Net Pen Raised Seahorses

By: | Date: 03/17/2010 | 5 Comments |
Seahorse Cages

Seahorse Cages at Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.

(reprinted with permission from:

“Pen-grown ponies can thus be risky for the hobbyist because of the circumstances under which they were raised. In essence, a mesh barrier is all that separates them from wild seahorses. There is no guarantee they will be disease free. Although many of them learn to accept frozen Mysis, there is no guarantee they will eat frozen foods since they are often accustomed to foraging for live prey. There is no guarantee they will be able to adjust to aquarium conditions since they are essentially raised in the sea. There is no guarantee that they are even captive bred, since the pens are not secure and livestock is introduced and removed from the pens and lagoons on a continuous basis. There is no guarantee they will be friendly and sociable rather than shying away from their keepers, since they are unaccustomed to the human presence. Pen-raised ponies are particularly misleading because they are almost never advertised as such — they are typically called captive raised or even captive bred seahorses, which can lead the unwary consumer to assume that they have been painstakingly raised using intensive mariculture techniques and rearing protocols. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

quote from Pete Giwojna

Some of you are new to seahorses, and you may be wondering, “What’s the difference between  True Captive Bred and Tank Raised/Tank Bred/Net Pen Raised?” These terms are very confusing, even to your local fish shop.

A  True Captive Bred, or CB for short, seahorse has been bred in captivity using thoroughly pre-filtered seawater (UV and/or ozone sterilization) or synthetic seawater in enclosed, sterile systems. Most are bred in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Europe. (Australians were the first to successfully breed seahorses.) These seahorses have proven extremely hardy, easy to breed, and long-lived. They are trained to eat frozen mysis shrimp before sale, which makes them easy to feed. They receive more attention from their breeders and have less incidence of disease than Net-Pen Raised seahorses and wild caught seahorses.

Wild Caught seahorses are notoriously difficult to keep. All seahorses are on CITES Appendix II, and this has limited the distribution of WC seahorses. They rarely eat frozen foods, and must be provided with live foods for life. They most often come with parasites and other diseases that are difficult or impossible to treat.

Net Pen Raising seahorses was invented by Amanda Vincent, a seahorse expert in the scientific realm who openly disagrees with keeping seahorses in aquariums. People living in tropical climates where seahorses are harvested (like the Phillipines) for the  Traditional Chinese Medicine Trade started noticing that seahorse numbers were decreasing rapidly. Net Pen Raising was invented to give those people an alternative to catching them in the wild. Instead, they catch the juveniles and raise them in net pens in the ocean. This method is much more productive and relieves pressures on wild seahorse populations. Most net pen raised seahorses are sold in the Traditional Chinese Medicine trade. Literally Tons, thousands and thousands of pounds. The seahorse sales generated by the aquarium trade pale in comparison.

In recent years, some fish breeding facilities in Asia have started using this method to breed Kelloggi and Kuda seahorses for the aquarium trade. However, the Net Pen Raising method was invented for seahorses that ultimately were going to be fed to people. The quality and lifespan of the seahorses was not a concern. Tank-rasing methods based on Net-pen raising methods produce similar results.

The exact net pen raising methods vary, but in general, the seahorses spend all or part of their lives in the net pens in the ocean  or  in tanks with unfiltered natural seawater. This exposes them to the same bacteria and parasites that plague  Wild Caught seahorses. They are often overcrowded and have weakened immune systems. Then being shipped halfway across the world weakens them more. Some seahorse breeders claim that Net Pen raised seahorses are less hardy than Wild Caught seahorses for these reasons. Not even the experts in the seahorse community have been able to keep most Net Pen raised seahorses for longer than a few months. Browsing the emergency forums will produce many threads related to Net Pen raised seahorses.

Net-Pen raised seahorses. Photo Courtesy of SEAFDEC

Net-Pen raised seahorses. Photo Courtesy of SEAFDEC

Breeding a seahorse using natural seawater and mostly natural foods from the ocean is really inexpensive. A Net Pen raised seahorse normally sells for about $30. A True Captive Bred seahorse from a breeder in the United States sells for at least $60. Most people tend to buy the Net Pen raised seahorses only to learn later that these seahorses cost more in the end when they add up the costs of medicine and replacements. Over the past few years, many private seahorse breeders have gone out of business, partly due to the fact that they can’t compete with the prices of Net Pen raised seahorses.

Some Things To Know and Ask When Buying Seahorses:

“Tank Raised” and “Tank Bred” are terms most often interchangeable with “Net Pen Raised from Asia.” Most places that sell True Captive Bred understand the need to differentiate and call them “Captive Bred.” However, some retailers still incorrectly use “Captive Bred” to mean “Net Pen Raised” or “Tank Raised.”

When you go to your local fish store and see a cute seahorse, don’t buy it right away. Ask questions. It is important that your local fish store knows where the seahorses came from. Don’t buy them if they came from Asia. If your retailer doesn’t know what CB facility the seahorses come from, they probably came from Asia. They should come from a reputable facility such as ORA, Seahorse Source, or another facility in the U.S., Mexico, or Canada (or Europe or Australia if you’re from there). Never buy Kelloggi seahorses, these are always Net Pen raised. As far as I know, no one is breeding them in the U.S. Never buy a seahorse that is identified only by color. This is a red flag, as they are identified this way by wholesalers getting the seahorses from Asia. They will most likely change color in your aquarium, anyway. Also make sure that the store keeps their CB seahorses seperate from their WC pipefish and seahorses to prevent disease and parasite transfers. If your local fish store sells Net Pen raised or Tank Raised seahorses, give them the address to so they can be educated to better serve their seahorse-buying customers.

Chances are, your local fish store does not sell True Captive Bred seahorses. They may be able to order them from ORA or another reputable facility for you (make sure they call you as soon as they come in so they are not acclimated to their systems first). You can also order them from This is the most reputable seahorse retailer on the internet, probably in the world.

Some conservationists are concerned that Net Pen raised seahorses are bred in some locations where they are not the native species. This could have an effect on native seahorse populations there due to hybridization with escaped fry. Also, the waste produced by net pen raising pollutes these habitats.

Postclaimer: In no way am I implying that I think the Net Pen Raising of seahorses should be stopped. It is better than wild harvesting and the lesser of the two evils. I am simply recommending that these seahorses not be purchased for aquariums, as they are of lesser quality. If the aquarium industry stopped buying Net Pen raised seahorses, it would have little effect on the Net Pen raising industry, because the TCM trade purchases them in the TONS. I just think it’s best to keep these “feeder seahorses” out of our hobby!

5 Responses to “Net Pen Raised Seahorses”

  1. John Says:

    Very good take on it all.

    My only LFS that I have to use for some things had the ole “captive bred” SH’s for sale, ummmh NET raised, and your right guess what the price was for these (tank,captive,whatever) um 30 bucs.

    Please people do buy true captive bred and save your heart some pain.

  2. Sea Horses Says:

    Thank you so much I will be sure to follow these down to a T!

  3. Craig Says:

    i have a service company that service salt water aquarium, do you guys sell sea horse

  4. admin Says:

    We do not sell seahorses here. However, you can take a look at our seahorse source page: and check out the hobby seahorse breeder list here. There is also a list at the Seahorse Breeders Registry.

  5. Craig Says:

    what kind of sea horse u have

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