UMT MOOC: Ornamental Fish Culture - Topic 1: Introduction to Ornamental Fish Industry

Continue from the overview.

What is ornamental fish? As the word "ornamental" described as "decorative", any fishes that were breed as non-food source rather than cosmetic (form over function) or rarity can be considered as ornamental fish. For example, certain fish like Grouper can be cultured and reared as both food or ornamental purpose. Also, Albino fishes (mutation is genetic where the lost of coloration) are selectively breed and kept as ornamental fishes due to its rarity.

History of the Ornamental Fish Industry
The practice of fish keeping is believed to be started in Song dynasty. Colourful carp (the ancestry of  both Goldfish or Koi) were breed as popular aquatic pet in garden pond, a part of architecture style of Chinese garden. The fish keeping practice was spread to Japan in 16th century, and Europe in 17th. Only in 19th, the hobby of aquarium fish keeping experienced a surge of interest due to development of aquarium technologies especially the water temperature control system (e.g water heater). Thus, the primary market for ornamental fish is western world, which have higher purchasing power.

Economic Importance
In ornamental fish trading market, fresh water fishes covers 90% and marine fish accounts for 10%. In 2015, imports to EU countries, US, China, and Australia were around 78 million pounds. Although Malaysia was a top ten (7th in 2015) ornamental fish producers or exporters, it only contributes 13 million pound to the market value (compare to our neighbouring countries, our exports was relatively too small). This is why, most fishes in local aquarium stores were either rejected or secondary quality batch. Good quality fishes were already exported due to higher market value. If you want good quality fishes, might as well source directly from local breeders or fish farms instead.

Malaysia’s Ornamental Fish Industry
The industry was started around 1950s, mostly in Johore state and exclusively on collection of wild species. Only in 1980s, 18 farms were started in Johore and slowly expanded to 135 farms in Perak, Selangor, and Penang. Later on, in 1993, 336 farms and also aquatic farms in Johore. In year 1997, 400 farms have been recorded with 90% ornamental fishes and 10% aquatic plants. And in year 2016, there were 597 ornamental fish farmer and 11 aquatic plant farmers. It should probably expands to more states these days due to advancement of Interweb and logistic (transhipper).

Factors of Ornamental Fish Industry Development
What contributes to the growth of such industry in Malaysia? First, year long tropical climate and variety of tropical fishes found locally. Second, logistic infrastructure connecting different rural areas and especially those farms in Johore which are near to Singapore. Third, government supports through Department of Fishery Malaysia by conducting researches, initiatives, training, and funding. Just a side note, no all tropical fishes were treated equally, focus was on selected tropical fishes with high market values. Fourth, as mentioned, the close proximity to Singapore, which is Malaysia's largest importer.

Ornamental Fish Species
Interview session with Mr. Chew, the second generation of Chew Thean Yeang Aquatic and Pets store owner. His father started this tropical fish business since 1963 selling river fish, Guppy, and Tubifex Worms in 1965. (wonder how the tropical fish hobby looks like in those days?). The aquarium shop have been opened in Swatow Lane, GAMA Supermarket (1982), and later, independent shop lot next to Gamma Supermarket. They started exporting fish (they have their own fish farms) to Singapore in year 1997 since then, they expands this to Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, and others. In year 2004, they moved the main shop to middle of Georgetown. Like all aquarium shops in Malaysia, it became a one-stop pet shop stores with 50 thousands tropical and marine fishes (300 species) based on Europe advanced filtering system. (Not sure about filtering system here). Like all aquarium shops, these shops will evolve slowly to include other pets as well. Perhaps profit margins is higher compares to fish keeping. Cats and dogs do live longer and easier to take care of. According to him, best selling fishes are Koi, Tetra, and tropical fishes (didn't specify any names).

Below are the popular tropical fishes (categorized by group) from the slides. Not sure where is the source of data (there is no link to any source).

Cyprinids. Barb, Danio, Goldfish, Koi, Sharks, Rasbora.             
Cobitids. Loaches, Botia, Ghost Fish.
Cypinodontidss. Kili, Asst. Fish, Pleacotomus, Betta, Flying Fox, Blood Parrot.
Anabantids. Pelaga, Gouramy, Corydoras.
Poecilids. Molly, Guppy, Planty, Swordtail, Mino.
Characins. Tetra, Silverdollar, Putter Fish.
Cichlids. Angel, Oscar, Discus, Chichlid, Ramaresi.
Osteoglossids. Pearl, Arowana, Black Arowana, Silver Arowana, Rainbow Fish.
Callchthyids. Catfish, Suler Mouth.

Secondary Supporting Industry
This is how most aquarium shop or pet shop making money. As these products or services do not need high maintenance. For examples, tanks, aquarium accessory, pebbles, fish foods, fish plants, fish medication, water quality management, aquascaping, and transportation.

Problems Faced by the Industry
Several problems like first fish diseases, export facilities, uncontrolled production, and invasive species problems.

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