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Steve Urick on the Role of Clownfish in the Modern Aquarium
The Nemo Fish Frontier

Steve Urick has always loved the symbiotic association that clownfish have with anemones, so it makes sense that his business,East Coast Ornamentals (ECO), provides five tank-raised clownfishes for retailers in the marine aquarium industry. Some people may wonder why the clownfish, made popular to the world by Disney’s animated movie “Finding Nemo” continues to dominate the saltwater aquarium hobby. Sure, clownfishes are generally hardy, easy-to-keep, personable fishes with big time beginner appeal, but are advanced aquarist as interested in them? To help us answer that question, Steve recently agreed to sit down and chat with Blue Zoo about the role of clownfishes in the modern aquarium hobby.

BZN: What species of clownfish did you first breed in the aquarium?

SU: Clark’s clownfish. The tank was a 30 gallon, with a Haddoni anemone.  The first batch of babies I lost because I was not trying to breed the clowns and was not prepared with rotifers, etc.  I was prepared when they laid the second nest, and was able to raise about 80 clowns from that batch. My wife and I were both captivated out these little quarter-inch clownfish swimming in a ball, and all wagging their tails like little puppy dogs! I was hooked, and wanted to raise other species.

BZN: So you moved on to which species next?

SU: False percula, true percula, tomato, and maroon clownfishes. Today we commercially offer all five to retailers.

BZN: So I know you downgraded from a 3,000-gallon shark lagoon, which took up your whole garage, to 40-someodd smaller tanks in part because you find clownfishes so appealing. As such, it seems you might have an opinion on the role of clownfishes in today’s marine aquarium hobby.

SU: Clownfish play a huge role in the hobby. Besides being “Nemo" and the gateway fish for many people, clowns also provide a colorful reef fish for people whether they have a nano cube, or a 300-gallon high-tech SPS reef. Also, the association and interaction between clowns and their anemone is something everybody should witness. Although "Nemo" may be a beginner’s fish, anemones are still not living and thriving for decades in most home aquariums. As the hobby advances, hopefully other species besides the bubbletip (E. quadricolor) will be able to be successfully kept long term on a large scale.

BZN: What about clownfish species?

SU: Well there are the "rare" clown species—at least rare in the trade—like the latezonatus, McCulloch, fuscocaudatus and the like. These clowns appeal to the serious hobbyist or “clownaficionado.”  Not to mention the overbarred clowns that are creating a market sensation. Love them or hate them, they are high dollar, high demand fish right now. A $300 snowflake clown is not your beginner clownfish!  

BZN: So in your experience clownfishes are and will remain a popular marine aquarium fish?

SU: Yes. I think I read somewhere that clownfish account for 43% of the marine fish trade.

BZN: Based on something you said a minute ago, I think I may know the answer to this last question, but what is the most exciting clownfish species with which you are currently working?

SU: Without a doubt the most exciting species we are currently working with is the overbarred variant of the percula clown. It is a thrill to see the little ones go through metamorphosis and very quickly start developing the unique and fantastic patterns. Eye spots, eye patches, sideburns, big blotches of white, or jigsaw puzzle pieces—they are all living works of art, created by Mother Nature, nurtured by East Coast Ornamentals.

BZN: Well thanks, Steve. We here at Blue Zoo are excited to have ECO captive-bred clownfishes both in our Collector’s Choice store and as regular inventory. Any time you want to come back and talk about clownfishes, please let us know!

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