding for the lab’s work, Wittenrich said, is provided by Sea World and Busch Gardens, to which the lab sells the bred animals.
The process, he said, could lead to less harvesting of marine life from the wild, growing fish larvae from eggs gathered from aquariums and zoos with a goal of reproducing them in captivity.
Wittenrich said he does not think breeding fish will, or should, ever replace
wildlife capture, but that there should be a balance between the two.
“We don’t succeed until we come up with the protocols to get those fish into commercial production,” he said.
As of now, there are 1,300 marine species in trade, but only 220 have been attempted to be raised in a commercial market. Of this amount, 80 species have been made commercially available in pet stores worldwide.
Wittenrich noted the various species that have been raised in the lab, including pork fish, spadefish, batfish, semicircle angelfish, butterfly fish and surgeonfish. He said the group hopes to expand to more fish in the future.
“Yellow tang is the one we really want to figure out,” he said. “This is due to its demand in aquariums.”
Wittenrich said the hardest part of breeding the fish is figuring out each species’ preferred diet, and determining what they are able to eat.
President of the Aquarist Club, Samantha Groene, a senior majoring in biology, said she invited Wittenrich to speak after she read his book, “The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fish” last summer and attended a previous lecture of his at a conference last August.
Audience members asked several questions when the speech concluded.
One audience member asked if Wittenrich sees any social or ethical issues related to his lab’s work.
“There are many ethical questions,” Wittenrich said. “We are raising batfish, but no one wants them, and ultimately they’ll end up in the Caribbean with lime fish. Also if we totally replace culturing with wild capture, we are taking the only jobs (available) from people in
third-world countries. If they are not collecting fish they’re either gold-mining or they’re dynamiting.”
Wittenrich said there are many social issues with
breeding marine animals that need to be addressed, but that he is unsure if it is Rising Tide’s place to do that.
“Our goals are pretty simple and are to come up with commercial protocols for fish,” he said.