Garra rufa, commonly known as the Doctor fish, is a species in the Cyprinidae family native to the Sivas region of Turkey. It’s commonly used in the treatment of skin conditions including psoriasis, dermatitis and tinea pedis.
The first treatment facility with Doctor fish was established in 1917 in the town of Kangal, Sivas in Turkey. It was believed that the doctor fish cures psoriasis and thereafter the Turkish government built a hotel and started to host patients with psoriasis and dermatitis (eczema) in 1966.
As the popularity of the species increased, it was smuggled into Europe during the early 2000s. And more recently its use in spa centres has become very common in many European and Asian countries. Visitors touring the Wenceslas Square in Prague or Saint George Beach in Malta will see people dip their legs in small aquariums and the fish peck their feet and legs for a 15 Euro, five-minute treatment.
Since it has become a growing trend in Europe the production and culture of Garra rufa has grown even though there is very limited published knowledge providing detailed production protocols. What’s more, because of its commercial value producers don’t want to share culture methods and protocols they’ve developed independently.
In Turkey, Garra rufa was successfully reared at the Mediterranean Fisheries Research Production and Training Institute (AKSAM). Dr. Mahir Kanyılmaz and his team have produced thousands of Garra rufa and they are now working on developing feeding regimes and protocols.
I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Kanyılmaz and he kindly answered my questions.
“There are many studies on this species,” he said, “especially about its biology, reproduction time, and fecundity but no production methods have been published in literature, since it is a business secret and no one wants to share this valuable knowledge.”
The aim of Dr. Kanyılmaz’s project is to increase knowledge about Garra rufa’s reproductive processes and nutritional requirements and share this knowledge with amateur or professional producers.
He added that, “People who are conducting spa therapies with the help of Doctor fish in Turkey collect the fish illegally from natural stocks and soon this species will be endangered. Therefore, we have to teach people how to produce this fish in order to protect natural stocks.”
In this project the broodstock collected from the Sivas and Mesin regions in Turkey were transferred to RAS tanks in Antalya where the eggs and sperm were collected by stripping. After incubation Dr. Kanyılmaz said they “had over 90% hatching rate and started to feed larvae with Rotifer sp. and then Artemia nauplii during the first couple of weeks before starting formulated feed.”
After producing Garra rufa and establishing the production protocols and feeding regimes Dr. Kanyılmaz will start to produce Beni fish, Cyprinion macrostamus, which is a relative of Garra rufa, another doctor fish species in the Cyprinidae family and also a native species in Anatolia.
— Türker Bodur
Türker Bodur, Ph.D. is with Akdeniz University, Department of Aquaculture, Antalya – Turkey. After six years industrial experience, he has been working at the university, specializing in selective breeding programs and fish nutrition.
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