Review: EcoReef UK – Part 1

On the back of news about an impending import of stunning wrasses we were thrilled to be invited to shoot EcoReef UKs holding facility in Barrow-in-Furness, in the UK’s beautiful Southern Lake District. This operation has been attracting a fair amount of publicity recently, partly down to their first import which contained, amongst others, some stunning and rare misbar Maroon Clownfishes.

 As a bit of background, EcoReef UK are a wholesale operation and currently the only European distributor of sustainably harvested Papua New Guinean (PNG) livestock. Collected by EcoAquariums PNG Ltd in collaboration with the Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Authority (NFA), this is sustainable, equitable and responsible fish collection at its very best. For a start, before collection even begins, extensive surveys of targeted reefs are undertaken by the NFA and Total Allowable Catch limits (based on scientific survey techniques, such as belt transects) are set for each targeted species in each collection zone. The collectors themselves (native Papuans) are also paid fair prices for their catch, which they gently collect with soft mesh barrier and hand nets. Maintained in low-density holding systems fish are given the best possible care in preparation for export with many being weaned onto pellet foods at this early stage. In combination, these measures give the reefs the ability to regenerate naturally, provide ultra-high quality stock and of course they encourage the indigenous population to nurture the reefs rather than turning to destructive methods to gather food. The import process itself is well thought out too, with carbon pellets maintaining water quality and temperature loggers providing an insight into the efficiency of insulation measures. At this stage mortality rates are being monitored to determine any patterns and to allow ‘bad shipper’ species to be removed from the capture list. In something that no other importer currently offers, all exported fish have a numbered tag attached to their shipping bag which follows that fish right through the supply chain. This tag enables the ultimate buyer to view their fish’s exact date of capture, capture location and even the fisherman who caught it by checking the number against published PDFs on EAs website. As well as opening the possibility of some stunning biotope aquaria, the fact that this idea is not only promoting sustainable collections but also actually ‘doing it’ gets our utmost respect.

With the promise of over 20 species of wrasses (including the stunning and rare Gold Nugget Wrasse Xenojulis margaritacea) plus a range of other PNG stock, we had high hopes for this shoot… and what we saw far exceeded our expectations. Based across 2 rooms, the holding facility currently consists of, in room 1, 35 tanks (36″x12”x15”) and 2 square 4ft 800ltr holding tanks which can hold larger specimens and/or baskets to hold large numbers of Perculas. All these tanks are tightly covered to prevent unnecessary losses from jumpers and orientated length-wise away from the viewer (this allows the fish to move to the back of the tank if they don’t feel comfortable being viewed, but in most cases fish seemed extremely bold and came to the front glass inquisitively). This set-up obviously works well and is expertly maintained by Dale Pritchard, Director of EcoReefUK. Another point of interest is that Dale feeds his stock exclusively on New Era pellets and flake. This is clearly giving the fish the nutrition they need, and preparing them well for a life in captivity. Dale explains “I feed my fish almost exclusively on New Era food. Some fish, such as predators, require dillies and others such as butterflies may need live feed such as brine shrimp to get them feeding initially, but we try to get all fish onto either flake or pellets before being sold on. We have however got a small Sargassum  Frogfish feeding on flake which was a real surprise! I had a long meeting recently with the guys at New Era. I am very impressed with their innovation, knowledge and desire to be the best. The knowledge and commitment these guys have is truly inspiring and I will definitely be working with them on nutrition for our imported stock and also the breeding programme.”

Moving into the second room we have the ‘guts’ of the set-up. This filter system consists of 2 large degassing towers, fluidised sand bed and 440w UV. Water volume is around 4500ltrs. There’s also another bank of 8 tanks (18”x12”x12”)  in this room, the most eye-catching residents of which is without doubt a stunning PNG misbar Maroon Clown which is destined for the breeding programme. Dale adds ““I will consider requests for ‘Unique’ maroon clowns, Leucokranos, Ornate and golden butterflies etc, but these will be strictly controlled and will only be sold to suitable homes and public aquaria.” Already in holding for a week, all the other fish we saw and photographed will soon be available at EcoReef retailers in the UK…. so basically keep your eyes open if you are in the market for something some high quality and very unusual livestock! If your local retailer doesn’t stock these fish yet, be sure to ask about them. If you really care about your stock, we are sure you’ll think these fish are worth their weight in gold.

Look out for part 2, due in a few days, where we go behind the scenes at EcoReefs UK breeding facility and get up close with some very rare clownfishes.

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