I hear this so much from people, I can tell, who have no idea how the pet store works.
NO! no one goes out and collects wild fish and wild coral. Infact not only is it illegal, it’s also very expensive to do so.
Coral at the pet store comes from coral farms. These are usually local breeders actually. They breed the coral in a fish tank or tubs. It has infact been over 80 years since aquarium hobbyist went out into the ocean to collect coral on any large scale.
The same story especially goes for fish.
Now yes there are some who still do go out and get fish and coral from the wild. However this accounts for less then 1% of the global aquarium market. The people who do this could never turn a profit, and ussually do it for their own aquarium – at the risk of running into the coast guard.
The reason it’s expensive to collect wild coral, has to do with the coral itself and the process of such a thing involved.
1. Coral is very sensitive. The time it takes for the boat to get back to shore, is plenty of time for a freshly ripped coral to die completely. Then there is the tiny chance it lives, it will die as soon as it’s put in “strange water”. That is water that’s different from what it’s already use to.
2. Boats, scuba gear, labor, gas, shipping cost, etc etc…. none of this is cheap! Coral would have to sell atleast 15 times what it cost at the pet store in order to make a profit via this method.
Really it is much cheaper and much easier to breed coral in a tank then it is to collect it – especially when you consider the very low survival rate of wild caught coral and fish.
Local Breeders make up about 90% of the entire global aquarium market for fish, plants and coral. These are kids who’s taken care of their mollies. Hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of trying to breed fish. Everyday people in their homes. It may surprise many but the aquarium hobby is the last largest small business market in the world. Large commercial operations only account for about 9% of every fish that’s bred.
Most of the fish at the pet store don’t even exist in nature. Fresh water Blue Angel Fish is a perfect example of selected breeding. Infact most fresh water Angel fish are nearly unrecognizable to their wild brothers. They are bred over the course of just 120 years to come in many varieties of color and shape. Goldfish, mollies, guppies, rainbow fish….all of these i encourage you to compare for yourself what they look like in nature verses the pet store. This is just further proof to you, no one collects wild caught fish to put in their tanks.
So how exactly does this work
Aquarium fish make their way to the pet store one of three ways.
1. Aquarium trade shows and expos.
Particularly across America, and Asia – there’s 3 countries in Europe I know of that also do this widely. Aquarium hobbyist often have an annual or bi-annual trade shows. You can always find one in your area, try looking up say an aquarium clubs scheduled events… They are usually the hosts of such things, other times it’s distributors or collection of local pet store owners. Usually with these things, the sellers are local aquarium hobbyist and the buyers are corporate distributors or other hobbyist. They not only sell fish but have award shows for various displays, certain breeds etc etc… kind of like a farmers market but with fish. In a big trade show or expo you’ll see new aquarium equipment for sale from major companies. There’s 3 HUGE expos in the world many aspire to go to that last for weeks at a time; New York City, Berlin, and Tokyo.
Sydney Australia and Atlanta Georgia also being very coveted to get an entry for hobbyist. Regardless, take a look around a bit more, there’s alot going on behind the scenes that’s actually a lot of fun. Most of these shows are small, but there is a very wide range of how big they can actually be depending only on local interest. Like anything there’s always the BIG LEAGUES!
2. People sell their bred fish to pet store directly.
This is so much more commonplace then trade shows. Every day people actually just breed their fish and go right into a local pet store and make a deal with the owner. Maybe they will trade for aquarium stuff, maybe they will take cash. Either way this is the more often then not scenario of where pet store fish come from.
3. The pet shop owner breeds his own fish.
This is also very common place. There might be a back room at the store for breeding fish, or they breed them at home in their basement. Either way it increases the pet shop owners profit margin to just breed the fish themselves then to buy it from someone else. Obviously, they have more incentives to do it themselves.
Did you also know virtually the entire science of Marine Biology is based on the aquarium hobby? The fact we know anything about fish in the wild really comes from little people, you never heard of, just observing and making notes of their pets. The aquarium hobby is not only the last largest small business market, it’s also the last truely independent scientific sector that makes up the entire field of marine biology. Most marine biology text books literally come from everyday hobbyist who love fish and love studying them. It’s very seldom you find “experts” who study fish in the wild.
It has been a LOOOONG time since the days of getting wild caught pet fish. Even back then it wasn’t on a very wide scale. As you can see just about any pet fish you buy is bred in captivity and, like your pet dog, wouldn’t even know what to do if they were out in nature. The environmental impact of the aquarium hobby is at the most minimal thing man has done to nature. Yet despite these facts, every day the hobby is under attack by environmentalist, most of whom know literally nothing about the industry. So I hope perhaps you learned something today.