82. Conservation in Aquariums: Is It Enough? 3

Water Colors Aquarium Gallery Podcast
82. Conservation in Aquariums: Is It Enough?

“What do you mean you don’t want to do it right?!” – Ben

In this episode, the Water Colors team discusses the complicated topic of conservation within the aquarium hobby. We owe it to the animals we keep in aquariums to ensure that our hobby isn’t contributing to the loss of the organisms we claim to love. Let us know in the Water Colors Aquarium Gallery Podcast Listeners Facebook Group how you feel about conservation in the aquarium hobby!

– PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) has rebranded itself as the Pet Advocacy Network.

Fishes Mentioned in this Episode:
– Running River rainbowfish (Melanotaenia sp. “Running River”)
– Killifishes (Nothobranchius spp.)
– Pacu (Colossoma macropomum)
– Clown Knifefish (Chitala ornata)
– Northern snakehead (Channa argus)
– Common Plecostomus (Pterygoplichthys pardalis)
– Yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)
– Iridescent shark (Pangasianodon hypophthalus)
– Tiger Shovelnose catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum)
– Zebra pleco – L46 (Hypancistrus zebra)
Apistogramma spp.
Betta spp.
– Licorice gourami (Parosphromenus spp.)
– Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
– Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
– Cockatoo Cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides “Super Red”)
Pelvicachromis kribensis “Moliwe”
– Chili rasbora (Boraras brigittae)
– Pea pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)
– Denison barb (Sahyadria denisonii)
– White Cloud Mountain minnow (Tanichthys albonubes)
– Tequila Splitfin Goodeid (Zoogoneticus tequila)
Betta unimaculata “Ancam”
Betta stiktos
– Strawberry rasbora (Boraras naevus)
– Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus)
– Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii)
– Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus sp.)
– White-Spotted Bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium plagiosum)
Sunadanio spp.

Aquarium Clubs and Projects Mentioned in this Episode:
– Australia New Guinea Fishes Association (ANGFA)
– Project Piaba
– German Victoria Cichlids Study Group
– American Cichlid Association (ACA)
– The Parosphromenus Project
– Goodeid Working Group
– American Livebearer Association (ALA)
– Cambodia Wild Betta Conservation
– American Killifish Association (AKA)
– Missouri Aquarium Society
– Greater Seattle Aquarium Society
– Guy Jordan Research Fund via ACA
– Paul V. Loiselle Conservation Fund via ACA
– George Meier Fund via AKA
– North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA)
– Conservation Education Grant via NANFA
– Gerald C. Corcoran Education Grant via NANFA
– Northeast Council Aquarium Societies
– CARES Preservation Programs


  1. Thank you for another important and also personal discussion. It is hard not to agree. You have my greatest respect. I have a pair of follow up questions which I think could be of interest to a wider audience.

    1. In terms of avoiding disturbing local ecosystems- what responsability do we have when we put fish and not at least plants in an outdoor pond? Will we eventually introduce platys and guramis in Africa, and even more “weed” to more northern ecosystems?

    2. (Charles:) Regarding breeding for conservation: What happens with a species after being captive bred for several generations? Is it still the same fish? I guess the evolutionary pressure is quite different in aquarias than in lakes when it comes to food availability, water chemistry, predators. How should we cull, so that to maintain species? And could you please tell us more about the risk of inbreeding in fish.

    And, finally, could you mention your opinion on the sustainability of the clown loach trade? Is this a fish for which we should look for alternatives?

    Thank you once again for amazing, important and also frank discussions,

    Kristofer Andréasson
    Lund, Sweden

    Kristofer Andréasson
    1. We’ll try to work in a way to discuss these follow-up questions in a future episode, but I’ll do what I can to answer them here too.

      1. I don’t keep ponds. I’m sure Ben and/or Amy will have some thoughts on the matter. At the very least, we should ALWAYS be looking to reduce the environmental impact of our hobby. We shouldn’t be destroying the environment just so we can have fun. Letting non-native fish “go free” is negligence, at best. I’m just don’t feel qualified to give advice on HOW to do that in this case.

      2. Best case scenario: Any captive population, that is bred in a way that perfectly matches the wild, will have experienced genetic drift from the original wild population after ten generations, which are changes of allelic frequency in the population due to random chance. That said, there are different social arrangements, different water parameters, etc. in captivity. If you’re REALLY interested in the specifics of wild vs captive-bred fish environmental pressures, there is a wealth of scientific literature pertaining to the survival of hatchery-raised salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) in the eastern North Pacific.

      If you’re breeding Betta stiktos for several generations, it’ll still be Betta stiktos, but it’s theoretically on it’s way to being something else (eventually). In fact, some of the more experienced stiktos breeders can identify a wild stiktos from one that has been captive-bred for a few generations. That’s the basis of conservation genetics. How do you best maintain the original genetic diversity of a wild population when breeding in captivity? And if the hope is reintroduction in the wild, how do you prevent genetic drift? Inbreeding is your worst enemy because nothing erases genetic diversity faster than inbreeding. The most documented risk being the accumulation of deleterious alleles (copies of genes that are potentially detrimental in some way). All organisms have deleterious alleles. I have them, you have them, every one of your fish has them. You can mitigate them by having a diverse gene pool. If you inherit a non-functioning deleterious protein gene from your mom, but you get a functioning one from your dad, then you’re probably fine. Individual species have varying abilities of tolerating inbreeding, depending on the past reproductive history of the population. For example, Pelvicachromis kribensis “Moliwe” seems to handle inbreeding well, in fact they preferentially select siblings as mates. In this case, they appear to have a history that selected out most of their deleterious alleles. But the closely related Pelvicachromis sacrimontis doesn’t seem capable of handling more than a few generations of inbreeding before a line just peters out. And to a degree, the small population sizes of captive breeding populations necessitates SOME inbreeding, but some planning ahead can stave off the worst of it. Learning how and what is cull is usually species specific and takes experience to learn. Start off selecting out deformities, let sexual selection happen (if applicable), outcross as much as you can, and collaborate/consult with more experienced breeders, and learn to be more specific as you get more experienced.

      3. Honestly, I can’t imagine that the wild-fishery of clown loaches is entirely sustainable, but many of the clown loaches in the hobby come from farms. My main issue with clown loaches is that they are an active, social, 8-10in/20-25cm (sometimes larger) fish that lives 40 years and should be provided with a 6ft/1.8m tank to accommodate their needs. The reality is that most clown loaches don’t live as long as they should BECAUSE they aren’t given the social and spatial arrangements that they deserve. So, for me, the sustainability question is somewhat secondary to the husbandry question. They shouldn’t be as popular as they are because most people don’t/can’t keep them the way they deserve. Said another way, I think the sustainability issue would solve itself if people were only keeping them the way they should be and most people should be searching for more suitable alternatives. For example, zebra loaches (Botia striata) are readily available and max out at 4in/10cm (with a fraction of the mass of a full-grown clown loach).

      I love the in-depth questions we’ve been getting lately, so keep them coming!

      Charles Bradfield

      Charles Bradfield
  2. Great podcast! I really appreciate your continued conversations around conservation and ethical fish keeping, even though these may not be as popular in terms of hits. Given what economists call the commons effect, I doubt that the aquarium industry/hobby has the ability to regulate itself. For example, in the absence of regulation, a factory that pollutes often has a short term economic advantage compared to one that does not. Those in the aquarium industry who act responsibly should welcome reasonable regulation that levels the playing field. Ditto for hobbyists – IMO we will get appropriate healthier fish that will live longer in our tanks, while protecting the environment and providing a sustainable living for those who may have limited options.

    Keep up the good work!

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