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Mommy, where do fish come from?

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

By Shawn Chase

“How about you do an article on breeding fish?”  I’m asked.  Hmmm, the breeding of fish? Really?  Where does one start?  How fun can this be?  Do I have to???  It’s not that I don’t care.  I certainly do, because fish are my life. It’s that there are too many things we could talk about.  So let’s see if I can have some fun with this…

First, there are freshwater fish and there are saltwater fish (you can put those brackish fish in either category for now). But for our purposes, let’s address freshwater fish first.

The majority of freshwater fish are farmed – reportedly 90%.  Lovely little farms in Florida, California, Thailand, Philippines, the Amazon, everywhere!  Happy little fish frolicking and living the good life. The buggers breed like no tomorrow. In a few circumstances they can come from a lovely tank just down the road from your independent fish store or from your local fish club.  If you want to breed freshwater fish, two bits of advice:  Do your research and Google.  (I realize this could be the same). Research what you will do with those 50 angelfish, guppies, cichlids, mollies, etc., before you go through the expense and time of caring, loving, feeding, housing and yes, culling of your new aquatic children.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  If you really want to give this a try, go for the unusual or more challenging.  I would love a local discus breeder.  And my best coryadoras comes from a wonderful local breeder who has put much time, energy and money into breeding some of the most unusual community aquarium catfish around.

Now the polar opposite. SALTWATER…

Tank bred saltwater livestock has come a long way, and it continues at a wonderful pace.  Unfortunately, the majority of what you see in most fish stores is wild caught.  I will try not to discuss the ethics of this, although this is difficult. Once again, if you have or desire a saltwater tank, please research what you purchase first, so that you are able to make a responsible and ethical decision.

There are currently 233 species of saltwater fish that have been tank bred.  Some of those are a one-time deal.  There are approximately 90+ species that are bred routinely.  Unfortunately, the majority of those fish are mean little demons that I would only put in an ocean-sized tank. So, little by little, we make our way to success.

We are fortunate enough to have a company in Tennessee, Sustainable Aquatics, that subscribes to the same principles and standards as I do and as do most saltwater enthusiasts.  They sell saltwater fish that are tank bred or tank raised so that we have healthy fish that are already adapted to tank life, resulting in lower mortality and/or illness.  Thanks to them, and so many other marine biologists and passionate hobbyists,  we continue to make the marine aquarium industry a more responsible and ethical representation of what I believe the majority of us are; stewards of the aquatic life that we want to preserve and enjoy. I have friends who have bred seahorses and numerous other saltwater fish.  It is a learning experience like no other – demanding in all aspects.  However, if you love fish, and you love our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans, we must continue to learn how to preserve them. We’ll address preservation in the next article.

Shawn Chase has been the sole proprietor of Mountains to Sea Aquariums in Asheville for 31/2 years.  She describes her business as a boutique fish store dedicated to doing the right thing for both fish and customers. Reach her at



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