Designer pets fetch a big price, but, in the saltwater aquarium hobby, the popularity of designer fishes may have unintended consequences that can do more harm than good.
Designer clownfish, like other designer pets, have entered the saltwater aquarium hobby creating both a sense of excitement amongst hobbyists and a spate of innovation by breeders. Blogs abound with excited musings about Picasso, naked and misbar clownfishes. Common names of designer clownfishes such as tequila sunrise, stubby and spotty gem have now all entered the marine aquarium hobby lexicon, and breeders, both private and commercial, are capitalizing on the profits. Not everyone, however, thinks the designer clownfish craze is a good thing for the hobby.
An Argument against Designer Clownfishes
As a marine aquarium hobbyist with a keen interest in aquaculture and plenty of first-hand experience when it comes to the captive breeding of saltwater fish, my position on the subject of selective breeding for anomalies such as fewer vertebra (stubies) or even misbars in clownfishes is in the minority.
I am anti-hybrid, anti-man-made variant and pro-natural species diversity. We can worry about making new fish when we can no longer obtain wild caught foundation stock. Until that occurs, preserving natural biodiversity—rather than creating our own—should be our main focus. Ornamentalism is a shortcut—it’s the lazy way to innovate and profit, in my opinion.
Ornamentalism is hybridization, chemical manipulation and selective breeding of deformities to produce new man-made variants that ultimately muddle the original specie(s) to the point of being unrecognizable. Such ornamentalism has proven popular with hobbyists, however, and there seems to be no end to potential buyers of designer clownfishes selling for, at times, hundreds of dollars.
The Role of Commercial Aquaculture
I worry that that we are creating an arms race. The large aquaculture companies seem to often be competing for the next big thing.
Most commercial breeders do, not surprisingly, operate their businesses in a market-driven fashion, meaning that if it is more cost-effective to produce designer clownfishes than a species such as the Banggai cardinalfish, then that is where they will focus their efforts. Unfortunately, the survival of a species like the Banggai cardinalfish—or, at the very least, their continued availability in the hobby—may well depend on aquaculture.
If the resources of commercial breeders are tied up in what I call ornamentalism, then important advances in breeding other species for the purposes of preserving natural biodiversity may slow to a trickle or even stop altogether.