PNG fish are certainly taking center stage right now; between Lightning Maroon Clownfish babies, and the new introduction of sustainably-collected PNG fish from EcoAquariums PNG via UniqueCorals.com, there is no shortage of news on the PNG front. The speculation about what Lightning Maroon Clown offspring will sell for hasn’t abated, and to that end, I can still say that nothing has been decided.
I did, however, contact Scott Fellman (of Unique Corals) and Dale Prichard (of Ecoreef UK) to ask how much it cost, at retail, to get one of Dan Navin’s wild-caught PNG White Stripe Maroons, as well as the unique “Horned” and other “Unique” versions that come out of PNG once in a while. What I found is that sustainability does carry a small premium, and by the same token, uniqueness carries it’s own premium pricetag as well. The part that people will find interesting is that these prices suggest a minimum or baseline starting point for what the non-Lightning offspring could go for. That said, it’s safe to assume that there will be additional value on these Lightning-Maroon siblings given the genetic dice-role involved.
Dale Prichard is quick to point out that the UK market is smaller than the US market, as if to suggest that “demand” might be lower and thus, prices would be lower. Maybe, but on the flipside, Dale has been supplying retailers with PNG fish for several months now, so the UK may represent a more valid market to look at. A small normal white stripe maroon from PNG would start retailing at £27; or roughly $45 USD based on recent exchange rates via the Google Currency Converter. That said, Dale relayed that more maroons retail around £40 / $63 USD. A “Horned” Maroon is really going to set you back; while the retail value may be placed at £80 / $126, the reality is that retailers are normally selling these special fish paired with normal white stripes. The net result is your more likely to spend £100 to £120, or $157 to $189 in order to have a PNG “Horned” Maroon Clownfish in your aquarium in the UK. Here’s some examples of the fish Dale Prichard has been seeing come through the Ecoreef UK under his watch, some of which may have been held back for breeding efforts.
Scott Fellman and the team officially launched UniqueCorals.com today, August 22nd, 2012. The opening price for a regularly-striped white stripe maroon from PNG? They’re going to start around $39 each for the smallest size:
A representative shot (not WYSIWYG) – Small normal WS Maroon for – $39 - http://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-maroon-clownfish-small.html
A representative shot (not WYSIWYG) – Medium normal WS Maroon – $49 - http://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-maroon-clownfish-med.html
A uniquely-patterned Maroon from PNG? Expect to be paying in the neighborhood of $150-ish as a starting point, going up as the markings become more elaborate / intricate.
WYSIWYG a “misbar” (has a spot) maroon from PNG – $149 and already sold - http://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-horned-maroon-clownfish-misbar-007247-wysiwyg.html
WYSIWYG, a “horned” maroon from PNG – $200 and already sold - http://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-maroon-clownfish-horned-008131-wysiwyg.html
WYSIWYG, a “unique” maroon with lightning-like tail misbarring from PNG – $395 - http://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-maroon-clownfish-misbar-extreme-eco-labeled-png-009764-wysiwyg.html
So realistically, an unusually-marked PNG Maroon with a White-Stripe mate from the only current US-source for wild-caught PNG fish, UniqueCorals.com, is easily going to set you back $200 to $450.
Judging these maroons with other wild caught maroons probably isn’t a fair comparison; owing to the more remote PNG location and the higher level of transparency and data availability, you should fully expect the fish to cost more. For that matter, this might be a real world example of a slow shift towards more expensive wild caught fish ultimately producing the same level of income despite lowered volumes. That could be a very good thing. Scott takes this price discussion one step further when in is quick to remind me that the divers are paid significantly better in the first place. Scott relayed that, “Dan’s fishers are paid a good wage for their work, which, and of itself, helps drive the cost up. Of course, with the higher wages, the fishers place a real economic value on their home reefs, and thus are less likely to resort ot potentially damaging and non-sustainable techniques (ie; dynamite, blast fishing, etc.) to catch as many fishes as they can just to earn a living wage.”
On top of all this, PNG is always going to represent a potentially restricted supply; the government-set TACs (Total Allowable Catches), aka. a “quota” in most fisheries, will automatically place a cap on the number of any species of fish that can be exported from PNG in a given timeframe. This number could further be restricted if updated surveys were to conclude that population numbers were dropping; this is almost textbook fisheries management 101 in my opinion. But apparently I’ve come to learn that this methodology, and the setting of any specific quota, is quite rare marine ornamental fisheries around the globe.
PNG fishes are more than just nice fish with a good back story and a limited supply; they might represent the current ideal in terms of broodstock for captive breeding efforts. Indeed, as breeding moves forward, getting fish from good supply chains with known provenance should represent the bare minimum that a breeder uses in selection of wild stock for propagation. Eg. don’t just settle for any old clownfish; if you’re going to breed Pink Skunks, know if they came from the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia, or somewhere else! You never know when some taxonomist or geneticist is going to come along and say “hey, that Marshall Islands form of Pink Skunk is actually not the same species”…wouldn’t it be nice to know that you had that “new species” already breeding in your broodstock collection?
But getting back to PNG and “Horned” Maroons, remember that the EcoAquariums Ltd. fish aren’t just going to the UK, and now the US, but also to other Asian markets. Remember that there is an encounter rate only 1 unique maroon found every 11 days, or roughly 3 per month. If this represents ALL the fish available to the worldwide market from PNG, let’s just hypothetically give the UK, the US, and Asia equal weight. If the unique fish are divvied up equally, at best, we here in the US could expect to see roughly one “Horned” Maroon land here per month. Now, maybe there will be more collecting with the US market coming online, and that could offset some of this (eg. maybe the encounter rate for unique maroon clownfish will go up with more divers in the water looking for more fish to fill more demand), it’s hard to say. But given the track record to date, look at this this way – 12 of these might come into the country per year.
Is $150 to $400 a fair price? Well, the market decides that, but think about all the designer and hybrid clownfish being sold in the three digit range without consumers batting an eye? Yeah, I’m talking about the insane Black Ice Clownfish fad that’s going on right now, where no one can get enough. Nevermind that the Black Ice is a hybrid, and that it’s really not that far off from a Picasso Perc (which as it turned out is a naturally occurring variation), but I suppose it goes to show how fickle people’s tastes really can be, and perhaps how uninformed consumers really are. Of course, how many hundreds of Black Ice are sold each month here in the US? Compared to a possible 12 wild caught Horned Maroons per year? I think, if anything, a potentially restricted supply might suggest that the price of a “Horned” Maroon might in fact be much higher, at least in the current setting. Of course, there’s the notion that maroons are “evil”, and having had a lot of ‘em in the last few years, I think that’s overblown. Most of my Maroons have shared tanks with other fish, and not one has killed a fish it was housed with. Hardly the murderous tyrants some folks make them out to be.
All of this now brings me back to the bucket full of babies in my basement. If we take the market prices from wild caught fish and ignore everything else, it’s reasonable to assume that a small F1 baby that is 100% normally barred should fetch at least $40. A baby showing some extra markings? Well, that right there could represent a fish valued at $150 or more. Definitely, any babies showing up with “Horns” wouldn’t sell for less than $150-$200. Really funky ones? Maybe they’re going to fetch $300-$500 a shot? What I can’t tell you yet is how much a 33-38% chance of the babies carrying Lightning genetics ads to the price of a non-lightning baby.
In a subsequent installment, we’ll talk about Lightning Maroon pricing, and how a hypothetical third wild-caught Lightning Maroon Clownfish might be handled and priced, straight from Dan Navin, director of EcoAquariums PNG.