Characterization of Hobbyist Ornamental fish production

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May 23, 2021
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This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.

Hello Everyone

My Name is Dr Samuel Pountney, I am a reproductive physiologist who specialises in domestication of new and novels species. I am currently an Independent researcher who is looking to characterise the production of fish by ornamental hobbyists.
In this thread I am going to be posting a link to my survey (s) which I am conducting in order to be able to work towards this goal.
I am looking to the help of everyone on this forum, please read the below information should you wish to take part, then follow the link to the survey in the following post. Should you wish to get more informtion you can either post on this thread, Directly message me, or contact my email (listed below, and on the survey).

Ornamental aquaculture is one of the highest value aquaculture industries, with estimations of value between $15 and $30 billion USD (Moorhead & Zeng, 2010), with approximately over 5000 individual freshwater species and 1600 marine species traded internationally (Moorhead & Zeng, 2010, Novak et al. 2020). For comparison, the highest value food fish species (Atlantic Salmon) is valued at $16.7 Billion USD (Tacon., 2020). The industry is estimated to exceed $40 billion USD by 2026 (Beijnen et al. 2020). However, the literature focus and the estimations have so far not considered the growing number of Hobbyist breeders, sellers and small communities dedicated to breeding, selling, and distributing new varieties, hybrids and potentially species. Rhyne (2010) and Rhyne et al (2017) has identified the importance of documenting the hobbyist-lead initiatives and breeding programs, where an access to information limits adequate stock management, future research and encourages detrimental practices and isolationism between the industry and the scientific community.
Because this section of the industry has, as of yet, been undocumented there is very little knowledge or monetary investment into anything other than the high value or historic species (e.g., Koi, Goldfish, Betta, Discus, Clownfish). However, there have been repeat calls for academia to engage with this aquaculture sector (Rhyme et al 2017), for animal welfare issues, conservation concerns (Rhyne et al 2009), and reduction of alien species introductions (Ladisa et al. 2017). For example, some of these hybrid “species”, such as the hybridisation of several Cichlid species the “Flowerhorn”, are becoming highly invasive in certain regions (Herder et al. 2012). Many authors note considerable issues in reporting of information regarding this sector. Rhyne et al. (2012a; 2015) relies on international trade invoices to obtain data, and many cite social media platforms such as YouTube, and Forums (Marchio, 2018) in order to attempt to include the hobbyist factor. Many others, due to lack of scientific documentation, do not include it into their analysis (Olivotto et al 2011).
The sale of these fish appears to occur through, breeders’ websites, auction sites e.g., eBay, and more recently through Whatsapp and Facebook Marketplace as well as to local pet shops or clubs and thus there is limited information on the value of these transactions, with only international transactions having been documented (Rhyne et al., 2015). However, estimations from eBay listings on 11/05/21 there were 13,388 individual listings for live fish on eBay with prices ranging from $10 USD to over $2000 USD per fish, an estimation of the total value for 11/05/21’s listings stood at $3.1 Million USD.

While there is a significant increase in sales of ornamental fish from produced by aquaculture farms (Beijnen et al. 2020) there is a significant number of dedicated hobbyists refusing to purchase fish from certain places (e.g., Indonesia, Africa), or individual species/ taxa (e.g. Gourami), or from aquaculture in general. Often due to perceived (true or not) health risks, environmental impacts, or other ethical reasons. Indeed, there has been a full circle back to wild caught fish due to the perceived cultural, environmental, and ethical benefits reviewed in Evers et al, (2019). A 2016 survey from the pet owners survey by the APPA (USA) identified that only 40% of fish owners buy fish from a chain or small local shop.
In a sector which is already undervalued and under reported, this area of work is significantly overlooked. With repeat calls from several areas of biological concern to document and better understand and engage this aquaculture sector it is imperative that steps are taken to being to understand this unknown areas of aquaculture production.

This study aims to;
  • Characterize the Hobbyist ornamental industry.
    • Determine the value of the industry.
    • Estimate the number of species, hybrids, variants being produced and traded.
  • Identify the requirements of this industry through.
    • Knowledge gaps, e.g., broodstock management, nutrition, genetics ect.
    • Tool requirements, eg handbooks, biomarkers, testing capacity, transportation information

This project proposes the use of surveys to achieve its aims, the researcher would aim to reach out to the hobbyist community to directly engage over the study period with those actively involved in breeding and selling ornamental fish. As this Industry/ community favours the online and “social media” approach, the researcher would attempt to address them through their preferred platforms. While social media will allow for a wider audience, the researchers would hope to aim on three main areas of interest, North America, Europe, and Australia.

There is limited information on the population we will be surveying. There are estimations that between 14% and 50% of households have some form of pet fish, dependant on country. Because of this the required number of respondents to produce a valid study is unknown, an acceptable response rate cannot be realistically suggested from estimate data. E.g. With an estimate 14% of households in the UK keeping fish, to achieve a 50% response rate, a total of 1.34 million responses would be required. A level which is neither realistic or expected.

The researcher aims to conduct a number of surveys over the course of the project.
  • Large scale initial small survey with the aim of mapping a large proportion of the sector.
    • Small number of questions
  • Identify the proportion of people who engage in the industry.
  • Gain an overall grasp of the value and volume of the “industry”.
    • Monetary value of animals an services,
  • Approximate the number of species, hybrids and variants being traded.
  • Some potential issues and problems encountered
This would then inform the creation of a more specific survey (s) to;
  • Address knowledge gaps
    • Industry requirements
    • Standard practices
    • Welfare issues
  • Add detail regarding species, variants, and hybrids being produced.
    • Attempt to flesh out realistic effort regarding numbers.
  • Breeding concerns
    • Diseases, inbreeding ect.
Outcomes expected.

The researcher has a proven track record of publishing work in new species as well as delivery of outcomes for externally funded projects (eg AquaExcell). The dataset once analysed will be published in a timely manner in an appropriate research journal, eg Journal of Fish biology. At the project’s completion the researcher would expect to produce a minimum of two scientific publications. Results will also be disseminated at appropriate conferences, such as EAS or WAS. Additionally, due to the nature of sector, distribution of the outcomes would aim to also be open source where possible. With additional distribution (once published) through channels preferred by those in the sector such as conferences, podcasts and community talks.
This study will play an important role in characterising this relatively undocumented aquaculture sector. As a result, it would provide a platform for the development of further research into an estimated 6600 species with little to no peer reviewed publications to date. At its completion, this research would aim to inform the many areas of concern for the ornamental sector specifically those regrading breeding and genetics, sustainability, and conservation.

Ethical considerations
This work is not expected to cause any significant or lasting harm to the participants of the study. All data collected will conform to the UK data protection standards and participants will be free to withdraw from the study at any time.
Ethics statement
"If you decide to take part in this study you are able withdraw at any time by contacting the provided email address.
By completing this form you are giving your consent to the data provided to be used in research articles published in peer reviewed journals such as Aquaculture, or Journal of Fish Biology. The complete dataset will also be presented at scientific conferences such as Aquaculture North America, or Meeting of the World Aquaculture society. And upon publication of the work the findings will be communicated back to the hobbyist community, through forums, conferences, and open access materials.
This form is not collecting any personal information which can identify you as an individual, and you do not have to answer all of the questions to submit, should you not wish to do so. There is one compulsory question, regarding where you saw the link to the survey, this is required so the response rate for the study can be calculated. Despite not collecting any personal information all data collected in this study will be stored and managed in accordance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (UK).
You have the right to request to see a copy of the information we hold about you and to request corrections or deletions of the information that is no longer required.
You have the right to withdraw from this project at any time without giving reasons and without consequences to you. You also have the right to object to us processing relevant personal data however, please note that once the data are being analysed and/or results published it may not be possible to remove your data from the study."


The project is expected to require no external or internal funding. Any funding that is required will be sought from external sources, if necessary, e.g., FSBI, OATA. The lead researcher has a proven track record of accessing additional funding during projects, should this be necessary.

Beijnen 2020
Evers, H. G., Pinnegar, J. K., & Taylor, M. I. (2019). Where are they all from?–sources and sustainability in the ornamental freshwater fish trade. Journal of fish biology, 94(6), 909-916.
Herder, F., Schliewen, U. K., Geiger, M. F., Hadiaty, R. K., Gray, S. M., McKinnon, J. S., ... & Pfaender, J. (2012). Alien invasion in Wallace's Dreamponds: records of the hybridogenic" flowerhorn" cichlid in Lake Matano, with an annotated checklist of fish species introduced to the Malili Lakes system in Sulawesi. Aquatic Invasions, 7(4).
Ladisa, C., Bruni, M., & Lovatelli, A. (2017). Overview of ornamental species aquaculture. FAO Aquaculture Newsletter, (56), 39.
Marchio, E. A. (2018). The art of aquarium keeping communicates science and conservation. Frontiers in Communication, 3, 17.
Moorhead, J. A., & Zeng, C. (2010). Development of captive breeding techniques for marine ornamental fish: a review. Reviews in Fisheries Science, 18(4), 315-343.
Novák, J., Kalous, L., & Patoka, J. (2020). Modern ornamental aquaculture in Europe: Early history of freshwater fish imports. Reviews in Aquaculture, 12(4), 2042-2060.
Olivotto, I., Planas, M., Simões, N., Holt, G. J., Avella, M. A., and Calado, R. (2011). Advances in breeding and rearing marine ornamentals. J. World Aquac. Soc. 42, 135–166. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-7345.2011.00453.x
Rhyne, A., Rotjan, R., Bruckner, A., and Tlusty, M. (2009). Crawling to collapse: ecologically unsound ornamental invertebrate fisheries. PLoS ONE 4:e8413. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008413
Rhyne, A. L. (2010). The importance of open access in technology transfer for marine ornamental aquaculture: the case of hobbyist-led breeding initiative.
Rhyne, A. L., Tlusty, M. F., Szczebak, J., & Holmberg, R. J. (2015). When one code= 2,300 species: Expanding our understanding of the trade in aquatic marine wildlife. PeerJ PrePrints, 3, e1176v1.
Rhyne, A. L., Tlusty, M. F., & Szczebak, J. T. (2017). Early culture trials and an overview on US marine ornamental species trade. Marine ornamental species aquaculture, 51-70.
Tacon, A. G. (2020). Trends in global aquaculture and aquafeed production: 2000–2017. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture, 28(1), 43-56.

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.

Please read the above post before accessing the survey link.

Should you wish to take part in this survey please access the questionnaire HERE

Thank you for your time,

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
Hi Everyone,
The survey link has now been live for a couple of days and already we are getting some interesting responses! Thnk you to all those who have taken part so far.
If you havent and are still interested in contributing click the link above to take the short survey!
Hi Everyone,
Thank you to everyone who has responded so far!

Just to create a little friendly rivalry TFF has been removed from the top spot for number of responses, and is now in 3rd place

So If you would like to still contribute to the survey, more responses will be greatly appreciated!
Hi Everyone,

Thank you to those who have responded, I am still looking for more responses, so if you haven't filled out the survey yet follow this link

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
Hi everyone,

thank you to all who have taken part so far, We are still a while away from a suitable sample size, so If you haven't already and Are interested in helping out please follow the link above to help improve our understanding of the hobby.

All input is helpful, even if you have never bred fish in your life, and don't plan on doing so.

Thank you
Hi Everyone,

Were are getting slowly to our goal. Thank you to everyone who has so far completed the survey.

If anyone is still interested the link is here

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
Hi Everyone,

We are about half way through the time period of this study to be active. Good news is we are on track for this study to be the largest survey of fish hobbyists in the scientific literature (to my knowledge).

So please, if you haven't already take 5 minutes to fill out the survey and help improve our understanding of the hobby!

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
Hi Everyone,

We are still looking for a number of responses to make this study statistically valid. We have just over 1 month left of the survey being live, so please if you haven't done so already consider taking 5 minutes to fill out the form.

Thanks in Advance!

This is an external study being allowed by the forum but not sponsored or supported by the forum itself.
Just wanting to keep this thread afloat a little.

Thank you everyone for the great support! Approximately 0.2% of the total forum members have filled out the survey (which is a lower response rate of social media surveys) or 27.3% of members who have "seen" this thread (which is fantastic!). However there is always room for more responses!

The survey closes at the end of January so if you haven't already please consider taking 5 minutes to fill out the form. Every response is greatly appreciated, so please your time is running out to be a part of the largest scientific survey of fish keepers (to this authors knowledge)

This is for science people, have a read and fill it out if you can :)
Thanks Colin, much appreciated!

Maybe you can answer a question for me, I have been getting a lot of Australian people concerned that I am collecting data on breeders for legal or anti-pet people eg PETA, are you able to shed some light on why this might be? Have these organisations been causing problems? I'd like to find out as it might be effecting my results, and something to note in my discussion.

They are happier when I explain what I am doing, but still seem a bit cautious/concerned.
No idea. Maybe they are just stupid paranoid nutters who have gone too far over the edge because of covid. I'm a fishy, I'm a fishy, go away, I'm a fishy :)

Back when I was in fish club (10 yrs ago) everyone was happy to share information about breeding fish, what they kept and how they bred them. There were a few people that didn't talk about the rare fish they had because people lost fish during robberies. These usually took place after the annual fish club Xmas party that was held at someone's house.

But there is no reason that people should be concerned about doing the survey. I have done it and didn't see anything in it that would get me in trouble with the law or animal rights groups. It's just basic information about what fish you keep and breed.

The only time I have had PETA around causing issues was back in the 90s when they came to the pet shop I was working at and they tried to cause problems. After I showed them around and explained the fish and animals, they were less angry and more amazed because the animals and fish were being cared for. Plus most of the staff we had working in the shop were also animal libbers so they had a good ol yarn.

There have been a few reports of Peta going after the aquarium trade during the last few years but nothing major. They have been pushing for fish bowls and small aquariums to be banned, which is fine because most shops have voluntarily removed bowls and small tanks from their shelves over the years anyway.

There were reports about PETA going after people breeding Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), but there aren't any major breeders in the country and 99.9% of these fish come into Australia from Asia.

From a legal side, there are a number of fish found in home aquariums that are not allowed into the country. However, most of these fish are not being bred and there is no register of those fish or their owners. So people keep them and as long as nobody reports them to fisheries, there is nothing to worry about.

There is nothing in the survey that is going to get you in trouble with the tax office. And there is nothing in the survey about the particular species you keep, and it is anonymous, so there is no reason for anyone to have any concerns from a legal or ethical perspective about doing the survey.
Well thank you for the Info Colin, you are probably right. One person just said "in Australia we have had home breeders being pursued after helping with similar projects."
Maybe it is a bit of the pandemic paranoia 🤷‍♂️

Just another thing I have to keep in mind when talking about data from that region. 🙄
Awwwh maaaan I’ve never been so tempted to throw in a mention of Aussies being paranoid because they’re descendants of convicts…………..but the way the England cricket team are performing over there at the moment it’s probably best for us over here to keep our heads down. So I’m saying nothing.

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