Limitation Shattering: Captive Bred Yellow Tangs finally a reality!


October 2oth, you were probably just going about your day as if nothing had changed. You went to work, came home and went to bed. You had no idea that something world-changing happened for the marine world. The very first captive bred Yellow Tang was born, and you didn’t even know it. You may be asking yourself why this is such a big deal, or what makes it worth calling this a world changing event. It is because this isn’t just another fish we can receive captive bred. This is not just a species first for this fish, nor is this just a genus (Zebrasoma) first, but this is a familial (Acanthuridae/Surgeonfishes) first in aquaculture; This is a huge accomplishment in marine study!

Chatham K. Callan, or Chad, PhD., was the project leader and is director of the  Affiliate Faculty & Finfish Program at theOceanic Institute of Hawaii, is a humble man that credits the entire team: Renee Tousse, Dean Kline, Erin Pereira, Aurora Burgess, Randall Scarborough, Emma Forbes, & Blake Thompson with the success that most certainly was not produced overnight.

Rumors of breeding successes with this particular species are often brought about in Asia, however, they have always been missing the proof, including photos to use for evidence, which are required to proof any of these claims. In reality, only claims were being brought about, and very minuscule, if any documentation was brought about to back them up. Rumors brought about in this manner are constantly dismissed as issues of optimism and translation woes. That is to say, a researcher’s definition of “successfully bred” might actually mean they were born but… they did not live very long.

It is hard to explain just what a big a deal this success is for the aquarium industry, due to the long awaited nature of this break-through. There have been many rumors about “captive-bred” Tangs and other species similar to them over the years that were folks that confused the tank-raised Palette Surgeonfish, or Paracanthurus hepatus, aka Blue Hepatus Tang, Regal Tang, Hippo Tang, or most commonly known now as “Dory” from the film Finding Nemo, for being captive-bred. These fishes are spawned by wild parents and collected for rearing in tanks and are often routinely labeled into listings focused on other captive-bred fishes. This causes more confusion with common marine trade terms “tank-raised” and “captive-bred”–which many consider to mean the same thing, when in fact they’re not.

Now, plenty of documentation and years of work put into the culture of these Tangs by researchers in Hawaii have finally brought solid proof to us!

Syd Kraul, part of that groundbreaking Hawaiian Team from the early 2000s, of Pacific Planktonics, had reported success in attempting to rear the Yellow Tang back in  2004, and held the record of the longest period of survival for the Tang, at 42 days post-hatch since late 2005 / early 2006. That record stood for a long time, until 2014, I believe, when OI finally broke it.

Multiple efforts in the U.S. have been flirting with the ability to  succeed in the captive-bred Tang Dream, for as long as over a decade, Hawaii being a strong focus for the culture of its state’s favorite native reef fish, Yellow Tang, for a long time. In 2014, Callan noted that “Research on culturing Yellow Tangs began at the Oceanic Institute [OI] back in 2001 around the same time as initial, exciting breakthroughs were achieved with dwarf angelfish.”

Sustainable Aquatics has one of the more well-known private efforts focusing on Yellow Tangs in Tennessee, with large broodstock aquariums that are home to many tangs. The most noteworthy being the Red Sea Purple Tang, or Z. xanthurum, which  is one of their target species. They are also working with P. hepatus, and about one year ago some fascinating facts discussing larval feeding were shared by John Carberry at a local Minnesota event.

Rising Tide Conservation made both Z. flavescens and P. hepatus  focus species back in 2011, and Yellow Tangs were added to broodstock tanks at the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory (TAL) at the University of Florida in late 2011. Recent updates suggest that the survival of P. hepatus to 15-20 days post hatch is now almost a common occurrence at TAL.

When it comes to the private hobbyist efforts, the most notable is that of Darren Nancarrow, Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI) participant and an Australian hobbyist. He has possibly reared P. hepatus at home as far out as 60 days post hatch, all documented online at the MBI as it happened.

These are just the highlights, and MASNA’s Palette Surgeonfish Program web page offers extensive details on the efforts of aquaculture firms, researchers,  and individual hobbyists, all pursuing the same goal. It’s certainly worth a read and now it will soon be getting an update in it’s future!


What’s next for Tangs?

It’s difficult to say where we go now. Just because something incredible has happened, doesn’t mean that the doors have opened completely. This was a 14 years in the making project, and it would be far too presumptuous to say that by this time next year the world will be flooded with captive-bred surgeonfishes and tangs.  Captive-bred angelfishes took some 35 years to become a commercially viable reality if we consider Martin Moe’s earliest documented successes, and even to this day, only the most high-value species are produced with any sort of regularity. It could take another 20 years, just like it did with dragonets. We just need to stay patient and be waiting eagerly to add this beautiful fish to our collections. It may be a few years that we will have to wait to see these incredible fish swimming in tanks at our homes and in other marine lovers homes as well, but at least now we can say there is hope that this is a near future. It is an incredible discovery that we are all going to be looking forward to the next big break-through this team will bring us!