Hello, Jason here. Over the years the aquarium trade has progressed to cater to the demands of consumers and to comply with the prevalent eco-issues at the same time. Now more than ever, consideration is also given to the impact the trade has on native populations and the integrity of stock. The livestock in the aquarium trade is increasingly supplied by breeders captive bred or captive raised fish. Some fish are bred for color, behaviors or another reason that makes them unique and interesting to the potential buyer. While this is good as it helps protect wild populations from being over harvested, it does bring up another problem that appears within the aquarium trade from time to time. Breeders are constantly trying to keep up with the growing demand for fish, so their methods may not always produce the best quality of fish. This is often most noticeable among Cichlids, especially African Cichlids, though some of the better known hybrids commercially available are derived from New World Cichlids.
Some breeders are more concerned with quantity and saleability that the integrity and quality of the fish they are producing for the trade. Hybrid fish result when two distinct species produce offspring together, sharing qualities of both species. Fish with physiological deformities may result as with Bloody Parrots, but at the very least, captive hybridization can obscure or pollute pure genetic lines that should be kept pure, from a conservation stand point. Defects can be small like an abnormal color pattern or body shape, or more advanced. Many hybrids will look very similar to one of the two species that it came from, but it may have unique coloration or slightly different shape. Some of these hybrid fish may never show any sign of distress as a result of their questionable lineage. Some hybrid fish are born sterile. Fish of poor breeding like this may have issues surviving or thriving in the aquarium. They may have trouble feeding or swimming, especially with tankmates that do not have similar disadvantages. If they do have a defect that is enough to effect these abilies, they will not have the ability to thrive without special attention in many cases. Some hybrids may also have difficulty in fending off disease.
Some breeders choose to selectively breed species, typically to develop or reproduce a specific mutation that occurs within a species, but is not found in the wild. These are often carefully bred for a specific result such as elongated fins or to enhance a particular color that some fish bear naturally to some degree. These fish still maintain their species integrity, but display more prominently the desired trait they were selected for. True conservationists may shy away even from these selectively bred variants to maintain the most naturalistic display possible, though color variants are usually more acceptable than hybrid fish.
Keep quality in mind when looking for a new fish for your aquarium. Reputable breeders take pride in the fish they produce, and are careful to breed good stock, with pure lines to preserve the integrity of the species they are helping to conserve. There are many breeders that selectively breed purebred strains that have brighter coloration and better health because the species lines are kept pure. These are the fish you want to look for to keep in your aquarium.
Until next time,