The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged SEASMART

OK, so I have to chuckle because people are already speculating about the going asking price on the F1 offspring I’ve produced.  I’ve seen the hypothetical numbers ranging from $300 to $600 to $1000 to $1500.  And then there’s this post on that takes the cake.  User iball1804 is making some pretty bold statements, starting with:

“My LFS is getting a pair in.”

I can state officially, on the record, that I have not made any agreements with any LFS anywhere to sell any Lightning Maroons to them.  But that’s not all that is claimed:

“They are $5,000 apiece. And everything’s already lined up. Our client is willing to pay, and so it will be. “

Now that’s awfully presumptive since that’s the first I’ve heard about this.  It may very well be that the highest bids for F1 Lightning Maroons may well be much HIGHER than $5000.  Who knows?  Of course, I’d love to know who’s willing to offer $5000 a piece for Lightning Maroons, but that’s getting ahead of things.  Why?

Because as I’ve stated all along, back when I purchased the Lightning Maroon from Blue Zoo Aquatics, I made a gentleman’s offer to Mark Martin that I would offer right-of-first-refusal to him on any offspring I might produce.    Mark (Blue Zoo), Dave (Pacific Aqua Farms) and David (SEASMART), all took a gamble on me being the best choice for this fish.  It’s my opinion that now it’s time for BZA to receive some of the monetary benefit they gave up in deciding to sell this fish to me vs. simply the highest bidder.

Now, there is no contract, no agreement, I am free to sell these fish to whomever I want and do what I please with them.  That said, Mark is aware that it looks like there will be some Lightnings to be made available in the coming months.  But that is the extent of anything that has been discussed, and I will be seeing what we want to do together before going beyond that… after all that’s what “right of first refusal” means.  And to my surprise, it seems the general aquarist community at large has been aware of this, and hasn’t been flooding my inbox with inquiries for the last 2+ years (thanks for that everyone).

So while I LOVE the enthusiasm and bold statements, I can categorically state that anything you read on “price” or “availability” that you didn’t read directly from my keyboard is speculation.  I have some ideas on how I’d like to see these fish be distributed, and I can tell you that making sure this natural variation is preserved is at the top of my priorities…a far higher priority than price.  I took this project on as a conservation-minded breeder, and until these fish are out in the hands of other breeders, that mission wont’ be complete.

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  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 - 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 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!


The very next web post I came across is this one - - 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 - - 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 -

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.


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

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

This is the story of leaving home only to have the entire trip be a subconsciously gut wrenching experience. last week on the Tuesday before MACNA, Tony Vargas swung into town and stopped by with Boomer. Among other things, he sat glued to the Lightning Maroon’s tank for almost an hour, snapping dozens or hundreds of images. I can still remember Tony saying “I think I know where those fish are going to spawn.” pointing to the back wall of the tank where the pair was actively cleaning. Tony got several good shots, one of which is so good that none of you have seen it. I told Tony “that’s my book cover”. The below image is not the “uber good” one that he’s holding back..this was just a “good” one.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish photograph taken by Tony Vargas on 9-6-2011

I departed for MACNA 2011 (Des Moines, IA) on Thursday, leaving all my aquariums in top shape. They’d be able to withstand a bit of neglect and nothing should’ve gone wrong.

Of course, Friday evening I find I have two missed calls from my wife. I step outside and call her. She tells me that she came home and couldn’t find the Lightning Maroon, so she got worried. I too was getting worried but realized that now, on more than one occasion, this boldly patterned fish still manages to hide from view. It turned out that since calling, she found the fish. However, she hadn’t seen either clownfish eat. This again was cause for concern, so I had her check the APEX for both temperature and pH; the two parameters most likely to be out of whack (it wasn’t until SUNDAY, long after all this, that I even thought to ask her if all the pumps had been running…of course they had been the entire time). Everything was in order.

To me, this was both disconcerting and intriguing. Disconcerting in that for the fish to be off feed, something could be going terribly wrong – i.e. ammonia or nitrite levels rising. However, Renee doesn’t overfeed, and there was nothing big in the tank that could’ve died and caused a massive crash. So, if things are OK, when else have I not seen fish eating? Well, pretty much right before they’re spawning.

Saturday rolled around and I once again got new info. My friend Jay who breeds Maroon Clowns and sometimes stops by the house to watch the fish had come over, and he made the observation that the Lightning Maroon was going to be spawning. Renee said the fish were cleaning like crazy. Talking later with Jay, what he described almost sounded like pre-spawn runs, with the fish doing practice “touch and goes”. Or another way to think of it…mating without laying any eggs. The female would rub her belly down, then the male would follow. That sounds to me like spawning.

MACNA itself reminded me of home many times, with the Lightning Maroon showing up in my presentation, David Vosseler’s SEASMART discussions, and Julian Sprung’s talk too. I don’t remember names, but I know several people came up and asked if I was the guy with the Lightning Maroon. A bit surreal still.

Of course, I get home late Sunday, and a few of my friends at MACNA (most notably Kevin Erickson and Tony Vargas) have heard what is going on and are sharing my possible excitement. I made it home late, and to my relief everything appeared normally. I broke out a flashlight to look for eggs, but found none. Interestingly, both fish were sleeping together on the back tank corner, where I have seen a lot of cleaning activity occurring.

The final bit of excitement came last night, when I was paying close attention to the fish for a minute. I haven’t seen any cleaning activity since I returned home, but I did notice a slight extension coming off the Lightning Maroon’s belly on Monday night. Could this be an ovipositor? Could it in fact be that the Lightning Maroon pair DID spawn while I was away? Afterall, first clownfish clutches are often consumed by the parents.

Based on what I’ve heard and observed, I will go on record to say that I *think* we may have had our first spawn while I was away at MACNA. All of the reported information points to that, and the experiences of many clownfish breeders would support the guess. We will obviously never know (unless I have yet to locate a nest), but it’s possible that our first documented spawn could very well be coming sooner rather than later.

I think it’s fair to say that many people in the aquarium industry were eager for news out of Papua New Guinea. It’s probably been about a year (maybe even more) since any fish were shipped from the island nation’s developing marine ornamental fishery. With SEASMART and the PNG Government coming to legal blows, I had to fundamentally change battle plans in the Lightning Project since I could no longer expect any timely arrivals of broodstock options from PNG. Admittedly, I had given up hope that we’d ever see a viable fishery in PNG given that forward-looking statements implying that exports were to resume as early as February of this year obviously didn’t happen.

What does this mean for the Lightning Project? Well, it means that new PNG broodstock from Fishermen’s Island may be a reality in the near future (by end of the year). Based on the FOA rough guidelines I found last week, I know I need at least one more pair of PNG maroons just to ensure the minimum foundation population for a PNG lineage of captive breed PNG White Stripe Maroons. The best possible outcome? There could be more Lightning Maroons yet to come from the wild.

News is spreading fast, with multiple stories out there. I invite you to check ‘em all out, and know that even more is already coming.

Ret Talbot’s article in the CORAL newsletter
ReefThread’s podcast
My article on ReefBuilders

While I was on the road most of last week, I didn’t totally miss out on the latest round of Papua New Guinea / SEASMART / EcoEZ related news.  In the interest of keeping things brief, two new developments to post up today.  First is Ret Talbot’s ongoing interest, this time discussing the possible disconnect that turned into the current rift between PNG and EcoEZ.  The main question raised – was it the bill for SEASMART’s appearance at the 2010 MACNA Convention in Orlando, FL, that caused PNG’s NFA to “pull the plug”?  I will go on the record now as saying the trip to MACNA did more exposure, and more good for the overall SEASMART project, than anything else to date.  It truly was a “coming out” and as such, it is my opinion that it was truly a colossal blunder on the part of PNG’s NFA to pull the plug on the last 3 months of funding, thus shutting down operations for at least 4.5 months now.  If PNG’s NFA was not interested in continuing to work with SEASMART past the end 0f 2010, it would have been better served to have allowed exports to continue while working to transition the program into PNG and/or EcoEZ hands – whatever the contract stipulated for such an ending of the project.  I say this based solely on the publicly available facts at hand, but it truly seems to me that especially given PNG’s hopes to restart their aquarium fish program in 2011, they would have been much better off to have never shut it down in the first place.  Again, my opinion based on the facts at hand…new information could change that.

Then, there is the truly “out of left field” January 13th, 2011, post to SEASMART’s Facebook page by former SEASMART employee Philip Sokou, who is now part of the new PNG Marine Aquarium Fishery Program.  For the record, Philip Sokou was one of the PNG natives who I had the pleasure of meeting at MACNA, and someone who truly inspired me to be more thoughtful of the PNG nationals in all this.  While Philip strikes me as a bright individual, I must express my concerns over his public post and commentary on SEASMART’s Facebook page.

The post was a photograph of a public statement in the local newspaper made by Sylvester Pokajam, Managing Director of the PNG Marine Aquarium Fishery Program.  The jist this time?  Magea Systems Limited, EcoEZ (PNG) Ltd, EcoEZ Inc. and “related parties” are no longer involved with the PNG Marine Aquarium Fishery Program which was funded by the NFA, and that property like cars and such is “subject to a charge issued by the court” and “therefore cannot be disposed of by either party until the matter is cleared by the court”. Of course, it was perhaps in poor taste that a former employee post such information to his employer’s Facebook account, but this information was allowed to remain.  What followed was the “party line” of EcoEZ that discussions of pending litigation will be avoided and are “inappropriate”, but the post was addressed with a response that the fans on Facebook probably aren’t aiming to buy a SEASMART vehicle in Port Moresby anyway.

And this is where again, I have to voice my disapproval as it seemed Philip Sokou tried to make the connection of this public release pertaining to corporate assets all about PNG fish.  He then went on to imply that SEASMART is “hiding something from your audience!”  Sadly, this back and forth largely reflects poorly on Philip Sokou and the PNG NFA,  rather than SEASMART, even if Philip Sokou knows something we all collectively do not.  At the moment, SEASMART, and PNG fish, are irrelevant, as litigation has everything tied up anyway and the NFA has made it abundantly clear that it will be going it’s own way to bring PNG fish to market.  It is not as if SEASMART is out peddling fish they don’t have that are residing in a facility that has been shut down for months.  Truly, this simply comes across as an attempt to “kick a man while he’s down”, and in the totality of the situation as we see it, it doesn’t add any points to the NFA’s side of the argument.

Rather, it would seem that both topics at hand fail to convince me that the PNG NFA is  considering their long-term best interests in pursuing ongoing relationships with non-PNG companies.  When I speculate, investigate and examine what we can find, it seems that from a business standpoint, terribly poor decision making was enacted when prematurely cutting off funding.  When I see ancillary chatter attempting to further defame a former partner, it makes us wonder if the same high standards will truly be followed when PNG is operating as a solo enterprise.   I continue to be disappointed by how this has played out, because it more and more just seems like PNG’s NFA is shooting itself in the foot.  Even if they are 110% in the right top to bottom (and they very well may be), we haven’t seen anything conclusive that would support their viewpoints, tactics, and course of action.

Just calling it like I see it at the moment.  I will continue to wait and watch the situation unfold, and hope for the best for all parties involved.

One of the big questions I asked when writing about the shutoff of SEASMART funding last week, was “why?”  Well, once again, we now have answers.  Overnight, PNG’s NFA (National Fisheries Authority) released a response to EcoEZ’s press release announcing a lawsuit to recover funds owed to it for the last 3-4 months of 2010.  It seems that two versions of the same basic press release are now available on the internet, so I’ll provide links to both:

The “short” press release, first released on Reef Addicts and then on Reef Builders with a bit of commentary from Jake Adams.  Then, there is the “long” press release, which appears more official, and includes a bit more insights on the dispute.  So far, I have only seen this longer press release at CORAL Magazine’s website.

Again, I’m going to refrain from writing very much about the general situation here.  It does sound like a bridge may have been burned.  Suggestions are that PNG will continue working towards a sustainable marine aquarium trade, but that EcoEZ may not be a part of the governmental project.  The largest question remains…why, so close to the end of the contract, did PNG’s FMA opt to pull funding vs. just riding out the program.  While this press release gives us general reasons why,  I wonder if the damage in terms of PR, but also in terms of continuity of business, might be greater than the amount of money that was withheld in the short term.  Being outsiders, we are certainly left to speculation and theorizing with only the facts we are provided.  It seems like the premature “pulling of the plug” on funding may have been the right move for the FMA from a short-term stewardship perspective, but perhaps not the right move from a business perspective in the long-term.

What about the impact, if any, on The Lighting Project?  At the moment, there’s no change of plans.  This press release suggests the earliest exports would resume is the middle of 2011 – 6 months off.  This means no chance at potential PNG broodstock for 6 months at least, and that assumes that the PNG FMA is able to deliver on that promise.  I’m not one to hold my breath at this point, nor am I going to make the Lightning Maroon wait that long on hope.  Besides, in 6 month’s time, the Lighting Maroon could be laying eggs…

After weeks where there was no news in 2010, I guess I make up for it with like 4 or 5 posts in a week and a two-for-one this Friday (it’s still Friday somewhere).

My friends at CORAL Magazine put together a couple really good nuggets of info that ran Thursday evening.  First up, a nicely reformatted and image-enhanced version of EcoEZ’s PNG SEASMART Press Release.  Followed up immediately by the eloquent and insightful commentary of Ret Talbot, who asks “What Price Sustainability” about this latest turn of events for SEASMART and Papua New Guinea.

As you may know, Ret Talbot is most certainly a friend of mine and a friend of the Lighting Project, being in Papua New Guinea working on his CORAL Magazine Article when the Lightning Maroon was collected.  Without a doubt, one of the first people from the states to see this fish in real life.  While Ret has a hectic schedule, he knows he has a standing invitation to contribute to, or be interviewed for, The Lightning Project.  As of late, Ret has been furiously making it his job to know everything he can about sustainability and it’s place in the current and future marine aquarium industry.  Keep an eye out for more from Ret, wherever it’s published (including the January/February 2011 edition of CORAL, which features a story on marine fish collection in Hawaii).

Anyone who’s been following The Lighting Project or has an interest in Lightning Maroon Clownfishes probably knows that SEASMART fishers were responsible for the two specimens collected in the waters of Papua New Guinea.As released moments ago @ ReefBuilders, the official word today is that EcoEZ’s SEASMART sustainable marine fish collection operations in PNG suffered a setback in the fourth quarter of 2010 as the governmental funding for the program was prematurely withdrawn.  Rather than rehash what I wrote at ReefBuilders, please read the article and press release from EcoEZ at

Needless to say, when I first learned of the shutdown my response was “crap”.  Probably followed by “WTF?!”.  While I don’t know how long this has been going on, it’s not like operations were suspended today, given that funding was withdrawn at least 3 months before it was supposed to be.  Meanwhile, the entire time members of SEASMART had been trying to continue to help with the Lightning Project, obviously despite these obstacles.  Of course I’m a patient guy, and I figured at the time that my needs were simply very low on the scale of priority compared to the LA importers.  Needless to say, despite everyone’s efforts and my ongoing requests for another large female PNG Maroon Clownfish (and several other items of PNG livestock to help make things worthwhile), SEASMART and their partners were unable to deliver what I had requested in the 4th quarter of 2010.  And now I know why.

It’s unknown whether exports will resume in a month, a year, or a decade.  Given the uncertain future of SEASMART at this point in time, it means that patiently waiting for the ideal PNG broodstock isn’t a viable option.  Therefore, hoping that a large female PNG Maroon will show up is false hope.  Hoping for another Lightning Maroon is out.  Hoping for any more juvenile Maroon Clowns that show irregular markings is out.  All of these possibilities keep me focused on protecting the Lightning Maroon from any external damage while trying to encourage breeding with a large White Striped Maroon Clownfish of unknown origin.  Keeping the Lightning Maroon a “male” had many advantages, especially when considering the possibilities of future broodstock.

So ironically perhaps, this turn of events made the forward path of the Lighting Project extremely clear.  As always, I’ll share the thought process.  First, as of today, here is an inventory of every Maroon Clown in the basement.

1 PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish, assumed male, paired with 1 XLG “Labrador” White Stripe Maroon almost 6″ in size.
1 PNG Maroon Clown proven male, paired with 1 XLG proven female Sumatran Gold Stripe Maroon, about 5″ in size, actively spawning.
1 Pair of inactive proven spawning White Stripe Maroons from Greg in Iowa, the male having questionable characteristics.
1 lone Medium to Large White Stripe Maroon, Lucy, who is only slightly larger than the Lightning Maroon but has never been with another Maroon.  Sex unknown.
1 PNG Maroon Clown, in a 10 gallon QT tank with a RBTA.  A second, slightly smaller PNG Maroon Clown resides in a small breeder basket in the same tank.

Most of the non-PNG Maroon Clowns were brought into the program to perform one of two functions.  A)  Serve as  females to keep the myriad of PNG juveniles I had on hand as “males”.  B) Serve as a female semi-suitable mate for the Lightning Maroon until a more suitable, PNG-bloodlined Maroon Clown female could be paired with the Lightning Maroon.

With the loss of access to any WC PNG Maroons, the chances of obtaining a large adult PNG female are truly slim to none at the moment.  My only source would have to be a PNG maroon that had already been imported.  The simple truth however, is that very few, if any owners of PNG Maroons, KNOW that they have a PNG Maroon from the SEASMART program.  Any fish I took in would be coming with an extra layer of  “doubt” unless the hobbyist owner still had the paperwork documenting the fish as being from PNG.  In fact, such documentation is atypical at best to start with.

My only other option to obtain a female PNG Maroon at the moment is to ‘make’ one.  In truth, the 2 PNG juveniles sharing the 10 gallon tank have been undergoing my efforts to create a pair for some time now.  Since the two fish are the same size and fight when they are introduced, I’ve been feeding the one in the main tank 3 times per day, but feeding the small one only once per day.  This differentiation in feed should, over time, produce a significant size difference and ultimately, allow me to pair these two fish.  But that could take months or even years.  All that time, what about the Lighting Maroon.  And what if, just what if, that female doens’t work with the Lightning Maroon?  And what if the skeptics have been right..what if the Lightning Maroon in fact IS a female?

Well, perhaps the biggest bit of game-changing information is this.  I have only 4 PNG Maroons in my possession at this time.  All along, I have planned to establish other normally barred PNG pairs, specifically for the purposes of maintaining PNG bloodlines as well as genetic diversity.  The name of the game here – outcrossing.  The simple truth now is that there is really only one good route to go that can hit the most goals in the shortest amount of time.

“What now?” is no longer a question of options.  The small population I have to work with and the timeframes and risks surrounding any “options” are too great and don’t make sense.  The answer is now, for the moment, crystal clear.

The Lightning Maroon will be turning female.  She will be paired with the actively spawning PNG male.  The male will be introduced to her, not the other way around, in a new tank.  Given that the male is actively spawning, hopefully this will be some encouragement for the Lighting Maroon to make a quick sex change and start laying eggs.  This could indeed take weeks or months, but it’s the best shot I have if I want to maintain PNG bloodlines.

If that pairing seems problematic, I will be trying the other small PNG “male” that’s in restricted quarters.  Whichever PNG male is not paired with the Lightning Maroon will be ultimately paired with the other PNG Maroon that I’ve been encouraging to become female.  The net result will be 2 fully unrelated spawning pairs of PNG Maroon Clownfish.  This is the largest foundation population I can currently work with, and provides the best genetic diversity I can offer to the program unless other PNG Maroons are identified or collected in the future.

So there you have it.  Lightning Maroon will be turning female unless something really crazy happens.  Now all I’m waiting on is the Lightning Maroon’s NEW HOME, which seems to have gone missing in FedEx land?

So consider this your introduction to one of the other several Papua New Guinea (PNG)  Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus) running around my basement these days.  I was taking some pictures for a forthcoming article in the new UK magazine Marine Habitat and I wanted to show up a “sustainably” harvested fish…thus, images of a SEASMART PNG Maroon Clownfish seemed appropriate.  It seemed overly boastful to take more images of the Lightning Maroon, so instead, I opted to photograph one of the maroons who’s life is currently restricted to a small breeder basket type arrangement in the hopes that it winds up male (with the other PNG Maroon hopefully to become the female).  Amazing how much these fish have all changed colors since arriving months ago…in a future installment, I should photograph and name them all.  But for now, here’s a smaller PNG Maroon Clownfish debuting in a several image spread.  BTW, apparently, the gallery links to FULL SIZE images…suitable for desktops among other uses…

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