When the sequel to the popular “Finding Nemo” movie came out this summer, conservation biologists were worried that the same thing that happened to wild fish populations would happen all over again – demand for the clown fish species to adorn fish tanks would go up. That demand would lead to more pressures on fragile reef ecosystems where ornamental fish are taken from their natural habitat.
But this time around, the fish had the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research Center on their side. There, clown fish are being bred in an aquaculture environment, which helps keep native fish in their natural habitat while creating an economic boon for the aquaculture industry.
“One of the reasons this project is going so well is that is good for both the environment and for local seafood producers,” said Mike Schwarz, a Virginia Cooperative Extension aquaculture research specialist. “The demand is rapidly increasing for ornamental fish but we have to meet this demand in a sustainable way.”
Schwarz and other researchers at the VSAREC have been working with a number of aquaculture sector stakeholders from Virginia clear across to California to help them figure out the best ways to raise ornamental fish and their babies. Complicated, as the young of most marine ornamental fish, including “nemo’s” require live feeds in the early stages of life, a complicated process.
“At the AREC, we are developing a wealth of knowledge that producers can use to capitalize on this trend in ornamental fish,” he said.
Beyond the cute clown fish, VSAREC faculty and staff are trying to predict the next big demand for ornamental fish. Beside the tanks filled with clownfish are ones filled with other blue, green and purple fish, as well as seahorses bobbing up and down happily.
Who knows, maybe the next blockbuster will be Seabiscuit the Seahorse? If it is, Schwarz will be ready.