Ornamental (aquarium) fish farming business can be a self-rewarding and profitable venture for fishkeeping enthusiasts, hobbyists, and most likely, local fish farmers. An art and science, fishkeeping, accordingly, is the world’s most popular hobby after photography, no wonder many have already been engaged in even a small-scale home-based aquarium fish breeding business.
With my new-found fishkeeping hobby, I have been to various local fish stores – Pet Zone, Greenhills, where I had my glass aquarium and HOB filter; Cartimar, Pasay, where I shopped for aquatic plants, rocks, and other accessories; Pet World, SM Megamall, where I purchased a bag of fine sand; and, Bio Research, SM Megamall, where my African cichlids and other fish species came from. Well, I admit it’s a bit costly, but I see people, young and old, coming in and out of these stores. It must be a worthwhile hobby then!
On Saturdays at the nearest public market, there’s this middle-aged man who can be seen around selling betta fighting fish in plastic bags for PHP100 apiece. That’s actually more than a kilo price of tilapia or any other consumable fish! More surprisingly, rare platinum arowanas can even cost up to USD400,000 (roughly PHP20M). OMG! Okay, so wait a minute. How can we make money with these pricey ornamental fish species?
Global Ornamental Fish Trade. Involving more than 125 countries around the world, ornamental fish (over 60% are of freshwater origin) trade is a multibillion dollar industry today. In a 2016 study, it has been found that most of the ornamental fish is sourced from developing countries in the tropical and subtropical regions, where Singapore (ornamental fish capital of the world), Japan, and Czech Republic remain the primary fish exporters.
Equally, the trade at retail level accounts to over USD10 billion with an annual average growth of more than 10 percent, while the entire industry including aquatic plants, accessories, aquariums, fish feeds, and health supplements can be estimated to a whopping USD18-20 billion (The Global Trade in Ornamental Fish, 2016).
The Philippines, however, lags behind its competitive Asian neighbors in terms of freshwater ornamental fish breeding and exports. Yes, we mostly export wild marine fish (sometimes even illegally), but not ornamental freshwater fish due to erratic production. While most of our fish farmers are expert at breeding tilapias and bangus (milkfish), they have not seen yet the profitability of ornamental fish farming business. Take note, most ornamental fish species are somewhat 250 times the price of tilapia! What the heck?
What You Should Know Beforehand. Before you start your ornamental fish breeding business, you should have studied at least the basics. Well, you no longer have an alibi for not making a personal research as the web offers a density of helpful guides and tips on aquaculture. For instance, you can always check YouTube for credible video tutorials or read blogs about running the business. It’s also good to reach out to other local fish breeders and farmers, even fishkeeping enthusiasts if you don’t have any prior experience.
Usually, the success of an ornamental fish farming business depends on the location and layout of the breeding unit while adopting proper management protocols, especially that bigger facilities require at least an additional manpower. Hence, careful planning before starting the business should complement with a little serious research on the actual fish breeding details.
What Equipment and Tools You Need. Whether you decide on a big or small-scale startup idea, ornamental fish breeding typically requires water tanks (or even ponds for particular fish species), water pumps, filtration systems, aerators, lighting sources, and other usual fishkeeping tools.
While cement fish tanks can be constructed should you have enough space in the backyard, big aquarium glass tanks may also be installed in your spacious garage for a limited number of breeder species. Remember however that different ornamental fish species have different breeding space requirements. It’s good as well to start with a small-scale fish breeding facility and soon expand as the business and market demand grow.
Which Ornamental Freshwater Fish Species to Breed. Most, if not all, of the ornamental fish species popular in the fish trade are not endemic in the Philippines, however can be bred locally because of the ideal tropical climate. In fact, most of them simply come from neighboring Asian countries like Japan, Thailand, and India. Generally, ornamental fish species can be categorized as egg-layers and livebearers. Egg-Laying fish species popularly bred include dwarf gouramis, angel fish, danios, barbs, goldfish, rasboras, and tetras. Livebearers, on the other hand, are swordtails, guppies, mollies, and platies.
Likewise, all ornamental fish species are bred at varying levels of difficulty. For instance, discus fish are difficult to breed, but can earn you a healthy profit after their great demand. Angelfish, on the other hand, are easier to breed, but are not likely to gain a good price unless you pick a specialized coloring or finnage. Bettas are easy to breed as well, but you will have to specialize — for example, pedigree bettas such as koi bettas are highly desirable.
Where to Sell Bred Ornamental Fish. The Philippine local market for ornamental fish has been continuously growing with more and more Filipinos getting interested in the fishkeeping hobby. Not only that fishkeeping brings an aesthetically pleasing attraction at home, it also brings a lot of health benefits, i.e., reducing stress and lowering blood pressure among others.
Local fish stores (your prospective retail outlets) have been sprouting all around Metro Manila while online trade has been a recent trend among hobbyists with the popular use of social media. For instance, Cartimar Shopping Center, Pasay, a famous haven for pet lovers, can also be a perfect place for leasing a space for selling bred ornamental fish and other aquarium accessories. Lately, a few aquarium supplies and fish stores can already be observed in some big malls (e.g., Bio Research and Pet World in SM Megamall, Mandaluyong).
How to Sustain Your Ornamental Fish Farming Business. Like any other livestock farm, ornamental fish farming business may also result in unexpected capital losses brought by poor management practices, and even fish kill (disease attack). Notwithstanding, the success and sustainability of your ornamental fish farming business largely depend on you and your business mindset. You should develop long-term perspectives alongside your skills in financial management, marketing, communication and negotiation, project management and planning, and leadership. Of course, everything does not happen overnight.