Asian bred discus
By Stephen Soo

Asian bred discus are sometimes subject to criticisms and there are occasional articles that pass very negative and general comments on Asian bred discus. These comments are for most part, by disgruntled hobbyists, who had undergone bad experiences with dishonest breeders or even outright cheats. Some of the negative comments however came from "jealous" breeders who are envious of the success that Asian bred discus seem to enjoy. It is very unfair to make general accusations and not substantiating these accusations.

We are not in defense of all Asian breeders as we know that there are breeders from Asia who had caused disrepute. These breeders, not only from Asia but from any part of the globe, need to be exposed to protect discus enthusiast from becoming victims of these dishonest breeders.

Aquadis wishes to give our views on the issues below and this article is not intended to offend or criticize any party. We apologize unreservedly if this article has caused offence to any party(ies) and we would like to state that the views expressed here is strictly our views and we welcome other views. The main purpose of this article is to place the situations of Asian discus in proper light and to offer alternative opinions on some of the issues that had been raised.

The issues commonly commented upon may be summarized below :

1. Asian discus being susceptible to infections or carrier of disease(s)
2. Implications that Asian discus do not breed true
3. The use of hormones or artificial coloring agents by Asian breeders
4. Unscrupulous or dishonest breeders

1. Asian discus being susceptible to infections or carrier of disease(s)

Before we talk about susceptibility to diseases one should realize that all living mammals and fishes have in their bodies a mixture of faunas, that in simple term, meaning they have in their bodies a mixture of good and bad bacteria's and other microorganisms. In the case of the discus the common microorganisms present are the cappilaria, spironucleuas (Hexamita) and intestinal parasites like worms.

Aquarium fishes by the very nature of their environment is living under "stressful" conditions. However having mentioned this one, one must not forget that fishes raised in aquariums will generally be able to tolerate more of the "aquarium stress" compared to those caught in nature and then confined to the aquarium. Another point most often overlooked is that in the water itself there are bacterias and fungi & fungal spores unless one is using sterile water or water produced by very good filters or RO units.

Coming back to the balance of good and bad bacterias, a healthy fish will generally not exhibit illness even when they have with them the bad bacterias or even other parasitic microorganism. However under severe stress like bad handling causing physical damage or poor water quality be it insufficient oxygen or chemical toxicity leading to deterioration of water quality, the fishes may succumb to the infections (both bacterial in origin or otherwise). Long transportation itself causes considerable stress.

Then there is the issue of different faunas in different countries. This means that for bacteria's alone, the strains of bacteria's (good & bad) found in a healthy discus in country A will probably be different in country B. Even in the same country the strains of bacteria's in different locations may vary. This is why fishes from different locations and more so from different countries should NOT be mixed until a certain period of time. Quarantining newly acquired fishes is a habit aquarist must perform. It would be better to treat the quarantine fishes as a matter of routine practice and then introducing the new fishes to the water that is normally being used for the other fishes. Only after a period of quarantine which we would propose to be at least two weeks (preferably more) can we mix the newly acquired fishes with the older fishes.

We suggest that fishes under quarantine should be treated routinely for a period of 5 days with Metronidazole (preferably added into fish food), formalin, methylene blue and a wide spectrum antibiotic (like the later cephalosporins eg cefuroxime or the quinolones eg perfloxacin). We mentioned these group of antibiotics because the oral forms are available and are preferred to be added into the fish food. If antibiotics are not readily available, the use of potassium permanganate in small amounts may be useful. After this period of quarantine the fishes will begin to adjust to the new fauna populations in their new set up.

If the fishes are not properly quarantined and prepared or worst still if the newly acquired fishes are mixed with the existing fishes, we are then mixing up the different faunas and exposing the fishes both the newly acquired ones and the existing ones with "new" strains of bacteria's and/or other microorganisms. Depending on the health and resistance of the discus, and the "stress" conditions mentioned the infections may or may not manifest. Remember that infections generally means that there is an overgrowth of microorganisms. In other words there is an upset in the normal balance of good & bad microorganism with the bad microorganism gaining an upper hand.

This may explain why hobbyist who are purchasing fishes from other countries may experience infections problem with their imports. If more problems are apparently encountered with Asian Discus it is probably due to the fact that Asia exports a very large quantity of discus and other tropical fishes compared to others. There are so much more non Asian purchasing from Asian breeders than vice versa.

2. Implications that Asian discus do not breed true

Accusations that Asian discus strains do not breed true is often exaggerated and misplaced. There are so many Asian "made" discus that do breed true. The blue diamonds, the famous goldens, the ghosts the red angels & the pigeons can all breed true just to name a few. If a new strain do not breed true it is simply because the new strain is not fully "clean" or developed yet!!

An understanding of genetics is important in this area to appreciate why some discus strains are yet to breed true. One must understand the theory of dominant and the recessive genes in genetics to delve in this subject. We are not touching on the topic of genetics as this is a very large topic to go into. In any case we are sure for those who are interested many articles can be found in the Internet or other library sources.

Another point which we would like to mention is that Asian breeders seem to be able to come out with more newer strains because they are willing to experiment especially with inbreeding which may be frowned upon by many other breeders. Nevertheless inbreeding experimenting is also picking up with many non Asian breeders. Some say that the future in discus is to raise discus from the wild bred only. This could not be further from the truth as otherwise the newly created Asian strains would not have fared so well. We dare say that the several new strains developed over the last decade had injected a lot of life into the discus hobby. Even well known discus figures are dealing a lot with these new strains. We would not say that the future for the discus industry lies with the creations of new strains but nevertheless discus keeping has become more interesting and exciting with these new strains.

However we do believe that too much inbreeding can "weaken" a strain and we do encourage breeders to cross breed the new strains with the wild discus. Firstly this can act to introduce new genes to the stain. It can also "strengthen" a strain, so to speak, in genetic terms. Moreover cross breeding with the wild strains can also lead the breeder to newer strains like the spotted variety of the different existing new strains. Cross breeding may also see breeders develop new color forms or better body or finnage or eyes.

3. The use of hormones or artificial coloring agents by Asian breeders

Firstly it is wrong and grossly unfair to assume that only breeders from Asia uses hormones or other coloring agents. It is even more erroneous to think that only breeders uses these substances. The various discussions that had taken place especially in the Internet's various forums/lists had revealed that SOME breeders from ALL OVER THE WORLD use this substances. Many good breeders do not use these substances at all, especially the hormones, but some wholesalers and retail outlets, like the pet stores, use them in their effort to produce vibrant colors so that they could be sold off much faster. However it is inadvertently the breeders who get the bad name!!

It is generally agreed that hormone using is bad because it causes physiological changes. The usage of artificial coloring substances are also not very well received. However there seem to be general acceptance to the use of natural coloring substances like the Canthaxanthines and the Beta Carotenes which are all Vitamin A precursors and are naturally available in shrimps, some fishes and animals & many colored flowering plants.

In any case it is not so much the use of these substances which angered the aquarists or hobbyists but the fact that the usage are not made known to them that is causing the resentment. We thus have no negative comments for breeders who admit to the use of these substances. In fact honest breeders like them should be appreciated.

4. Unscrupulous or dishonest breeders

Here again it will be very unfair to make generalizations or to imply that all Asian breeders are not trustworthy.

As we had pointed out before, there are so many fish breeders in Asia and the bad practices of some should not be generalized less the genuine ones are affected by such general comments. In Malaysia alone there more than 600 discus breeders. So if you take Asia or even S.E Asia alone, the number of discus breeders run into thousands. Of course not all are professional breeders and many are just hobbyists who also breed for recreation and for pocket money. Nonetheless out of these thousands there are bound to be many "bad apples".

If we know of breeders or even traders who resort to bad practices (be it in Asia or otherwise) by all means be specific and expose them so that others are forewarned. Then we should also, in the name of democracy, offer the other party a chance to state their side of the story as the saying goes, "there are two sides to the coin".

We have to mention this because we know that there are many people who wanted to purchase quality fishes but are not willing to pay the prices that such quality fishes can command. In our case we cannot entertain such purchasers. However there may be others who may accept such orders on the assumption that the purchaser/s should know that each product has its value. Controversies may develop later over quality which in the case of live fishes are a very qualitative matter. This point is especially important for purchases made without actually seeing the fishes first like in mail order or Internet order. Our advice to hobbyist is just this, "You get for what you paid". If you do not get for what you paid then you have a strong ground to complain. Here again we hope the complaints and comments are specific and NO GENERALIZATION please.


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