I was nodding in agreement the entire time I read this blog post entitled "Cruelty in the Aquarium Industry." Bizarre as some of the claims may sound, they are all 100% true. And a big factor in why I eventually chose to switch to freshwater tropical aquariums over saltwater.
Almost all saltwater fish sold for the consumer trade have been wild caught (sometimes called "F0"). There are very few exceptions. When I was into the hobby, only three species were captive bred (or "F1"): percula clowns, tomato clowns, and blue damselfish. I see that there are almost a dozen species which you can buy captive-bred, although it looks like you have to order them direct from the breeder.
All the rest of those beautiful saltwater fish started out their lives on the coral reefs in the actual ocean. They were then caught and shipped to the store for purchase. This is why saltwater fish are so expensive - it's not a cheap process!
The high cost of saltwater fish also covers their losses. I'll spare you the chemistry talk, but saltwater fish are much more delicate and harder to ship. For every fish that survives to be sold, several others died.
Aside from the cruelty issues, I take exception to the idea of swiping fish from the coral reefs. Reefs are one of the planet's most delicate and endangered ecosystems. I think it's wrong and short-sighted to be capturing animals and carrying them away for sale. If you ask me, this should be viewed the same way we view the capture of rainforest species - as illegal.
By comparison, there are very few freshwater tropical fish which are wild caught. To my knowledge, the only species which is regularly wild caught is the gold tetra. Gold tetras get their color from their interaction with a parasite in their native territory. Since the parasite cannot be effectively reproduced in captivity, all gold tetras are wild-caught.
Cardinal and Runny-nose tetras used to be exclusively wild-caught, but breeders have been having success with them in recent years. These delicate tetras are now often captive-bred, which not only reduces the cost and the environmental impact, it also gives you a much calmer fish. Cardinals and Runny-nose tetras are notoriously shy and flighty, but their captive-bred counterparts tend to be better adapted to life in a living room.
Wild corals are even worse, ecologically speaking. As delicate as the coral reef's ecosystem is, we should not be ripping up giant chunks of it to sell to aquarium stores! If you want to run a reef tank, I cannot emphasize enough that captive bred corals are the way to go.
And painting, injecting, and tattooing fish with neon colors is just revolting. If any practice in the tropical fish industry should be banned, that's it. "Neon glassfish" and "Painted glassfish" are appalling, no doubt about it.
So far as I know, tropical fish are the only animals which are subjected to this kind of thing. It's not like they're selling painted or wild-caught gerbils at PetCo. Hardly seems fair, doesn't it?
Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user Bolivar Sanchez