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Saltwater Fish Becoming More Popular Among Hobbyists


June 12, 2018

For the first time since the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has been keeping track, the saltwater fish category is growing. The most recent survey in 2016 saw an increase to 2.5 million households, up from 1.3 million in 2014.

One thing that’s always sure to bring excitement to the saltwater category is the introduction of new fish species.

“[The year] 2017 saw a number of new fish introduced to the hobby, as marine fish collectors are visiting increasingly remote tropical reefs in search of new and interesting aquarium fish, corals and invertebrates,” said Scott Rabe, director of marketing for Central Garden & Pet. “We saw beautiful anthias, several new species of fairy and pencil wrasses and even a new damselfish.”

The royal flasher fairy wrasse from Sun Pet is one of those wild-caught fish.

“I’ve only seen four or five come through our system, and it’s just a gorgeous fish,” said Steve Hughes, sales and marine manager at Sun Pet. This species joins a host of other wrasses, including pintails and dwarfs in a wide range of colors. “We try to offer a wide variety to make sure there’s something for everyone, in all price ranges. Some that are popular and more readily available, and therefore less expensive, are the Lubbocks and the solar fairy wrasses.”

Wrasses join a variety of fish that are popular because of their size, wide variety and compatibility with other fish and corals in a marine aquarium.

“Smaller fish are some of our top sellers, like the clownfish, gobis and wrasses,” said Elise Marsh, manager of Exotic Aquatics, which is based out of Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

Clownfish Growth

While wild-caught fish from sustainable, trusted sources are a mainstay in the saltwater category, captive-bred, tank-raised species continue to grow. This leads to greater availability for some types of fish, which lowers the price point. Another benefit is that, having been raised in captivity, the fish have a better chance of surviving in the home aquarium.

Clownfish remain one of the most common captive-bred fish, with the ocellaris clown leading the way. But many breeders have worked with selective breeding techniques to create designer clowns.

“There are fish with splotches, some that have squiggles within the stripes and some that have had the orange bred out so they’re solid white with orange fins,” Hughes said. “These designer clownfish have become really popular.”

Improved Chance of Success

There are some new products on the market, making it easier for novice hobbyists to find success in the saltwater category.

“The Coralife Fish Only Marine Kit is a great way to get beginners started in the saltwater hobby,” Rabe said. “The all-inclusive kit eliminates confusion and helps consumers overcome any anxiety.”

The kit includes a 29-gallon glass aquarium, a filter with a protein skimmer and phosphate remover pad, an LED hood, a heater, a thermometer, a hydrometer, water treatment products, food and a set up guide.

“When retailers sell products like this kit, guiding customers through the process of setting up and cycling the new aquarium, they get a chance to enhance the customer’s success rate, which gains their trust and helps cultivate them as a long-term customer,” Rabe said.

Improved filtration systems also help the success rate of saltwater fishkeeping. The Coralife Marine Filter with Protein Skimmer is an all-in-one accessory that helps keep the water clean and fish healthy. Tetra also has a new product, the Whisper IQ Filter with Stay Clean Technology, which utilizes smart features including a sound shield and other enhancements that prolong the life of the filter and allow reduced water flow for low-flow needs. The Stay Clean tablet releases cleaning ingredients over time that reduce build up on the glass.

Salt is another important aspect of marine aquariums. Seachem’s new Vibrant Sea is a concentrated sea salt that is unique in that it has no water in the dry components of the salt.

“The concentrated form allows you to make more saltwater from less salt,” said David Lee, northeast sales manager at Seachem. The product also contains enhanced levels of potassium, which has been found to intensify color develop ment in corals.

As manufacturers work to improve products and researchers find ways to breed more fish in captivity, retailers will see continued growth in the saltwater category.

“I certainly think the greater availability of quality marine aquarium products helps to grow the category as a whole,” Lee said. “Together with the ever increasing knowledge, that keeps driving the hobby forward.”

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