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Aquatic Marketplace: From Farm to Afar

Posted: January 27, 2014, 12:10 p.m. EDT


Discover what’s new with wild and bred freshwater fish.

By David A. Lass

Although thousands of aquarium fish already exist, new ones are discovered constantly. This feature covers best-selling and new freshwater fish, animals from the wild that have just been introduced into the hobby and the latest creations by fish breeders in Florida and the Far East.

Best-Sellers
The best-selling fish and invertebrates are the old standbys, said retailers, importers and distributors.
 
"The freshwater market, while always changing, is just not nearly as subject to fads as the marine trade and hobby,” said Mike Tuccinardi, marketing director for Segrest Farms Inc., a fish wholesaler in Gibsonton, Fla. "Because of this, it will always be dominated by some of the ‘classics’—common tetras, livebearers, mbuna and the like.”

Retail stores echoed that trend.

Freshwater Fish
Sherri L. Collins/I-5 publishing at Safari Pet Centre

"It’s always the basic bread-and-butter fish that sell the best,” said Brent Mills, owner of Aquatica, a 400-tank store in Montreal.

"Tetras and barbs are probably our best-selling fish, and our water is liquid rock, so that limits to a certain extent the fish that do well for us and our customers,” said Amanda Kiviniemi, whose family owns Animal City Pet Centers in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Another retailer recalled the saying, "everything old is new again.”
 
"It’s all about finding fish that were common a few years ago and are now hard to find,” said Adam Marquez, co-owner of 7 Seas Tropical Fish in San Pedro, Calif.

Specifically, lamprologine shell-dwellers from Africa, he said, and many of the "L-number” plecos, and especially the true zebra pleco. Private breeders are now stepping up and producing some fish that were popular a few years ago but then were simply not around, he added.

Glofish continue to be big sellers, Tuccinardi said.

"This last year saw the introduction of three new varieties of Glofish,” he said.

Stores that stock Glofish benefit not just from the sale of the fish, but also from the complete tank setups and accessories specifically marketed for them, said retailers.

"The Glofish tetras are one of our best-selling fish,” said Brett Varnum, co-owner of Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H. "I recently had one customer who spent $80 on a complete Glofish setup.”

"Glofish are great sellers for us, especially with our water conditions,” said Kiviniemi.

New From the Wild
New fish coming into the industry from the wild add color and spark, said retailers.

"As the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi become more accessible to collectors, we have seen an influx of fascinating species imported from this region,” Tuccinardi noted. "New halfbeaks, wild betta species, the beautiful samurai gourami and some incredible inverts have been some of the more notable imports from the area.”

Other large importers gave similar reports.

"In addition to the islands of Indonesia, Burma and India also have been bringing new fish into the industry,” said Harold Cheng, owner of Always Quality Aquatics in Los Angeles.

Cheng imports fish from all the sources in the Far East.

"The problem is consistency,” he said. "They might have some great new fish from India, Burma or China that come in for a couple of weeks, and then they are no longer available.”

Livebearers are available in a sometimes overwhelming variety (the list from Singapore this week has nine pages, two rows each page, of guppies, swordtails, platies and mollies).

"There are some new young guys in Florida who are producing excellent livebearers,” said Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets in Quincy, Mass. "They have the deepest true-red velvet swords that I have seen for many years, and gorgeous sanke swordtails.”

Designer bettas—new types with high price tags—are becoming very popular, Richmond added.

Shrimp and How to Market Them
"We usually will have 10 to 15 different shrimp available each week at $1 or less,” said Harold Cheng, owner of Always Quality Aquatics in Los Angeles. "We also have some of the newest varieties for a little more.”

Most stores have found that the best way to market shrimp is to display them in small tanks right at the checkout counter. Here’s what they had to say about what sells best in their stores.

"My shrimp sales are growing by leaps and bounds. I try to carry a good variety, including flowers, Amanos, orange, fire red, red cherry and yellows.”—Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets in Quincy, Mass.

"Our best-sellers are Amanos, cherry reds, red fires and yellows.”—Brett  Varnum, co-owner of Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H.

"Crystal reds, cherry reds—anything that is red at a good price point—that’s what sells for us.”—Brent Mills, owner of Aquatica in Montreal

"We sell a lot of crowntails, half moons and ‘dumbo angel wing’ bettas at prices ranging from $10 to $15,” said Varnum of Laconia Pet Center. "We also sell nano tanks for bettas that include a small heater; bettas are not really happy at ‘room temperature.’”

New From the Breeders
The problem of new fish coming in from the wild and being very popular but not being very available is usually solved by commercial fish breeders, primarily in the Far East and Florida, industry insiders said.
 
"We’ve also had several fish species that traditionally have been sourced from the wild or from farms in the Far East move to Florida production, which is exciting,” said Tuccinardi. "Some notable examples include the red-spotted or ‘super red’ gold severum and the black ghost knifefish.”

Another example is the roseline shark/Dennison’s barb. When this fish first hit the hobby, demand was incredible, and rumors began that the source in India was exhausted. Not only was the rumor false, but breeders, especially in Singapore, soon began producing fish commercially. Another fish once considered "difficult” but now available in many varieties is the discus.

"We have found that there are two keys to selling and shipping good discus,” said Cheng of Always Quality Aquatics. "We don’t ship the smaller sizes, and we ship each discus individually bagged. This has made a huge difference for the retail stores and distributors that are our customers.”

As new and rare fish from the wild are introduced into the hobby, breeders strive to improve the colors and hardiness of the fish.

"Blue variants seem to be very popular,” said Arjan De-Zwart, vice president of Ruinemans Aquarium Inc., a large importer and distributor in Miami. "Just take a look—electric blue rams, blue dempseys, electric blue Acaras—the hobbyists are telling us what they like.”

"The most impressive fish for us in 2013 has been without a doubt the electric blue Acara,” Tuccinardi said. "We were the first to import these into the U.S. this past summer, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Small versions of larger fish are being introduced and are enjoying considerable popularity.

"Even though they are a little pricey for the size of the fish,” said Varnum of Laconia Pet Center, "the small freshwater pipefish and the dwarf pea puffers are becoming very popular.”

The appeal of nano tanks continues to be very strong; one reason is because there is now a good selection of small fish available, he added.

"As it stands, I would estimate 90 to 95 percent of all freshwater fish in the trade are now commercially raised,” Tuccinardi said. "We are at an interesting juncture where we find ourselves as an importer looking at wild fisheries in a different light than was the case a decade ago. We’re now making a more conscious effort to support some of these fisheries, even if we don’t ‘need’ the fish in a sense. There’s a growing realization that should some of these artisanal, low-volume ornamental fisheries collapse due to lack of demand, the communities which the fisheries support will be forced to turn to other (often much more destructive) means to make a living.”

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