Two valuable catfish have been stolen from a specialist aquarium shop in Surrey.
The two Zebra plecs, Hypancistrus zebra, were stolen from the Guildford branch of the Maidenhead Aquatics chain while the shop was open for business. Although only a few inches in length, the attractive and sought-after fish are now virtually unobtainable due to import restrictions. They can sell for several hundred pounds each.
Store manager, Stuart Ashley told Practical Fishkeeping that the plecs were part of a group of four fish that had been kept at the shop for the past five years, in the hope that they might be able to persuade them to breed:
"We put one pair in a six foot sump tank and another pair in an 18" cube on our Discus system, with some small plastic pots for them to hide inside", said Ashley. "The fish used to sit inside these pots, so they would have been quite easy to pick out. We had two of the four stolen. The other two were down in the sump tank and the chances of them being caught out of there are pretty slim. You're going to be there for a while doing that, as there's loads of bogwood in there."
"Unfortunately, they used to be in the last tank in the corner of the shop. In retrospect, if it was a busy time, this would have been quite a vulnerable area. However, you don't really expect people are going to nick fish off you, so it wasn't really something we'd thought about.
Ashley said that the current rarity of the fish in the hobby had made them highly sought after, and many people had asked if they could purchase the fish, but the shop did not wish to sell them:
"We had lots of people asking to buy them. There was no price on the tank, so the person who stole them knew exactly what they were taking. We've got some stunning Scobiancistrus and Para plecs on the system, which are on sale for 80 to 100, but they were ignored.
"I was doing my best to build up a group of them, so I didn't have them up for sale. I had plenty of offers, though. I know there's a few people out there breeding them now and they're going for 150-170 each, but these are original wild-caught ones which we've had for five years or so. They've got to be worth a good 200 or 300 easily."