The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged PNG

A couple weeks ago Lorel Dandava-Oli posted a very interesting comment on The Lightning Project’s website.  Dandava happens to be a Marine Aquarium Fisheries Officer-National Fisheries Authority in PNG. Her husband, Darren Oli, is the proprietor of Paradise Aquariums, established in 2012, which is perhaps best described as a service company which provides aquarium installation and maintenance for commercial clients, mainly businesses and hotels in the area.

What caught my (and other’s) attention was when Dandava wrote in, “we’ve had several maroons coming in with similar patterns which I believe has the genetic trait to the lightning clown. Currently I have a mating pair with the similar patterns in my tank.”

Of course, I had to clamor and beg for images.  Dandava went through a lot of hassle to get us two cell phone images (no small feat coming out of PNG) and I’ve done my best to clean ‘em up and sharpen them so you can see the interesting wild White Stripes that are swimming in Dandava’s tank.

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After reviewing the images, this was my response to Lorel Dandava.

“The pair you have looks like a pairing of a traditional, default “wild type” 3-striped White Stripe Maroon Clownfish, typical for PNG.  The 2nd fish appears to be what some have called a “Lightning Precursor”..in my opinion this is probably one of the more intricate examples of the form that we’re currently calling “Morse Code” ( a mixture of dots and dashes) which are somewhat routinely found in PNG waters.  While we have seen some of these fish that at first glance look like they could have something “lightning” floating around in their genes, I think that’s a bit of wishful thinking.
Sadly, I think I can report that you probably won’t see any Lightning type offspring from this pair. The main reason I come to this conclusion is that Soren Hansen of Sea & Reef Aquaculture is breeding with similar wild-collected PNG “Morse Code” Maroons, and he does not get any Lightning progeny from that pairing.  He does, however, get more of the spotted and striped “Morse Code” phenotype.  I don’t know whether he has one, or two, Morse Codes paired together.
I don’t think Morse Code is directly related [to Lightning] – if it was, then I would have presumably seen either a) nothing but Morse Codes in the F1 generation, or b) all the non-lightning offspring I reared would have been morse codes.  Neither happened.
It is possible that this “Morse Code” may be yet a second genetic mutation found in PNG Maroon Clownfish, but we lack enough supportive data for that at the moment. However, we do see a similar type of striping and spotting in the Gold Stripe Maroon Clownfish from Sumatra, and that has proven to have some genetic component and is now produced by multiple parties in the trade and sold as “Goldflake”.  It would make sense to see the same basic aberration in these sister forms (I believe Gold Stripes are a distinct species, but currently they are considered the same as White Stripe Maroons).”
Of course, it bears repeating that most all of these thoughts is a hunch…none of us have done enough test matings, and collected enough data, to answer these genetic questions with certainty.  Meanwhile, we can say with some reasonable certainty that Dandava’s pair should produce a lot of interesting Morse-Code type maroons, and that in itself is of interest as we continue to unravel the genetic mysteries of PNG’s unique white stripe Maroon Clownfish.

 

Back in June, we (I, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and Sea & Reef Aquaculture) announced an unprecedented raffle contribution to the Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI) in recognition of the 5th Annual Marine Breeder’s Workshop, which is coming up quickly on July 19th, 2014, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In short, Blue Zoo and I contributed one of my holdback Lightning Maroon Clownfish, Sea & Reef contributed two F1 Morse Code Maroons from unrelated PNG Bloodlines to get one to pair with the Lightning Maroon, and Blue Zoo Aquatics footing the bill to ship the resultant pair to the winner within the continental US after the workshop.

Well, the first hurdle has been seen, and passed. On Wed., June 18th, Soren Hansen of Sea & Reef Aquaculture shipped out two select Morse Code Maroons from Maine, to Duluth, MN. In a turn of events that I think has never happened to me before, poor weather somewhere along the route caused UPS to fail to deliver the package that Thursday. Soren and I were quite anxious to see what was in the box when it finally arrived on Friday, June 20th.

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My son, Ethan, was eager to see what was in the box too!

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The moment of truth – was it a box of dead fish, or had Soren’s packing stood up to the challenge imposed upon the fish?

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Yes, that was Soren just going 2 for 2, successfully shipping fish an extra day without issues. The fish were honestly a little stressed out from the extra time in the bags. Both were placed into a 5 gallon bucket with a fair dosing of ChloramX to neutralize ammonia, and then were drip acclimated to reside a cube that had, for months, held my White Stripe X White Stripe holdback pair.

Initially, I thought I might pair up the smaller one with the holdback Lightning Maroon (MWP3), so for the first few days it was given the freedom to explore the main tank.

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Meanwhile, the larger Morse Code Maroon was acting a bit jealously. Every time I walked up to the tank, this was what I saw.

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So, I switched things up, and allowed the larger one to be out and about, while placing the smaller one into isolation. Here’s the larger one…

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The best part? 24 hours after releasing the larger one, I allowed the Lightning (MWP3) to join him. So far…not a single bit of bickering whatsoever.

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They don’t sleep together yet, but they don’t bicker or fight and they are indifferent about each other’s presence. Therefore, it’s hard to say that they’re a bonded pair, but they are 100% on the road to more solid bonding in the days, weeks, and months ahead. So, barring any changes or unforeseen murders, this will be the pair of fish up for raffle at the MBI Workshop!

It’s been a busy January here, with my trip to Cleveland to give some well-received talks at C-SEA followed by a grueling week of fishroom preparation in advance of Reef Builder’s world-reknowned Jake Adams dropping by for a surprise visit and a bit of Q&A at the Lake Superior Marine Aquarium Club’s winter / holiday / new year bash. Of course, the Lightning Maroon breeding and rearing doesn’t stop because life gets in the way, but you better believe the online posts can sometimes drop in priority!

Spawn #20 has progressed, but not without hiccups. You may recall I split this batch between the 10 gallon tank and a 15 gallon BRT (black round tub), earlier this month. This proved to be a wise move. More on that in a second, but I found it extremely interesting to note that the larvae which were moved to the BRT under 24 hour light grew faster and underwent metamorphosis sooner…3-4 days sooner, than the ones left in the 10 gallon tank (which by default gets around an 8 hour dark period).  Just before my trip to Cleveland, I took this shot of the babies in the BRT:

Spawn #20 in the BRT, post metamorphosis, already easily discernable as white stripes or lightnings.

Spawn #20 in the BRT, post metamorphosis, already easily discernable as white stripes or lightnings.

During my time at C-SEA, my good friend and fellow clownfish breeder Mike Doty (you may recall he helped hatch and rear the very first Lightnings) was keeping an eye on the fishroom. For no reason, somewhere around the 17th or so, the babies in the 10 gallon just died. Mike can’t explain it, I can’t explain it. We’ve seen this happen before.

Meanwhile the ones in the BRT fared better, but there still have been losses. During one of Mike’s stop overs, he found 7 dead.  This photograph from 1-27-2014:

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawn #20 at 1/27/2014

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawn #20 at 1/27/2014

Most recently, on the 28th I started a water change, which normally is done with a very slow siphon into a 5 gallon bucket, the intake being placed so that it won’t drain the tank completely. Well…I didn’t have it really clamped down, and so it drained the BRT ompletely. Those babies which were still in a couple mm of water survived the 99.9% water change, but those that were in shallower water – damp, but not submerged – were dead. 21 lost totally due to a preventable accident. The upside is that the fish took a very traumatic, near 100% water change, and yet survived.

Victims of a water change gone awry.  Totally my fault.  Very frustrated over it, but moving on...

Victims of a water change gone awry. Totally my fault. Very frustrated over it, but moving on…

I’m guesstimating another 20-30 still alive. Either way, that shows you the losses through attrition that happen as these fish grow up – I stocked the BRT with 140 larvae.

Spawn #21 – I left Spawn #21 more or less in the hands of Mike to hatch…a handful of offspring had hatched out on the morning of the 17th (pulling the nest on the 16th was 7 days post spawn), and later that afternoon I had to depart for Cleveland. Unfortunately, the tile fell overnight, so come the 18th, instead of Mike finding a bunch of larvae hatched out, he came over to find a dead nest.

The few offspring that did make it from Spawn #21 underwent metamorphosis during Jake’s visit; it was pretty clear to see which were lightnings vs. not by Saturday night (the 25th)….this seems to be a pretty fast time to metamorphosis.  My headcount on offspring from this batch is somewhere around 4-6 post settlement…another very small run.  This photo also from 1/27/2014:

A couple of the survivors in Spawn #21, photographed 1/27/2014

A couple of the survivors in Spawn #21, photographed 1/27/2014

Spawn #22 – on the afternoon of 1/20/2014, the 22nd clutch of eggs was put down by the Lightning Maroon and her mate. Paying a close attention to things, I knew I could be pulling them as early as 6 days post spawn…so 21,22,23,24,24, evening of the 26th being 6 days on. Well, I took a gamble, left a little more ambient room light falling on the eggs, and found that on the morning of the 27th, we still had a nice, solid nest. Come the evening of the 27th, I pulled the tile along with 5 gallons of broodstock water and 5 gallons of new saltwater, and set them up with a wooden airstone incubation. I used a second tile to prevent the tile from falling, as well as to help weigh down and position the wooden airstone under the eggs. (I found my wooden airstones from eBay seller hoolko, who happened to be mentioned on Reef Builders a while back).

Spawn #22 set up and ready for hatching in a 10 gallon tank.

Spawn #22 set up and ready for hatching in a 10 gallon tank.  Note the larvae already hatched!

Within minutes of transferring the nest, I had a few larvae hatch, still in full light.

Newly hatched Lightning Maroon Clownfish offspring swims next to the Seachem Ammonia Alert Badge....

Newly hatched Lightning Maroon Clownfish offspring swims next to the Seachem Ammonia Alert Badge….

I left things go, not feeding or anything else. By the morning of January 28th, I had a few dozen larvae in the tank, but the bulk of the eggs remained unhatched. I weighed my options a bit, and ultimately decided to introduce some rotifers (about 2 gallons worth) but refrained from adding any phytoplantkon. I thought maybe I’d have more hatches later in the day, but come nightfall, nothing had happened. Would this be a botched hatch?

Apparently yes and no. This morning (the 29th) several hundred larvae were present in the tank, but many many more dead eggs were on the bottom. Most of the larvae held tightly to the black back wall of the 10 gallon tank.

Spawn #22 after the large hatch, before cleanup.

Spawn #22 after the large hatch, before cleanup.

I took the opportunity to first siphon off all the dead eggs (and dead larvae) on the bottom before tinting the tank with 50 drops of RotiGreen Omega.

Spawn #22 after cleaning up the larval tank.

Spawn #22 after cleaning up the larval tank.

I gave the rotifers their morning feeding of RotiGrow Plus, and later this evening they’ll get the next infusion of rotifers. I’m thinking I will once again work on a system of water changes, lowering salinity, and 24 hour lighting, to grow this batch, and as I discovered, I will once again at minimum split the batch early on.

The Holdback F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish Pair

So I finally pulled the trigger on pairing up my holdbacks.  The Ecoxotic cube had been up and running for a while with a single holdback Lightning in it, so I swapped the fish and simply added in my Lightnings as a pair (they had formerly been neighbors, side by side) on 1/21/2014.

Initially, things went very well.  Here’s some video the day after, 1/22/2014.

Unfortunately, things didn’t continue down this blissful path.  A few days later, the larger fish turned on the smaller fish, damaging a few fins and forcing me to segregate the fish around 1/25/2014.  Currently, it is the larger, “future female” Lightning Maroon who resides in a drilled specimen cup.

Future pair of F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish

Future pair of F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish

The Holdback White Stripe Maroon F1 Pair

I should mention that somewhere in January I shuffled some fish around and introduced my two F1 PNG White Stripe holdbacks to each other as well.  The pairing has gone so-so.  They are not paired, but they continue to share their tank, the smaller fish cowering in a protected area but not otherwise excessively abused.  I’ll try to snag some photos at some point.  This will be a very important pairing to breed, as it will help definitively answer the question as to whether the “white stripe” siblings carry any special genetics (and it will prove or disprove the presence of a recessive Lightning gene).

I have photos of this spawn stashed away in the camera, but I figured I better get this on the books before I completely forget. Spawn #19 was put down on 12-14.  With tons of stuff going on with the holidays, I did a boneheaded thing and pulled the nest on the night of the 19th going into the 20th (because I looked at my phone after Midnight, didn’t realize it was that late, saw the 20th, and said “shoot I gotta pull this tonight!”).

Spawn #19 during H2O2 sanitizing dip.

Spawn #19 during H2O2 sanitizing dip.

So the eggs went into a clean tank with all new water after a 15 minute bath on hydrogen peroxide.  It was at least 24 hours early, and yet despite that, I had a handful of offspring the next morning…that’s technically 5 days after spawning!  A few more offspring hatched out the subsequent night (which would have been 6 days later), and yet after that, the nest died.  There has been plenty of RotiGreen Omega and rotifers in the 10 gallon blacked out tank, but by the time I departed for our holidays away, there were maybe only 3 babies I could see alive.  Upon returning the day after Xmas (12-26), I could find only one baby in the tank, and by the 27th I could no longer find any larvae.  Pulling my hair out.

There is one thing I’m looking at right now – I haven’t had access to wooden airstones for incubation in ages, and Joe Lichtenbert swore by them for direct egg aeration during hatching.  I’ve been having all sorts of nest deaths in the Lightning Maroons when putting coarse air directly on them, so I’ve generally tried to get good ambient flow, which works better but not consistently.  Well, if it’s my damn airstones I’m going to be really ticked, but my plans are to have wooden airstones on hand very soon, going out of my way to obtain them since most online suppliers have long since dropped them from their offerings.

And yet, I’ll get another shot at it still.  I discovered the latest nest, Spawn #20, when checking out my tanks when I returned home from the holidays.  I cannot say for certain, but given that the Lightning Maroon’s ovipositor was still down, I believe that Spawn #20 was laid on 12-26-2013.  Based on that timing, the nest was pulled on the evening of 1-1-2014, going into the morning of 1/2/2014.  Once again the 10 gallon tank was drained, cleaned, rinsed with freshwater, and set up. This time I used 50% new water, 40% broodstock water, and 5% RODI water to bring the specific gravity down slightly.  I did not sanitize the eggs prior to pulling.  There was very little orange left in the larvae, which I believe bodes well for my pull occuring at the right time to maximize whatever hatch I get.  A small LED flashlight was set up at the far end of the tank to draw hatched larvae away from the heavy aeration – wooden airstones have yet to arrive, so once again I’m pummeling the eggs with coarser bubbles from a glass airstone.

You may recall the “other” pair of wild (F0) White Stripe Maroons I’ve had set up from PNG.  I’ve had the pair a long time..they were paired before the Lightning Maroon ever got around to it.  By my records, they put down their first spawn on 12-20-2013.  Upon returning home today, I checked their nest; just a few unhatched eggs remained, which means that they hatched even FASTER than the Lightning Maroon.  I would have had to pull them the late evening of 12-25….just over 5 days post spawn.  The other possibility is that the parents ate most of the eggs prematurely, so I’ll have to watch the pair another few times through before I see what their pattern is.  But seriously…as little as 120 hours from spawn to hatch?!

I will absolutely raise a batch from this other pair this year, and the reasoning is simple.  First, we’ll want to see if by some odd chance they throw out Lightning ( I don’t believe for a second they will).  Next, we’ll want to see how many show up with horns and spots and other aberrant, but not “Lightning”, markings. Ultimately, regardless of what we get, this new and completely unrelated line of F1 PNG maroons will be the IDEAL outcross for the F1 Lightning offspring.  Instead of the F1 generation of PNG Maroon Clownfish stemming from only 2 foundation fish (which is really not enough), we’ll double the foundation population to 4 fish.  According to FAO documentation on conservation breeding of fishes in captivity, this is still too small of a genetic bottleneck, but since I am aware of a couple other breeders who have Lightning Maroons and claim to have unrelated F0 White Stripes to mate them with, we could realistically be on very solid footing for the long term captive viability of the PNG provenance lineage of Maroon Clownfish even if we have no further access to PNG fish for months, years, decades….

Finally, some risk is diversified again.  The second of 3 locally-planned backup pairs is out of the house, this time going to Frank (who you may remember contributed the massive “Labrador” Maroon Clown to this project way back in the day).  Frank is an aquarist who’s in it for the long haul, so you know this pair of clowns is in GOOD hands.

The pair I sent home with Frank has lived together for months now…obviously far too young to be an actual pair, but the point is that they shared an 8 X 8 X 8 inch cubicle without killing each other.  The Lightning in the pair really is a nice fish, but the standard striped sibling is a pretty horrendous example and were it NOT for the fact that it’s progeny of the Lightning Maroon, would have long since been culled.  Still, it shows some of the classic “Horned Maroon Clownfish” patterning seen in the occasional aberrant wild Maroon Clowns from PNG .  Of course, it’s hard to know how many of the physical disappointments I’m seeing are the result of either fighting or general rearing mishaps, but I suspect THAT over genetic issues at this point in time.  I took the last few minutes before bagging them up to snap a handful of good shots.

With the looming release of my very limited stash of Lightning Maroon Clownfish to the open market, one of the questions that’s been struggled with is what to sell them for.  That question generated many more thought provoking discussions about the origins of the fish, and the ethics of producing it in the first place.  You might recall my post in August of 2012 covering the retail pricing of other PNG Maroon Clownfish; what you didn’t know was that this post had been drafted, and has been sitting there while we debated whether it should be posted or not.

Ultimately, at LOT has changed since August 2012, but we’ll get to that at the end

The Going Rate?

Let’s start with “price”.  I paid a 4-digit figure for mine – a huge risky investment – the most expensive fish I have ever owned.  I got lucky that it didn’t die, made it, and successfully spawned.  I got even more lucky to find that the trait was genetic.

Over the past few years, most truly NEW and or RARE captive bred clownfish are released into the market at around a $300 to $400 price point.  But that’s with a steady supply backing them up.  To date, the Lighting Maroon pair has not spawned again (I have not overtly coerced them into it again, preferring to let them come to mating naturally), which leaves me with only a handful of fish to release.  So what are they worth?

Well, back when investigating the prices of PNG Maroons I spoke with Dan Navin, head of EcoAquariums PNG.  He gave me some great insights.  Before we get to that, it bears mentioning that the reality of a THIRD Lightning Maroon Clownfish being caught and exported from PNG is hypothetically plausible.  Case in point, collector Steven Paul, who caught the Lightning Maroon I now own, has been attributed as saying “…he knows where more lightnings are, he just hasn’t gotten around to catching more of them for us yet…” at Reef2Rainforest.com.  So it’s certainly POSSIBLE that some other day, some other year, some other lifetime, another wild-caught Lightning Maroon could show up.

Which brings me to the question – what’s that next wild-caught Lightning Maroon Clownfish worth?

I would not let the next wild lightning go from here for less than a $5000 retail price. For less than that, Id keep it here and try to breed it ourselves. Or send it to a successful breeder with a community kickback contract in place.”  That was Dan Navin’s initial response in 2012 – I assume he was talking $5000 USD.

The Impacts of Captive Bred Lightning Maroons

Of course, I did point out that he might be hard pressed to get that amount once there are 10, 20, or 2000 captive bred Lightning Maroons running around, to which he responded, “You hit the nail on the head though, when you said that we will not be able to fetch as high of a price for our next lightning maroon, after you start making these available as captively produced. The same can also be said about our other, much more common but less aberrant maroons, like our horned and mis-barred. This reduced value will have a direct impact on our collectors.”

Navin’s concerns are certainly valid given that the current “sustainability” model in place in PNG does require, among other things, that divers be “well-paid” for their fish.  A diver who finds a slightly aberrant maroon clownfish currently has a little bit of a financial bonus awaiting him, and as I showed in a prior blog post, that’s a fairly regular occurrence so far.  The restricted supply is what keeps the value of these wild fish high, and that could change in the future, directly impacting a diver’s bottom line.

To extrapolate the issue, Navin believes that the Lightning Maroon I possess was sold for far too little, the diver paid way too little, and the community missed out on receiving long term benefit from this fish.  On some counts, knowing the numbers Navin conveyed, I’d perhaps agree.  I too have long since wondered if exporting this Lightning Maroon was the right thing to do, or if this amounted to a case of “bio-piracy”.

The Decision To Export the Lightning Maroon

David Vosseler, head of SEASMART PNG, was the one responsible for making the export decision.  The only other option would have been to keep the fish in PNG and to attempt to breed it there.  Vosseler conveyed to me that the notoriety generated by exporting the fish was good for PNG and the fishery; at the time it brought more marketing value than the fish itself could fetch.  The fact that this fish wound up residing with me, where it would get full ongoing coverage on this website, was another main goal…the marketing merits of this fish as the ambassador for PNG, as well as a feather in the cap for the SEASMART brand, are certainly proven and haven’t faded from communal memory.

But perhaps most important, SEASMART did not have the facilities, resources, or technical expertise to breed any marine fish, so that was clearly off the table, leaving export as the only option.  If they had retained the fish in PNG, it’s doubtful that there would be any Lightnings to speak of today either, as the program was cut well short in 2011, and this fish would’ve either been returned to the ocean, exported to someone else if they even could have pulled off one last export, or maybe ended up in some aquarium somewhere in PNG.  Ultimately history has proven, in my opinion, that Vosseler made the right call to export this fish…an opinion as unbiased as I can offer.

Future Wild Lightning Maroon Clownfish May Come With Added Obligations

Still, I can empathize with Navin’s view that the PNG community was not rewarded sufficiently for the production of the fish, and that production of them in the future may cause more harm than good to the people of PNG. Navin elaborated –  “[It] just seems fair to me that a good portion of the proceeds of any captive breeding efforts go back to those people who would otherwise be getting a better price for their catch. They have no ability to breed the fish themselves, and have no ability to stop anybody from doing so. They are simply just trying to etch out a meager existence in this quickly developing world which has essentially passed them by. Again, I think you can get a higher price for these fish if you promote the fact that a community kickback is in place. This benefits the villagers, and you.”

Certainly a compelling argument, but when Navin had initially proposed that I give a 50/50 split of my own sales to a hypothetical entity in PNG, my jaw hit the ground!  After all, I’m the one who did all the work, invested all the money, and took ALL the risk.  The next biggest investor in me, was perhaps Blue Zoo, who skipped out on offers many times more than what I paid.  They avoided the quick buck (they didn’t LOSE money though), but they could’ve gotten far more.  They avoiding “cashing in to the max” on the premise that this fish ought to go to a breeder to be preserved and propagated, vs. a collector of rare fish who’d just watch the fish.  Navin seems to disagree with that sentiment, and this disagreement is echoed in his opinion of who should get these Lightning Maroons I’ve produced.

“Regarding you selling [the F1 Lightning Maroons] to breeders, I would much rather see them go to a rich people, who will simply pay you a good price, and put them in a big old aquarium where they will live out there lives… and die,” wrote Navin.  “Send them to more breeders, and I think you will be compounding the problem. The end result will be that lightning patterned maroons become a dime a dozen, and all value will be lost. You are better off, as are PNG collectors, if you keep these more exclusive.”

But he does have me thinking, and this concern is what drives the “community kickback contract” that Navin mentioned earlier.  He elaborated; “if anyone has any intentions of breeding it, there will be a community kickback policy in place. Not an EcoAquariums kickback, but a community kickback, specifically targeting the village school, from whichever community reef the next one comes from.”

What’s My Responsibility The Breeder of Lightning Maroon Clowns?

The other side of me looks at my project and realizes that my goal here was the preservation of rare biodiversity.  I have perfectly ugly endangered species of freshwater fish in my basement that I am trying to breed solely for the preservation of their genetics.  There is no one telling me I should be “kicking back” anything to a town in Mexico simply because I am breeding Characadon lateralis.  When I look at this topic through that lens, I realize quite quickly that if the fish didn’t carry a quadruple digit price tag, I don’t think we’d be seeing the same ideas coming forth.  After all, is Dan Navin sending out every fish he collects with a contractual agreement that if you breed it, you are required to pay a royalty back to the PNG fisher who caught it?  Not that I’m aware of.  Should he?  Maybe?!

I certainly have no legal obligation to convey any future profits from this fish to anyone other than my family, my fishroom, and my son’s college fund!  I could argue that, just as David Vosseler had suggested, the ongoing spotlight on the PNG Lightning Maroon, and thus on PNG fisheries in general, has paid off in non-monetary ways by continuing to feature this fishery, and thus, create the market demand for the PNG fish.  That IS the dividends they elected, and are now collecting.  They’re getting payment from me right now as I take my personal time to write yet another blog article talking all about EcoAquariums and sustainably-harvested Papua New Guinea reef fish.

How Could A “KickBack” Work?

Still, I have thought about the concept of the “kickback”.  In the discussions about retailing my offspring, I have indeed considered the idea of “giving back”, and I stumble mainly on the logistics of doing so, and of getting other people to buy in.

I’ve looked into patenting the genetics, which would then make it illegal to propagate the fish without a license – such a license could then enforce payments back to the patent holder.  However, since the animal is not cloned, and is not a GMO, it’s not something that can be covered under patent law. Such a patent would cover my ongoing investment, and could also facilitate a community kickback program akin to the one Navin asked for.  Regrettably, no such patent can be had.

In other interest groups…for example Hostas, there ARE patented plants that require a license to propagate.  However, this is not some 50/50 split of gross sales (as Navin initially propose), but a flat fee paid per plant produced and sold..a royalty.  I believe these patents last for 14 years (I’d have to check that), during which time nurseries do have to pay the patent holder a royalty.  This is however a reasonable fee, perhaps anywhere from $0.25 to $1 per plant.

There need not be a patent to create a contract that is agreed to on the purchase of these fish; we even have examples such as Ocean Rider, who’s checkout process required you to agree to NOT propagate certain of their strains/hybrids.  That of course stops no one, and is very difficult to enforce.  In the case of the Lightning Maroon, I very well could create such a contract on all fish derived from this line, which in turn would require people to pay a kickback for each fish sold.  And if you think about it, in the LONG TERM, it would be really cool if each Lightning Maroon sold, until the end of time, produced a $1 kickback going back to Fisherman’s Island.

The reality, however, is that no one wants to keep track of this kickback, and it’s incredibly easy to skirt the system.  While I could see a professional organization like ORA, Sustainable Aquatics, Propaquatix, etc, being willing to participate in such a program, the moment hobbyists get the fish they’ll start undercutting retail prices and I don’t think for a second the hobbyist breeder who’s anxious to cross a Lightning with a Gold Stripe really cares one bit about paying a $1 royalty per fish to someone in PNG.

In my ideal world, I’d love to see something like $1 of every Lightning Maroon clownfish produced from now until the end of time go back to the village in PNG where my fish came from. However, there is also the issue of WHO collects all these funds, and who gets them to PNG, and how is that done in a transparent, non-corrupt manner?  I just don’t see that happening!  Pragmatically, Navin probably wont’ be able to enforce any community royalty agreement on any future wild Lightning Maroon they produce, specifically because after a couple years, it’s entirely plausible that the fish being produced could be a mixture of my currently “license free” fish, vs. fish out of whatever contract he’s had a breeder enter into.

Another Outgrowth of the “Contract” Concept – Preventing Hybrids

Of course, this all relates to another concern of mine, and that is the future hybridizing of Lightning Maroons with Sumatran Gold Stripe Maroons.  I have TREMENDOUS issues with that cross…it’s irresponsible and could be extremely damaging to the long term genetic preservation of a CLEAN PNG line of Lightning Maroon Clownfish.  I truly want any breeders to only use other White Stripe Maroons from PNG, which in 2012 were only available  through UniqueCorals.com (the US source for EcoAquariums PNG, which is the only export operation in PNG).  I can probably make a contract that you can’t do this, force people to agree to it, and yet still, no matter how much a rail against it, there will be some smart-ass breeder somewhere who is thinking about the short-term profit, and not the long term responsibility that they have as breeders.  I will have no problems villainizing such a breeder for such greedy & shortsighted pursuits.

Is there a verdict?

I am not writing off the notion of agreements for royalties to PNG, and agreements to only breed to PNG White Stripe Maroons.  Still, I suspect that any giving back that comes from my Lightning Maroon Clownfish could only be a one-time thing led by me and a partner retailer if we decided we wanted to do it, and I think the only real prevention of hybridizing these wonderful fish is that the breeding community polices itself.  At the moment, no final decisions of any kind have been made, but I suspect neither royalties or breeding contracts will be pursued as they’re terribly unenforceable.  I assume these fish will enter the market largely as their mom came to me – no contract, no royalty, just a fish to do with as I pleased.

What do you think?

I absolutely welcome ideas and thoughts on the topic of “royalties” and “breeding contracts”; are you for it, against it, do you know of situations where this is implemented successfully?  Do you have ideas on the legal framework to set this up?  Can the aquarium hobby and industry embrace such an idea voluntarily, or is my pessimism well-founded?  Does doing this open a Pandora’s box for all other geographic lines and distinctly wild-sourced mutations in clownfish?

The Odds of Another Wild Caught Lightning Maroon Showing Up (and the future of EcoAquariums PNG)

As I alluded to at the start, a LOT has happened since this first conversation was had.  At the end of 2012, EcoAquariums PNG ceased operations, as 2012 they had been operating at a loss.  In late February, 2013, Dan Navin relayed that “[while] the business generated cash for the collectors and our employees, it barely made enough to cover the high operational costs in PNG, and certainly never put a penny in my pocket”.  The net result – at the moment, all this talk of a $5000 wild caught Lightning Maroon with a kickback is moot; the odds are currently nil that any more PNG fish are going to be showing up in the near term, let alone any more Lightning Clownfish.

Still, this could change.  When asked about the future of EcoAquariums PNG, Navin is looking at a more pragmatic approach to the business.  “EcoAquariums is in a state of dormancy for now. I hope to resume with small, boutique exports later this year.” Navin’s hope is that he can secure a full time income from another source of employment, providing a cushion of funding for the unforeseen problems that can crop up in a business like this.

 

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.

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

courtesy EcoReefUK / Dale Prichard

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

 

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:

Small White Stripe PNG Maroon @ UniqueCorals.com - $39

courtesy UniqueCorals.com / photo by John Ciotti

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

Medium White Stripe PNG Maroon @ UniqueCorals.com - $49

courtesy UniqueCorals.com / photo by John Ciotti

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 Misbar PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from UniqueCorals.com - $149

courtesy UniqueCorals.com / photo by John Ciotti

WYSIWYG a “misbar” (has a spot) maroon from PNG – $149 and already soldhttp://uniquecorals.com/index.php/default/fish-28/anemonefish/premas-biaculeatus-png-horned-maroon-clownfish-misbar-007247-wysiwyg.html

WYSIWYG Horned PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from UniqueCorals.com - $200

courtesy UniqueCorals.com / photo by John Ciotti

 

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 Unquie PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from UniqueCorals.com - $395

courtesy UniqueCorals.com / photo by John Ciotti

WYSIWYG, a “unique” maroon with lightning-like tail misbarring from PNG – $395http://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.

courtesy EcoReefUK / Dale Prichard

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and Digital-Reefs.com

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.

"Oh snap, was that thunder??" - image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.
“Oh snap, was that thunder??” – image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.

EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd, the successor of the spot formerly filled by SEASMART, has continued to turn up abberantly patterned Maroon Clownfish collected in the waters of Papua New Guinea.  Between SEASMART’s own collections, and with no less than 3 unique Maroons shown off on the EcoAquariums PNG Facebook page this year, we are looking at the very least, well over a half-dozen PNG-sourced Maroon clowns that are highly “atypical”.  SEASMART referred to many fish like these as “Horned” Maroons, owing to the common barring pattern of “prongs” leading off the headstripes in either direction.  It’s a unique fish, but digging deeper, there’s even more information behind these unique maroon clownfish.

With EcoAquarium’s label tracking system, we actually are given a window into pretty much every fish that the company collects, and that’s where things get interesting.  You see, EcoAquariums records every fish collected along with a slew of other data, and makes all this information publicly available in easy to use and search PDF files!  You can download them here:

http://ecoaquariumspng.com/eco-labels/tracking-numbers

Breakdown of Maroon Clownfish Captured per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 30 maroons
1001 to 2000 = 25 maroons
2001 to 3000 = 25 maroons
3001 to 4000 = 24 maroons
4001 to 5000 = 18 maroons
5001 to 6000 = 2 maroons
6001 to 7000 = 12 maroons
7001 to 8000 = 10 maroons
8001 to 9000 = 16 maroons
9001 to 9723 = 3 maroons

Total Maroon Clownfish harvested to date = 165 = roughly 1.7% of total exports

Breakdown of Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) captured, per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 359 percs
1001 to 2000 = 388 percs
2001 to 3000 = 412 percs
3001 to 4000 = 316 percs
4001 to 5000 = 200 percs
5001 to 6000 = 286 percs
6001 to 7000 = 371 percs
7001 to 8000 = 370 percs
8001 to 9000 = 275 percs
9001 to 9723 = 497 percs

Total Percula Clownfish harvested by EcoAquariums PNG to date = 3474 = roughly 35.7% of total exports.

I share the Percula figures because a) they surprised me and b) it kind of speaks towards the general overall demand for Amphiprion percula, vs. Premnas biaculeatus, in the trade.  The other interesting part – the data as currently provided by EcoAquariums PNG Ltd. is an unprecedented look at what is presumed to be the entire marine aquarium life trade in Papua New Guinae, and could someday form the basis for a lot of interesting research by academics.  It’s an amazing data set, assuming the accuracy is there (which, in theory, it should be).  The transparency provided gives us an unparalleled opportunity to question our supplier, and at the same time, investigate some really interesting questions on our own.

Here’s a rundown of ALL the special / abberant maroons recorded to date:

0164 Benard Ora maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0182 Aila Kila maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0470 Olema Kila Maroon, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 8-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0680 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0681 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
1632 Geno Au maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus sm 15-Feb-12 S 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 FD, HN, BN
2221 Gia Laka Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
2262 Geno Au Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
2979 Kunini Sam maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 2-Mar-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
3199 Ralai Kila Maroon Clownfish Premas biaculeatus Unique, sm 19 April 2012 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
4109 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon, spots Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 29 April 2012 FD, HN, BN
4594 Kunini Sam Clown fish Maroon Premas biaculeatus Highly uniqueS 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4611 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4612 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Sm S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4841 Ralai Kila Clown Maroon spotted Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.5046, E 147.0954 4 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
5108 Kala Kila Clown Maroon, one horn Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 11 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
6215 Samuel Kila Clown Maroon, thick horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 25 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
7063 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
7247 Gia Laka Clown Maroon spot,horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8131 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon,horned Premas biaculeatus Md FI zone A 20 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8393 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon, misbar Premas biaculeatus Lg FI zone A 27 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
9004 Olema Kila Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Sm FI zone A 1 July 2012 FD, HN, BN

Currently, the data runs from November 22nd ,2011, through July 5th,2012, and covers 9,723 fish and inverts.  Out of those fish, there were 165 Maroon Clowns collected.  Out of those Maroon Clowns clowns, 22 were flagged as ‘unique’ in some fashion, with two three of those twenty-two being further classified as “highly” unique.  There are so many interesting ways to look at this – we cover 226 days in this sampling, which means at current catch efforts, 7 out of every 10 days, a maroon clownfish is caught.   Slightly over 14% of the collected maroons are classified as unique in some capacity, and  odds are, roughly every 11  days, a “unique” maroon is collected by the folks diving in PNG (just under 3 per month).

Obviously, we cannot extrapolate this to necessarily say that 14% of the maroons found in PNG waters are “abnormal”…without a doubt there is possibly, if not probably, a mandate and emphasis placed on unusual maroons, that is to say “even if we don’t need maroons right now, if you see something atypical, you should collect it”.

When I originally drafted this article, I had a lot of “genetics” on my mind.  While I think we will have better answers, here’s where my thinking was last month.

Clearly, deviations from the normal striping seem to be prevalent in PNG waters where EcoAquariums operates.  And looking back at all this, and how we’ve come to learn that Picasso Percs are not necessarily as exceedingly rare as we may have initially thought, this does all start to make you wonder – in these aberrant wild maroon clowns, are we seeing a low level occurance of the equivalent of “picasso” type forms in a wild population in PNG?  Could it in fact be that these “close but no cigar”, highly unique maroons, may in fact be the picasso equivalent or as one blogger put it, a “Lightning Precursor“?  And, if the genetics of Lightning were to work like we think the genetics work in Picassos , could it be that the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, may in fact be the equivalent of the Plantinum Perc?

And here’s the kicker…the fish above does show traits that certainly speak to it being “lightning-esque”.  But when I look at the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, here’s what I see – more of a netting effect, particularly in the headstripe but also in the midstripe and tail stripe.  Let’s ignore my Lightning Maroon (#2) and go back and look at #1 - http://reefbuilders.com/2008/09/21/wicked-maroon-clownfish-emerges-from-the-png/ - and here’s where my thinking goes.   If you double up, and mate these “close but no cigar” unique or aberrant Maroons, do you get a redoubling of the gene that causes the stripe abnormality, taking the phenotype from stray prongs, spots, and splits, and amplifying it into the “Lightning” form we all know and love?

It may sound insane, but there are definitely examples of this genetic story  in other fish, including clownfish such as Picasso Perculas which appears to be a “single dose” of a dominant gene, and Platinums being a “double dose” of that same gene.  It may or may not be that way, but further offspring counts should nail it down, and some breeders may already know the answer and just aren’t sharing / thinking it’s worthwhile to mention.  Of course, as I recently learned, there is not shortage of genetic understanding in other fish where different genetic loci and the alleles at those loci are known to drive a plethora of diverse phenotypes – amazing levels of information exist for freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) via the Angelfish Society’s genetic documentation and others (such as a release about the Philippine Blue locus made by a collaboration of parties independent of the Angelfish Society).  We can only hope that those breeders working on designer breeding start paying greater attention, and can realize the value presented here by sharing information.  The level of breeding CONTROL one is afforded has elevated the discourse and pursuit of Angelfish breeding in my opinion.

Turning back to the Lightning Maroon genetic mystery, my original hypothesis about the wild-caught “horned” type Maroons from PNG was all speculation at that point, and when the ideas came to me and I first wrote them down, I had yet to see any baby Maroons from our Lighting breeding efforts.  Despite that data deficiency, we’re certainly seeing a continuum of stripe aberrations in these fish that were perhaps suggestive of a genetic basis (given the geographic restriction and frequency of occurrence).

Granted, now that we have babies, the story is about to get a heck of a lot more complex….and yet, possibly much clearer.

 

I keep tabs on the internet and once in a while go out and scour for new links to add to the links page here.  One of the many I found this evening is a lively discussion that cropped up on SoCaliReefs.com.  First, thanks for the enthusiasm guys; I hope you all enjoy the journey!

But I have to jump out there and do a little bit of mythbusting.  I have to bring up my good friend Rich Ross, author of a fantastic series of articles called the “Skeptical Reefkeeping” – see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.  To drastically paraphrase, he would probably tell you that perhaps you shouldn’t believe everything you read, particularly on the internet, and especially in a reefkeeping forum.  Rich’s articles are MUST-READS for anyone using the un-curated internet as their primary information source.

So too, now and again, I have to simply point out misinformation as it pertains to this project.  You can use Rich’s methodologies to determine if I am truly an authority on the subject of the Lightning Maroon Clownfish or not.  And once you’ve decided whether or not I’m a trustworthy author on this topic, here’s some choice quotes, from some great fans (no sarcasm intended) at http://www.socalireefs.com/forums/showthread.php?31195-Lightning-Maroon-Clown-Fish-Spawns - I am guessing this is a classic example of how information travels from person to person, and takes on a life of it’s own, completely separated from the actual factual basis for the info.  You know, like that phone game you used to play on the bus ride to school…

GBoy66 asked, “So he bred a lightning with just an average maroon? Why not 2 lightnings? Wont that drastically decrease the amount of lightnings in the clutch..?

Yes, I did breed this Lightning Maroon clownfish with another maroon, but specifically another white stripe maroon clownfish collected from the same small island (Fisherman’s Island) in Papua New Guinea.  Certainly not a random “average” maroon, but a very specific broodstock choice.  Why not 2 lightnings?  Because I only have the one.  As far as decreasing the amount of lightnings in a clutch – well, frankly that’s jumping 10 leaps ahead of where our knowledge base is at this point.  First, we don’t know that this is genetic.  Second, if it is genetic, we won’t know what type of genetic trait it is.  It could be recessive (like albinism), which could mean NO lightnings in F1 generation (unless the mate carries the recessive gene as well).  It could be straight up dominant (which would mean potentially 100% Lightnings).  It could be something far more complicated, be it partially dominant (Snowflake in A. ocellaris is an example of a partially dominant trait; mate two snowflakes together, and you get 25% Wyoming Whites).  It could be co-dominant, multiple alleles…who knows.  No one.

LotsaFishes wrote, “I believe in all of recorded fish-collecting history, only two have been caught. He had both of them at one point, but one died. He has tried for 2+ years to get his remaining one to get along with and mate with a second clown.

On the first count, yes, as far as I am aware, there was the first one, collected in 2008, and the second one, in 2010.  Where you’re incorrect is in suggesting that I had “both of them” at any time…I have only owned the one.  Yes, I have been working for 2+ years on this breeding project, but not all of that time was spent directly attempting to pair the fish; many months were spent holding out for more broodstock from Seasmart in PNG, which unfortunately never materialized.  Only once I knew that the requested large Female PNG Maroons I wanted weren’t going to come, did I change plans to start working with what I already had on hand.

gumbii stated, “nope… the first pair was auctioned off for twice as much as the 2nd pair, but some random ballin’ guy killed them… then they said we’re only gonna auction them off to professional breeders and this kat got them… good thing too…

Simply put, categorically incorrect.  There has never been any “Lightning Maroon PAIRS“.  The first one collected…I’ve heard rumors about its fate.  Ultimately, the single fish I obtained did have offers on it that were stratospheric, but in the end, through the decisions of multiple people, the fish wound up in my hands.  I DID pay quite dearly for them, as some of my local hobbyists can attest (I sold tons of valuable livestock to help fund this purchase, and even then it did not cover the total investment in this project).

gumbii, not picking on you but man, I gotta ask where you’re getting your “facts”?  You went on to subsequently post, “so far only two females were caught… but they gave him a male from the same spot she was caught… hoping that it might have the same genetic make up or heterogeneous for “lightning”…

Unfortunately again, these statements are simply riddled with misinformation.  To say two females were caught is not knowable; both fish were brought in as singles, without mates, and in the case of the Lightning Maroon I now take care of, I am beyond convinced that the fish was originally still male when sent to me.  Also, I may have to take issue with your choice of the word “gave”, as in fact all fish in this project were paid for.  No free lunches here.  But you are right; the reasoning behind using other Maroons from the same geographic area is simply to increase the odds that if genetic, and if recessive, we could stumble upon some offspring in the F1 generation due to the mate being heterozygous; in layman’s terms, the odd chance that the mate carries a “hidden” Lightning gene.

GBoy66 then asked, “Oooohhhhh, ok. So, are these fish endangered? Weak? Why are they so hard to catch/keep..

Maroon Clownfish are not endangered to the best of my knowledge.  To answer your other questions out of order, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that clownfish are probably among the easiest marine fish to collect in the wild simply because they are so site-attached and aggressive (willing to defend their anemones against far larger intruders..like divers).  Regarding the “weak” question – well, I assume you’re referring to the recent spates of illness.  At the moment they seem to have everyone stumped; I would at times ponder whether the Lightning is in fact much older than we might think (it is CERTAINLY a possibility; clownfish can live for decades in captivity, and in the wild, while perhaps not common, I am aware of a single Percula Clownfish in the wild that was said to be 32 years old upon examination).  Imagine if this fish was already 10 years old when I got it; if that’s the case, it could already be quite near the end of it’s life (not ALL clowns live for decades of course).  At the moment, it is anyone’s guess.

Regarding these fish in general being “hard to keep”; wild caught clownfish are prone to diseases, particularly Brooklynella, which can make them far more difficult to work with.  Wild caught fish can take months or years or more before spawning for anyone, if they ever do. Most aquarium hobbyist have been spoiled (in a good way) by the readily available and abundant supply of captive bred clownfish (of many species these days).  Thus, there have been hobbyists who see the problems I have had with the PNG Maroons as a group over the past 2.5 years, and they question my abilities as a marine fish keeper and breeder.  Then I talk to people who I truly respect, and know they speak from a viewpoint of experience, and I get told things like “you’re doing FANTASTIC” or “most people wouldn’t have made it this far.”.  Knowing what I also personally know, I tend to look towards those with large experience bases who by and large, are supportive of my overall progress and have yet to question my abilities.  The message to the everyday hobbyist, particularly the beginner?  Make sure you start with captive-bred clownfish; save the wild caught ones until you have some experience.

el dude quipped, “Its a rare genetic variation…” [Update #3 - in rechecking the posts (due to Gumbii's comments), I see that the word "genetic" is no longer present in the post by el dude...a case of a quick edit?  I'm pretty sure I copy & pasted all my excerpts, but I'm not infallible; then again such changes are why I tend to copy things over in the first place.  Only mentioned out of respect for el dude in case I misread what he wrote]

Optimistic thinking my friend, as we certainly do not know that yet.  In fact, back in CORAL a while ago, I believe Wittenrich went on the record in a pro-genetic stance, while verteran Moe took the opposing viewpoint.  If these two wind up on opposite ends of the prognostication, well, I’d say making definitive statements like that are simply premature.  I HOPE you are right el dude, but you have no way of knowing yet.

It’s amazing how even when the information is publicly out there for anyone to read (as this project has been online since day one), that so much misinformation can be floating around out there.   In fact, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first ‘fact check’ post I’ve had to do (given that I have a “tag” for “Fact check” already in the system!).  Of course, it’s fun to speculate and debate, and to the casual web reader, just remember that just because you read it on the internet, doesn’t make it even remotely true.  Updates on the babies coming soon!

- UPDATE -

The very next web post I came across is this one - http://www.reefcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?p=20437213 - wow, more mis-info.

reefstew stated, “They have been out for about a year now. Very expensive. 

I will simply respond – news to me.  Would LOVE to see the retail source that’s offering them ;)  Thankfully, nwcronauer1242 came in and provided information that, to the best of my knowledge, is correct.  The irony here is that this perfectly illustrates a point Richard Ross makes about not believing what you write solely based on “post counts”.  It just so happens that reefstew is a veteran ReefCentral post with 1000+ posts; nwcronauer1242 has a whopping 32.  Nw also happens to be the one who’s probably right.  I say probably, because of this next statement:

lostmyz wrote,there was another lightening maroon clownfish at the wholesalers in LA about 1 month ago and it was being sold for 1200…. ”

I can’t say this is untrue, although here’s some things that call this into question.  First, I believe I have enough industry contacts going around that someone, somewhere, would have spilled the beans knowing about this project.

Second, back in May, there was this fish - http://blog.aquanerd.com/2012/05/lightning-maroon-clownfish-precursor.html - also harvested from PNG, although Dan stops short of calling that fish a Lightning Maroon.  Now, the “timeframe” roughly fits – throw on a ton of assumptions and viola, you have the info that lostmyz is presenting.  Afterall, there are still people who believe that there have been three full on Lightning Maroons collected, one only weeks after I got mine.  You might want to go read that post - http://www.lightning-maroon-clownfish.com/?p=844

Third, and perhaps most importantly, while I have heard some rumors, I have seen no official words of ANY PNG fish being shipped to the US at this time.  (Update #2 - it’s been minutes since I wrote the above, but I just got word straight from EcoAquariums PNG moments ago, on their facebook page, “ First shipment to the USA SHOULD happen this week!

So unless Dan Navin is a lying, that categorically means that there have been no PNG Maroons of any kind, let alone Lightning Maroons from PNG (the only place they’ve been found thus far), entering the US, let alone a wholesaler on 104th street in LA, since SEASMART last shipped fish in mid 2010.  So unless “last month’s LA Lightning” was collected in another location (certainly possible), all the information and experience I have is pushing me to think that lostmyz is not correct.  Oh, and just a hunch; any LA wholesaler who got their hands on a new wild-caught Lightning Maroon would have talked it up to the world; we probably would’ve seen pictures and a bidding war.

Obviously, I am not alone, and other RC members did start asking questions…

…to which lostmyz replied, “I didn’t purchase it at the wholesaler in LA so I can’t really tell you anything about it. And as for papertrail I am pretty sure they aren’t coughing that over. And it was wild caught.

OK…

And lostmyz wrote on, “The thing with these “lightening bolts” is that its a mutation. Beyond the actual patterning mutation that this fish is going through the gene that causes it most likely causes other issues with the fish. Hence the puldging eye on the current one alive and the fact that out of 300 eggs, 1 survived and most likely will grow to be normal.

I’ll just hit these as bullet points

  • mutation?  unknown and unproven.  No way you could know one way or another.
  • genetics causing issues with the Lightning’s health? possible, but unlikely given that the mate has also shown problems in the past few months.
  • out of 300 eggs, 1 survived? – categorically incorrect, top to bottom wrong.  And that’s provable right here on this blog, just one post prior (as well as in the forthcoming next post)
When that last point was brought up, lostmyz wrote – “i stand corrected about the fry… but the rest holds true… ” – at best, you can hope for that, but categorically stating it’s a mutation, and making other bold statements that you can’t prove, means that you cannot say with certainty that the rest holds true.  The rest, is all unsubstantiated at best at this point in time.
HANG TIGHT, no more updates to this post as I’ve finished my Google results for the week ;)  On to the news!

 

 

Mike Hoang’s new Goldstripe Maroon Babies were announced moments ago on ReefBuilders.  It’s hard to say how excited I was when I stumbled across these baby Goldstripe  Maroon Clownfish being turned out by Mike Hoang.  I saw them and wondered…if you breed two of these together, will you get Gold Stripe Lightning Maroons?
Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Of course, it might be very premature to discuss breeding outcomes given that we don’t even know if there’s a genetic component here.  However, there’s been no shortage of discussion around what these fish should be called?  And yes, just to be clear – no photoshop here – the video of the babies at 3.5 weeks post hatch proves it!

Perhaps even more interesting is that these babies are the offspring of normally-barred captive-bred GoldStripe Maroons:

Parents of Mike Hoang's unusual maroon clown babies - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Parents of Mike Hoang's unusual maroon clown babies - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Initial reports called the fish Teardrop Maroons.  Arguably you could say I pursuaded (bullied) Mike away from this name given the prior use of it to describe a common pattern in misbarred Ocellaris Clownfish (not genetic). Mike joked online that maybe they should be called Picasso Maroons. Perhaps a fitting name in my opinion.  However, after futher consideration, I would argue that the somewhat Piebald Maroons show off by ORA at the 2010 MACNA are more fitting and similar to the barring pattern displayed by a Picasso Perc, and thus, maybe Picasso might be a good name for that variation.

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike’s baby Maroon Clowns truly look somewhat like the spotted Amphiprion bicinctus that ORA produces and calls Spotcinctus, a variation that seems to have repeated itself in the fish called the Picasso Clarki Clownfish.  Heck, just this morning (9-20-2011), Mike sent photos of a baby he discovered in this batch showing what we’d call a “Pearl Eye” mutation, and this patterning is seen in many of the Spocinctus and Picasso Clarkii.

Similar variations in Maroon Clownfish barring and striping have appeared before from Sustainable Aquatics (SA) and also from wild fish that have been called Horned Maroon Clownfish by SEASMART (the Horned Maroons lacked spotting).  If SA already gave their variants a name, it could take priority over anything Mike could want to call them if they’re the same thing.

While waiting to hear back from Sustainable Aquatics, Mike and I discussed the issue of naming, and after some back and forth, in trying to pick something unique, I proffered “it’s a Maroon, right?  We have a Lightning Maroon.  What about a Hailstorm or Raindrops Maroon?”  Mike’s final answer, and a tentative name – Thunder Maroons. Unique and different with a bit of whimsy.

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

Of course, the discussion continued once we had Matt Carberry of Sustainable Aquatics get back to us – indeed, there was a prior name that SA applied to fish with this phenotype (appearance) -Goldflake Maroons.  Matt elaborated on their work with the Goldflake Maroons, writing, “We have seen some aberrant maroons show-up occasionally. The oldest pictures I can find are late 2007; I’m sure that most breeders of maroons on any scale have noticed some of these types of markings. It isn’t extremely common, but we regularly find them in hatches from multiple spawning pairs.”  Matt went on to elaborate some initial genetic findings, relaying that they “formed a pair from these, but their offspring have produced only normal maroons (working on the next generation might yield something, but we haven’t explored that). It might be similar to the clarkii pearl-eye or more recent picasso-esque mutation. We have formed pairs of pearl-eye clarkii, but their offspring are no different from normal parents. It seems to be something that happens during larval development.”  So the jury is out.

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

I am the first here to say that this situation has me perplexed.  In comparing the “SA Goldflakes” to Mike’s new babies, it is clear that they are similar, but that Mike’s offspring are a more extreme form of the aberration, with more spotting, more irregular and split barring.  Mike and I both see the merits of calling his offspring “Hoang Goldflake” – a nod to the preexisting name for what currently appears to be the same basic variation in the same species and a continuation of a process becoming well-entrenched in marine fish breeding (Booyah’s Onyx, Rod’s Onyx, C-Quest Onyx…see the pattern?). So that makes sense for the moment.

It’s fair to say that Matt Carberry would agree that for the moment, “Goldflake” may be a the right name for Mike’s fish.  “To be clear about the namings, I am happy that people use any names that we have made and happy if Hoang calls his fish Goldflakes. SA hasn’t and has no plans to trademark a fish/coral name. I’m happy about this too–it makes a consistent presentation to the hobbyist/trade that makes it easier to see what you are getting. We call our fish “SA XXX” just to designate where they were bred versus another breeder working on the same morph. Use of different names for the same morph is confusing to the hobbyist.”

Of course, is it perhaps premature to discuss a name at all?  Personally think the name should tentatively stand as Hoang Goldflake until we either see that this is clearly different from the SA Goldflakes, or if we learn this form of misbarring is caused by the rearing conditions and not genetics (in which case these may simply be classified as “ovebarred” vs. “misbarred”).

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

Goldflake Maroon Clownfish - courtesy Sustainable Aquatics

If in fact Mike’s fish prove to be genetic, or continue to develop a much more extreme variation, it might be very fair to call these fish Goldstripe “Thunder” Maroon afterall, in this case owing to the distinctiveness of the form and being the first proven genetic.  But then again, we could very well be looking at simply something analogous to the various gradiations of the Picasso mutation in Percula Clownfish, where we acknowlege they are all Picassos, and show varying levels of misbarring and overbarring across the population that go further and further from the norm.    In that case, perhaps Hoang’s Goldflakes represent more “A Grade” Goldflakes vs. the “B Grade” Goldflakes originated, named, and shown in some of Sustainable Aquatic’s earlier images.

Of course, we don’t yet know if the SA Goldflake and Hoang’s Goldflake are the same, but it certainly seems that they could be.  Still, there is that outside chance that Mike’s fish could all grow up and look like the Lighting Maroon…

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen showing hints of complex patterning - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen showing hints of complex patterning - image courtesy Mike Hoang

My personal opinion – if I was to guess how baby Lightning Maroons might look at this age, I’d say Mike’s fish would match my imagination.  Seriously – look at that midstripe above…it looks as if the stripe is starting to split and have a dark area in the middle.  Take another look at this particular baby from the other side.  Could Mike be sitting on a goldmine of baby Gold Stripe Lightning Maroons?

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen showing hints of complex patterning - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen showing hints of complex patterning - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Time and breeding will tell whether Hoang’s Goldflakes stay named as “Goldflake”, get a new name in “Thunder”, or even somehow wind up being the foundation stock of the Lightning variation in a Goldstripe Maroon population.  Until then, our imaginations can wander as we take in these thought provoking photos of Mike’s funky babies.  Keep track of Mike’s progress by following his breeding posts over on MARSHReef.com

Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon baby with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon baby with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Gold Stripe Maroon babies with extra spots and markings - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

Mike Hoang's Maroon Clownfish, a specimen with a "Pearl Eye" - image courtesy Mike Hoang

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