Coral Magazine’s Marine Fish Survival Poll…Our Thoughts


Coral Magazine LogoWe all remember the rantings of Robert Wintner (aka Snorkel Bob), describing how terrible he perceives the aquarium industry to be. The crew at Coral Magazine, along with the help of Bob Fenner, have taken the lead on the rebuttal against Snorkel Bob’s diatribe and have shared their response in a number of ways. Their follow-up to the now infamous “Dark Hobby” article, titled Distortions in Snorkle Bob’s “Dark Hobby” Commentary, was well received by the aquarium community. This opinion piece by Mr. Fenner seemed to set something off in aquarium hobbyists around the world. From my vantage point, the Fenner response seemingly empowered many casual hobbyists to take a strong stance and develop their own opinions.

Since their response to the “Dark Hobby”, Coral Magazine has also released a poll to gauge what aquarium hobbyists, professionals, and scientists think about Snorkel Bob’s article. I took the poll, and my responses fell in line with those of other hobbyists for the most part. The one thing that surprised me though, was how many people claimed their new fish typically lived three years or more (see question #2). I disagree that 75% of all of the new livestock purchased by these poll takers lives longer than three years. In case you are wondering how I came to this number, I added up all of the results for 3, 5, 7, and 10 year lifespans.

Continue reading below to hear our opinions on the Coral Magazine poll, as well as our thoughts on the hobbyists taking the poll.

The reason I disagree is from sheer personal experience. I have worked for both public aquariums and aquarium stores, and in both cases over 50% of the new livestock died in a very short time. Keep in mind the emphasis is on the “new” term describing these fish. New livestock is quite prone to stress, starvation, parasites, and diseases because their immune systems are compromised and they have probably been through several days of transporting across the world. Additionally, the simple act of catching a fish can lead to its demise, especially since cyanide is still being used to some extent.

I’m not trying to claim that poll takers lied in their responses, so please don’t make that assumption. However, take a look at the audience following both the poll and magazine. Most casual hobbyists don’t care or aren’t interested enough in the hobby to subscribe to magazines, read internet articles, or join aquarium communities. They have lives, families, and jobs that take precedence over their aquariums and the animals suffer because of this. The readers of Coral Magazine are probably from the more advanced sect of the aquarium hobby, and are therefore better suited at caring for their livestock. They have better livestock selection skills, as well as overall husbandry techniques.


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  • Agreed. I have and continue to place the mortality % around 90% in our hobby. I wrote a brief response on the link you provided. Thanks for the info!

  • Andy

    "I’m not trying to claim that poll takers lied in their responses"

    Fine, be spineless and leave the heavy-lifting to the commenters: Most people in the hobby lie about their livestock survival rate. It's the only way to stay in the game, complete honesty is financially and ecologically soul-crushing. Get hobbyists talking one-on-one, maybe with a beer or two for social lubrication and the truth comes out… most store-bought livestock doesn't make it past two weeks in the tank. Healthy local livestock (say from another hobbyist's tank) should easily beat 50% survival, but most livestock drop-shipped "fresh" from the ocean or (even worse) from a local distributor <spit> is Dead Fish Swimming.

    Don't even get me started on the validity of self-selecting samples and internet polls…

    • just trying to not ruffle too many feathers =). i completely agree with both you and mike though.

  • DrStrange

    I'm sorry to hear people's experience with this 50% number. I've kept fresh and saltwater for a combined 20 years or so and I've spent a couple years working in an all-saltwater fish store.

    Since we're all taking our own anecdotal experiences and trying to extrapolate to everyone else from them, let me just say that based on my experiences, if you're getting anything significantly less than 100% survival you're doing it wrong. I'm speaking of my experiences receiving livestock from wholesalers and dealing with hundreds of customers at the LFS, my own experiences as a hobbyist, as well as all the online reading of others' experiences that we all do.

    If our store and our suppliers are really *that much* better that what everyone else has access to, then our hobby surely is doomed. I just don't think that's really the case.

    "…lies, damn lies, and statistics.."

    I think we almost always get fouled up when we try to look at statistics – it's less than a half step away from magic. And that's when it's done right, which is virtually never. Almost no poll you've ever heard of – here, on the news or other media – is conducted in a manner that makes its results actually meaningful.

    The poll results and "extra math" that are up in the article are not meaningful. 🙂 Seriously.

    My perception (from working at an all saltwater store) is that there are a scant few inDUHvidual customers (<1% I'd say) who can't keep shit alive – for whatever reason. The high prices of the hobby weed these people out thankfully fast. Again, this is in my experience.

    On the freshwater side, AFAIK almost all the livestock is farmed, so it's cheap – no impediment to the "black thumbs" of the world. OTOH, they're farmed not wild-caught.

    If we could shut PetCo (yes, just PetCo) out of the marine hobby, I bet the overall hobbyist failure rate (aka livestock death rate) would zip really close to 0%. (Sorry, PetCo.)

    If I were feeling uppity, I might go so far as to say any "general pet store" should be banned from the marine hobby. I just don't see how it's a practical possibility to BE GOOD at the entire realm of saltwater fish and/or invertebrates… well as rabbits, geckos, turtles, dogs, cats, parakeets, spiders……

    Having said that, I don't think things in "the real world" are really as bad as presented here – at least not my part of the world. For all our sakes, I hope they're not. 🙂

    • great comments drstrange. i absolutely agree to the "anything significantly less than 100% survival you're doing it wrong" statement, but in my experiences from working at a saltwater only store and being hyper active on the local aquarium forums for years, people in this area at least are losing quite a number of fish and on a regular basis. i've seen it in the large aquarium forums too. but i'm also certain that in some areas the aquarists are a lot more successful.

      all the numbers depend on how vocal the hobbyists are. some people stay out on the fringe, never communicating with other aquarists. others are very active on reef forums and have the facebook mentality…they share too much info. and then you have to factor in the lies, which people will do regularly.

      • DrStrange

        First I will add the thought that fish are harder to keep than corals (for many reasons) – more people should be encouraged to start with corals IMO.

        To your comments: Indeed. A scary (to me at least) alternate angle is…what about all those jokers ordering all their livestock online now because it's "so much cheaper"? And to make matters WORSE online suppliers usually offer a guarantee. I'm gonna name drop because there's one that's so much bigger and well known –….

        I know from a consumer perspective that sounds nice, but I can only image that it encourages bad trends. (e.g. Who needs acclimation? It's a pain! What's a hospital tank?)

        At least concerning wild caught specimens – which are still the majority of animals sold – I'll say this: they should be expensive, there should be significant risk to the consumer (aka no guarantee). in other words, if one doesn't have the discipline to save a few bucks, nor the knowledge/wherewithall to keep something alive for more than a short amount of time, I don't think one should be in this hobby. 🙂

        That's my opinion.

        • i actually sort of agree that fish are harder to keep than corals. of course this would depend on the coral and the fish, as well as the equipment available to the aquarist. i think this stems from the fact that many corals have a tendency of doing better during shipping, which is extremely traumatic to fish. i also somewhat agree with your theory about the guarantees. the guarantee may have the unintended consequence of promoting bad behaviors on the aquarium keeper's end. though liveaquaria is doing it only so that you feel comfortable in purchasing their product. they are confident in their livestock and they want you to be as well. i've taken advantage of the live arrival guarantee, as a few brittle stars and serpent stars i ordered from them when i was first getting into the hobby arrived in terrible condition. starfish don't ship well anyways, but that's really beyond the point. i guess to offset some of the bad behaviors, i know liveaquaria promotes all sorts of things like proper acclimation and quarantining. i think they even send "how to acclimate" documentation along with every livestock purchase.

  • saltwater and marine fish that have been fully acclimated to aquarium life. All marine fish are tanked for a specified period of time for acclimation, in proper water parameters, under specific conditions to allow the easiest adaptation to aquarium life