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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The IFGA At A Crossroads; Can re-evaluation of standards and adherence to goals stave of demise?

The IFGA At A Crossroads;  Can re-evaluation of standards
and adherence to goals stave of demise?

© Alan S. Bias
Permission granted for nonprofit reproduction or duplication of photos and text with proper credit for learning purposes only.

May 26, 2015

Schim. Plat Big Ear Red Mosiac, courtesy Sathu Damkham

First and foremost let me state the following thoughts and opinions are not intended as a direct criticism of the IFGA (International Fancy Guppy Association) or its officers past, present or future.  I simply state as a request to IFGA membership and officers for consideration based on personal observations and interactions with member breeders, based on active membership in the association going back over 30+ years.   Having supported the intended stated purpose of the IFGA through uncountable show entries and positive writings on its behalf; based on a general understanding of the genetics found within modern Domestic Guppies.

Simple economics is often blamed for declining membership, interest, entries and attendance at IFGA shows.  To a degree this is not only true today, but just as true yesterday in the heyday of the IFGA.  No one can deny that income of the average working American has not kept pace with inflation over the last fifty years.  To quote an old saying, “Where there is a will there is a way”.  The truth can often be found when personal preferences are put aside, and an open mind is used to look in other directions.

Interest in Domestic Guppy breeding in the US and worldwide has never been greater. Interest in raising and showing under aged and static IFGA standards, and more importantly associating with the IFGA has never been lower.  A simple fact is evident;  not many breeders wish to raise traditional IFGA delta guppies.  The IFGA has set itself on a pedestal and a common feeling is expressed among non-affiliated young breeders of inaccessibility.  Not towards breeders in general, but the association as a whole.  Most long-time IFGA breeders are very generous with both their time and stocks when genuine interest is perceived.

IFGA leadership is to be commended for their efforts as voluntary officers.  Many of whom have served numerous terms over many decades.  But herein lays the paramount ongoing problem.  That being lack of recruitment to replace them.  Leadership has been primarily comprised of individuals whose primary interest is in breeding and showing to existing standards.   To many it appears these “senior members” lack the ability to take notice of modern breeder interests and evolve towards them.  For those who take offense being referenced as seniors, this will mark my 46th year breeding guppies in my own right.

Metal Moscow Snakeskin, courtesy Mk Khaw

A check of any large animal pedigree breed association shows that common practice is for an officer, outside of clerical positions, to serve several consecutive terms to be replaced by prominent new breeders in good standing.  Over the last 30+ years of my membership, the IFGA has a negligible history of recruiting and retaining experienced new members.  Those with not only new ideas to foster the association, but also put effort into putting on shows.

Currently the IFGA maintains a declining and very small footprint in the overall scheme of World Guppy breeding.  Yes, our standards have created a stable population of delta strains recognizable world-wide.  Yet interest in them by non-members continues to decline in favor of new and diverse stable phenotypes created through both genetic understanding &/or trial and error breeding’s.  Rather than acknowledge and attempt to understand the genetics involved in their creation, they are often labeled as “inferior” to IFGA stocks.

X-link Schimmelpennig Royal Platinums,
courtesy Carl Groenewegen

  A willingness to understand strain genetics will often reveal “genetic limitations” that can preclude adherence to existing IFGA standards.  Does this make them inferior?  Not at all.  It just makes them different.  Yet, successful IFGA breeders have and will continue to quietly incorporate European and Asian advances into their gene pool to compete at sanctioned IFGA shows.

Current IFGA standards seek to produce a “perfect” fish in a limited number of solid patterns, halfblacks and snakeskins set to a single delta body type.  It has reduced the IFGA gene pool to a homogenous state through ignoring and culling much of the former diversity found in past genotype.  Attempts at creating "provisional" classes have been geared to failure with short time frames allowed, while retaining existing classes no longer viable.   It took several decades for the IFGA to finally come to terms with declining interest in a former staple of Domestic Guppy breeding;  the Veil Tail.  In the end multiple veil classes where combined into a single class, as they should be.  If in the future interest decrees, veil classes can again be expanded.

While many new phenotypes found worldwide are considered inferior or unstable by IFGA criteria, it should be remembered that many IFGA classes can only be maintained by “compatible” breeding schemes used to create or preserve them.  In essence, many classes are supported by the product of outcross from within existing lines; a result of genetic limitations imposed upon phenotypes found worldwide.  These same genetic limitations can also preclude development towards current IFGA standards.  Yet, they can be “perfect” within themselves.

Section 2.1 - Purpose
2.1.1       To promote interest in, and scientific knowledge about guppies
2.1.2       To promote interest in guppies through exhibition and the distribution of information

Somewhere along the way during the last 50 years section 2.1.1 of the IFGA constitution fell by the wayside.  Focus has been near exclusively oriented to section 2.1.2; exhibition.  Either we fail to distribute our genetic knowledge or we do not understand it.   A check of IFGA archives and publications will show articles have primarily dealt with “how to produce a show guppy” under existing static strains. 

Breeding Domestic Guppies for most is about color, pattern and finnage.  As breeders our interests will change over time.  Not all breeders find the traditional “IFGA body type” of interest.  To quote one of my prior articles, Each of us is bound by our narrow focus on not only how we describe a quality guppy, but the breeding technique(s) we use to obtain them.  If a breeder is not careful self-imposed limitations may hinder our interpretation of accrued knowledge from all sources and its possible uses.  To further compound events as breeders we often do not document results of our crosses very well. Breeders should consider the possibilities as they present themselves.  In example; a cull is not just an individual who fails in expectations.  You can still learn from it.  Did it come about from crossover or simple recombination of alleles?  Worse yet, will a gene complex inhibit your desired goals or is a form of gene regulation preventing it?”  Our standards were formulated towards delta tails with little understanding of than current or newly discovered genetic limitations.  Nor, did they take into account the possibility of newly developed colors, patterns or fin types.  Worse yet, they failed to consider future interest and improvements to old established finnage types.  The latter being forced into extinction within the realm of IFGA breeding's.

Grey Full Platinum Roundtail, courtesy Dede Law

Just as a breeder can impose limitations on progressing a breed program, so too can narrow breed standards impose limitations on breeder interest by failing to allow an avenue in which to show results.  Much of the current interest in breeding modern Domestic Guppies results from the vast amount of genetic knowledge garnered over the last several decades.  At the time IFGA standards were contrived this knowledge was as alien as Buck Rodgers to an Elizabethan Englishman or Appalachian hill farmer.  No one is at fault, yet current interests and genetic understanding needs to be acknowledged.  There exists a vast array of diversity in color, pattern, finnage type within established breeding programs, and the breeders have no outlet to show it under IFGA auspices.

 Leopard Snakeskin, photo courtesy of Akrawat

It is time the diminishing ranks of long-time breeders and limited recruitment come to grips with a single fact. Blatantly stated:   IFGA fish are no better than the top end entries at European or Asian Shows. IFGA fish simply meet IFGA standards, and often would fail to place under another standard. Preference to adhere to or not adhere to IFGA delta standards is a personal choice. It does not signify higher status upon another set standard, unless you choose to breed toward it.  Nor, is it a reason to alienate other breeders, such as myself, who express diversity of opinion, show and promote the IFGA, wish to become members of the IFGA, or are members of another Guppy association.   There is little need to compare in a derogatory manner entries in overseas shows against IFGA standards, unless you wish to incorporate their genetics into an IFGA breeding program.  It is OK to openly acknowledge the accomplishments of our brethren breeders in the World Guppy Community without negative comparison.

I recently received an email from a breeder with decades of success breeding betta and killifish.  In excerpt he stated, I always wondered why I wasn't excited about my fish. I would purchase eggs from all over the world…  …place the eggs in water and it would be just like a miracle with all the fry appearing from the moss. VERY EXCITING. The fry would mature and I would breed my new killies to get my own eggs. My own eggs would hatch and grow and there they were more fish that looked exactly like their parents. Deja vu. …the next generation, Deja vu all over again. Breeding became boring for me with no chance to create.  …[now] I only have guppies in my fish rooms. I do not have any other fish. I have been breeding for IFGA standards and the fish are beautiful but..... And then you [Alan S. Bias] said it "IFGA standards make little allowance for diversity, creation and genetic understanding". I love my fish but I also enjoy being able to create, maybe even more. It is very exciting to be able to watch a new genetic cross mature into fish that you are the first to see and if you are successful, that's the most exciting of all. What I don't like is being criticized for doing this type of breeding and sometimes feeling like an outcast in an international club that I love just as much as any other member. 

Albino Ginga Merah, courtesy Kanlaya Suknipitporn

A common observation of member breeders at Asian show is the comparative age of hundreds of individuals in attendance each day who have no entries entered.  The majority are reported to be under the age of 40 with a majority well under the age of 30.  IFGA show attendance is often limited to a few dozen individuals, often retired, who have entries, help with the show are required for judging. While we should continue to welcome “retirees” within our ranks who have renewed their former interest in guppies, emphasis should be geared towards recruitment of those youngsters who have the urge to create modern domestic strains.  Not simply re-invent the wheel by maintaining those of old.

The IFGA is at a critical crossroad.   The loss of a dozen active breeders could cripple it.  The loss of two dozen active breeders would signal its demise, or at least that of an 8 to 10 show circuit.  Not only do these individuals provide the bulk of show entries, but also the serve as judges, officers and manpower putting on shows.  To continue along our current course geared towards the showing of aged standards will not increase recruitment of new breeders in it for the long-haul; 3-5 years if not 5-10.

A complete evaluation of our current standards geared towards modern strain and phenotypical interests is needed.  Correlated with efforts to make ourselves more accessible, not only as a pedigree breed association, but as breeders in general.  Only after we as breeders come to grips with our own shortcomings can the IFGA as an organization follow suit.  Are we on the right path?  It would not seem so.

Magenta Red Albino, courtesy Krisztian Medveczki

Failing to formally acknowledge with minimal sponsorship & funding the 18th WGA show continues the IFGA down a road to self-instituted isolation and oblivion.   As a pedigree breed association we recently missed a tremendous opportunity to positively advance our image on home ground.  This at the insistence of a few individuals enamored in their own static interpretation of what constitutes a modern Domestic Guppy.  Yet those of moderate interpretation in leadership roles are just as at fault for not further pursuing.   

But there is still a dim light shining, the number of prominent long-time IFGA breeders indicating planned attendance at the 18th WGA show continues to grow, as does that of non-aligned and overseas breeders.  An opportunity exists to see those diverse phenotypes found on the internet in person.  More importantly, for those breeders who will persevere and remain in the hobby for an extended period of time exists an opportunity to develop personal relationships with your counterparts around the world.

At this very show sponsored by the World Guppy Association ( one of the founding fathers of the IFGA, Stan Shubel, will be honored with a Lifetime Award for his dedication, contributions, and longevity in the world of Domestic Guppy breeding.  I plan on honoring him with my attendance.  Hopefully other IFGA members will put aside their personal and political differences by doing the same…


Is The IFGA Sustainable As A Guppy Organization Geared Solely To Delta Caudals With A Single Body Type?

5.29.15 Addendum in response to both positive and negative feedback received.

Comparison of the WGC and IFGA is nearly the same as Apples to Lemons.  It’s not even close enough to consider Oranges.  The WGC is simply an administrative attempt at bringing breeders together with acknowledgement of worldwide Guppy associations at (inter)national levels and their member clubs who host WGC annual shows.

If you wish to be realistic a comparison between the IFGA and IKGH should be made. 

The IFGA has 24 male delta tail color classes of a single body/caudal/dorsal description (Red, Blue, Green, Black, Purple, Yellow, AOC, HB Red, HB Blue, HB Pastel, HB Yellow, HB Purple, HB Green, HB AOC, Red Bicolor, Blue-Green Bicolor, AOC Bicolor, Multi, Solid Snakeskin, Var. Snakeskin, Red Albino, AOC Albino, Gold, Bronze).  2 Swordtail classes (Single & Double).  There are 9 female classes (Red, AOC, HB AOC, Blue-Green, Gold, Black, HB Red, Bronze , Albino).  There is one Veil class (combined).  NO OTHER caudal, color/pattern, finnage trait known to exist in fixed strains is recognized with a class for entry.  IFGA Master Breeder criteria is based on and geared toward delta class and BOS placements, with value for same in swordtails valued at 1/4 the point value.

Our European Counterparts in the IKGH have recognized classes allowing for:  10 base body colors, 19 body colors / patterns.  Each can be shown under the following 12 body/caudal/dorsal descriptions;  4 broadtails (Fan, Triangle, Veil, Flag), 4 Swordtails (Double, Top, Bottom, Lyre), 4 small tails (spade, spear, round, pin).  As I understand more are being considered.  Even so, this is still a limited fraction of the diversity of “fixed type” strains found in breeder tanks around the world.
The average number of entries at any given IFGA show is between 500-600 entries.  This includes duplication from single and pairs within the same delta classes.  The IKGH at last check was running in the 400 entry range.  Taking into account the number of shows on the IKGH yearly circuit the overall number of yearly entries between the IFGA and IKGH is minimal.

The IKGH currently recognizes 25 or more active clubs in Europe.  Membership likely exceeds IFGA.

The IFGA currently recognizes 18 active clubs.  Of which several are token and for the most part inactive, and two are outside US borders.   IFGA active membership is static at just over 180, which includes overseas members in the 18 clubs.  Many of these members do not show or are senior emeritus who no longer actively breed.

Of the 180 paid IFGA members, 23% (percent) or 42 individuals took all 140+ First – Fourth placings in the overall 2014 Class totals (Novice / Junior / Grand totals are not considered as not representative of any set class).  They range in age from 15 – 80+.  The average age of these 42 individuals is just at 60 years of age.  One individual is 15, 2 are 35, 2 are 45, and the remainder are well over 50 years of age (ages averaged to nearest 5 year increment).  Over half of these individuals have been active in the IFGA for 30+ years.

Between 8-12% (40-45+) of entries at an IFGA show are represented by the sole non-delta classes (Single and Double Swordtails).  These numbers are sustained by 2-4 breeders.

Based on solely on Swordtail entries how much interest in breeding to IFGA standards and recruitment of younger individuals could be gained from an evaluation and broadening of classes without the constraints of a non-pointed two year probation test period?

In twenty years the majority of the 42 IFGA members active in 2014 will no longer be around.  Is the IFGA sustainable geared toward a single body description and delta caudal as an organization past this time frame?  Attrition vs. recruitment & retention over the last two decades says likely not…

The Michigan Guppy Breeders Show is June 6-7, 2015:  One of our premier IFGA shows and a strong host club.  Show your support and promote your breeding program by taking the time to send some entries.  Better yet, find the time to take them yourself.  This will be my first personal IFGA show attendance in quite some time…

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