Satisfying the Demand for Dorys: UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab Successfully Breeds Pacific Blue Tang in Captivity
A major breakthrough in saltwater aquarium fish reproduction took place at the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab in July, as Rising Tide Conservation announced that for the first time, Paracanthurus hepatus, widely known as the Pacific blue tang or “Dory,” was successfully bred in captivity.
Working in conjunction with the Oceanic Institute, which pioneered captive reproduction of the yellow tang just last year, Rising Tide Conservation and the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab replicated and applied similar methods to crack the code for breeding and raising blue tang in captivity.
The significance of this breakthrough is apparent given the surge in demand for Pacific blue tang expected following the release of the Disney-Pixar movie “Finding Dory” on June 17, 2016. The animated hit movie has generated over $800 million at the box office, raising concern over the exploitation of real-life Dorys, the Pacific blue tang, a highly valued reef fish found throughout the Indo-Pacific.
The blue tang, like many popular ornamental fish species, is supplied to aquarists solely through the capture of wild specimens. In fact, according to CORAL Magazine’s list of captive-bred marine fish, only about 12.5 to 15 percent of commercially available aquarium fish species have been bred in captivity.
Aside from its high demand due to the “Finding Dory Effect,” the blue tang was also a major target for Rising Tide researchers because of concern regarding local overfishing and destructive capture methods, such as the use of cyanide. While cyanide use in tropical aquarium fisheries is banned in most countries, it is still practiced in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which serve as major sources for US imported aquarium fish. This chemical compound is used to stun fish for easy capture, however, it also poses a deadly threat to coral and other organisms that share the blue tang’s habitat.
While there is still plenty of work to be done before laboratory-bred Pacific blue tang make their way into aquarium stores, captive reproduction of the species may eventually curb the use of cyanide and lower the demand for wild-caught blue tang.
Throughout the world, marine biologists are searching for answers to similar concerns regarding hundreds of other overexploited fisheries. According to the World Wildlife Fund, over 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits. With the human population constantly growing, especially in less developed parts of the globe, fisheries will continue to be a vital food source for future generations. However, with so many fisheries already exploited at or beyond their capacity, we are left to wonder how the world’s growing seafood demand will be met.
Aquaculture, the cultivation of aquatic organisms in natural or controlled environments, may be the only sustainable solution. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global fish production from wild capture has peaked at roughly 90 million tons per year since the early 90s. As demonstrated in the chart below, aquacultural production has also skyrocketed. While the field of aquaculture still has plenty of hurdles to overcome, organizations like Rising Tide Conservation and the Oceanic Institute have shown promise with their recent breakthroughs.
About the Author:
"August (Gus) Plamann is a South Florida native pursuing a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation at the University of Florida. With a background in sport fishing, he intends to focus his studies on fishery management, stock enhancement, gamefish biology, and marine habitat restoration. In his free time, Gus enjoys fishing, playing basketball, watching Gators football, and going to the beach whenever he gets the opportunity."