BOOK REVIEW Peter J. Unmack


Huntley, R. V. & Langton, R. W. (Eds). 1994. Captive Breeding Guidelines. Aquatic Conservation Network Inc. 62 pages.


The Aquatic Conservation Network's (ACN) Captive Breeding Guidelines consists of five sections covering philosophy, genetics, husbandry, health, and the way ACN breeding programs will be setup. It includes contributions from Peter Burgess, Rob Huntley, Roger Langton, Mark Rosenqvist, and Phillip Sponeberg. The purpose of the book is to establish some ground rules for implementing and running a species captive breeding program amongst aquarists. And while the ACN is primarily concerned with conservation, the principles set out are equally applicable to the long term maintenance of any fish species in captivity.

Section one: In Defense of Captive Breeding of Endangered Fish

In the general aquarium and scientific world many questions are raised against the use and effectiveness of captive breeding programs for conservation purposes. Unlike being just another philosophical blurb on why conservation is important the author tries to deal with specific points of contention. While I like the approach taken, I feel that some points could have been made stronger. For instance, no mention is made of the economic benefits of species conservation and the possible advantages, other than education, of saving a species even if it's habitat no longer exists and never will again. For instance, some pupfish live in the most extreme environments of any fish and have incredible survival adaptations. With sufficient study, these species may have uses within medical, biochemical, agricultural fields, etc with considerable economic and social value. The underlying message echoed throughout this chapter is that if a species goes extinct then nothing can be achieved. If the species is maintained in captivity, then there is always hope of getting it back into the wild one day. The role that hobbyists can play in preventing extinction is emphasized where ever possible.

Section two: Breeding for Genetic Diversity

This chapter begins by providing some basic though crucial genetic principles relating to captive maintenance and conserving genetic diversity within a captive population. Overall, this section is well thought out and written. An example of a captive program is given using Fundulopanchaz gardneri. A detailed breeding and housing plan is provided that would allow a high degree of genetic variation in the target species to be maintained. As the author correctly points out, it is most important to consider the life history traits for a given species before designing a breeding program. This is due to the fact that not all species are easily sexable, or some are group spawners instead of pair bonders, etc. Each case needs to be treated differently to ensure the appropriate number of breeders for the next generation are maintained. While an individual aquarist would be somewhat daunted by the requirements of the proposed program, it would be relatively easy to achieve as a group with the appropriate co-ordination (which is the way it should be undertaken).

Section three: Environmental Control

When I first read this section I thought there were a number of things I disagreed with. Upon reading it again I changed my mind regarding many things. Keeping fish in part of a breeding program has different requirements than just keeping fish for pleasure. For instance, the author is very wary of feeding wild collected foods as they are a potential source of disease. Now, how many of us have fed wild live foods to our fish? Many I would bet. For strictly conservation purposes with rare fish it may not worth the risk. This is just one of several good suggestions that require a slightly different approach to the way most aquarists do things. Good detail is given to various filtration systems and certain recommendations are made as to which are most suitable. However, I feel many aquarists would disagree with this section and stick with whatever filtration system they have. Have you ever tried to tell an aquarist to change their filtration system? Good luck. :-) Another area that is highlighted is the psychological environment of the fish. This is an area some aquarists fail to consider. For instance, how well do fish tend to settle into tanks where doors constantly open and close right beside their tank? Some will, but many will not. My only other complaint is the recommendation of keeping your fish in relatively constant conditions, i.e. avoid using water too different when doing water changes. However, how many fish experience constant conditions in the wild? The point is to make changes gradual, not to avoid change altogether. Overall though, the author does a good job on a difficult subject to write on in only a few pages.

Section four: Fish Health and Hygiene

This is a very concise and well written section. Good detail is covered in how to avoid introducing disease into a fish room through quarantine methods. An excellent summary is given for identifying the cause of the disease as to whether it is a symptom of poor environment or an actual disease causing organism. Other problems such as nutritional deficiencies, problems with live foods, and genetic problems are also well covered. Close attention is given to how to preserve fish appropriately to allow an accurate diagnosis of the disease. Basically, if at all possible a live specimen is best as it can be difficult to determine the cause of death in preserved specimens. The author suggests the use of formalin solution for preserving fish, however, he fails to mention that formalin is a known carcinogen. In addition, I doubt that many countries would allow you to send a specimen with small quantities of formalin via the mail. Serious consequences could result for the aquarist if caught sending formalin illegally. However, in fairness, the author does suggest investigating the legality of this before posting.

Section five: ACN Captive Breeding Programs

The final chapter outlines the human requirements of an ACN breeding program. This includes breeders, species co-ordinators, and studbook keepers. Criteria are provided that are to be used by ACN in selecting participants in any breeding programs. Importantly, an often forgotten aspect of conservation programs, research, is also given good coverage. In reality, we know so little about many of the fishes under our care, i.e. the effects of raising fish under different environments, alternative strategies for maintaining genetic diversity, ascertaining different aspects of a species life history, etc, etc. Overall, this chapter is an excellent starting point that anyone, or any group, could use in developing a breeding program with little, if any modification needed.


Seven appendixes are provided for the benefit of readers. They are as follows:


        ACN questionnaire for participants

        Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee (WCMC) studbook guidelines (AZA)

        Responsibilities of keepers of WCMC approved studbooks

        ACN affiliate club program

        Development of criteria for establishing new captive breeding programs

        The IUVN policy statement on captive breeding

        Glossary of abbreviations and Terms


These appendixes contain useful material that relates back to the various chapters quite well by providing further, more technical details of certain matters.


Overall, this publication provides a thorough overview of the procedures involved in long term maintenance in aquaria for conservation purposes. In addition to this, it would also be of interest to aquarists in general for solid fishkeeping techniques that would help in preventing common problems.


Reprinted from The Advocate, July 1996 Vol. 3 No. 3, the quarterly newsletter for Tropical FishKeepers Exchange USA, a captive maintenance study group.