Lots of people have the idea of breeding fish to sell on, financially some are aiming to supplement their hobby. Some are looking for some pocket money, and others have grand visions of real profit. In reality, many people have great breeding success with the wrong fish – fish which are either easy to breed and easy to move on but have very little value commercially, or fish which may be slightly trickier to breed and hold a better value, but are hard to move on because the demand just isn’t there for behavioural or aesthetic reasons.
If you want to breed a particular fish because it appeals to you or you want to raise awareness etc. that’s great and should be encouraged. But, if you’re looking for some profit, we’ve got a few suggestions here – but don’t give up your day job.
Let’s start with a reasonably easy target. For Dwarf Cichlids, I’m mostly thinking about Apistogramma spp (concerning value). At £25 - £50 per pair, they won’t set you back the earth to get broodstock, and their needs are quite simple. An average 75cm tank, air run sponge filters, a heater-stat, some terracotta flower pots and some leaf litter, wood structures or plants are what you need - nothing too tricky or expensive.
They like their water soft and at least slightly acidic. It’s best to buy a small group to start with and wait for a pair to form. Condition them with frozen and live foods and if they are stubborn, try mimicking the coming of the rainy season with a cool and soft water change.
Realistically you’ll need to hatch your own Brine Shrimp to feed the free-swimming fry, and they’ll need regular feeding and regular water changes. It takes a fair while for the fry to get to a saleable size and showing some colour which is one of the reasons they hold a stable value.
With the concern of weakened and muddled genetics occurring through mass production of fish, there is more value in F1 and F2 fish (denoting how many generations they are away from wild parents). So, if you can get your hands on some wild broodstock, it immediately adds value to the offspring. This is true throughout the hobby, but the main demand seems to be Rift Lake Cichlids (where genetics can get confused more easily).
The trick here is to settle the broodstock well. They will want their natural water parameters replicated and, at least initially, tank furniture should be familiar for them. The size of the tank and tank-mates will depend on the species, but spacious would be the target for wild fish. They may need tank mates as dither fish, for some confidence-boosting but these will need to be quick, robust and large enough that they won’t become dinner and gentle enough that they won’t upset your newly captive brood stock.
Discus have always held a high value, partly because of their timeless beauty but mostly because of the difficulties of breeding them. It’s expensive to set up a breeding project for Discus. For a start, you’re looking at multiple tanks for growing on and maybe separate tanks for broodstock, high-quality water conditions, Brine shrimp hatching equipment and a dear food bill. If you happen to have ideal water coming out your tap, it’ll cut out a large bill for RO water (or an RO unit, and water bills) as many water changes are needed.
The rise of the European tank bred Discus has boosted the market over recent years, as they are happily kept in harder and cooler water conditions, compared to wild fish or Malaysian farm-bred individuals. So, for best desirability obtain European broodstock. This boom has knocked prices slightly, but it’s also opened up the market.
They will be dear to purchase. If you want a mature, proven breeding pair you’re looking at around £180-£200 – for basic colour variants. Buying a group of smaller, immature fish and hoping for a pair to form would take an awfully long time or possibly a pair would never form.
You won’t need to plough as much money into the set up as you would with Discus, but Zebra plecs are still tricky to breed and nurture the young. Water quality is of utmost importance, and softer conditions are preferred, so again, RO costs or collecting rainwater will be necessary for most of us in the UK.
They aren’t the most productive of fish – laying around 15 eggs per batch.
Another issue is the cost of broodstock, but the bonus of that is the sale price –regularly seen at £150 in the shops, a sale of upwards of £90 is realistic.
Other Hypancistrus species are worth considering also.
Common Clownfish have been commercially tank bred for many years now, and hobbyists have success with them too. There are two ways of looking at breeding Clowns. At £25 in the shops the normal, common clown has a reasonable value and, as far as marine fish are concerned, they are easy to breed with good sized batches (up to 1000 eggs), so the numbers game works.
The other way to do it is to breed your own strain. So many variations of Clownfish are now available, and the value can be much, much higher than the natural strain with Picasso and snowflakes doubling the value and some variants pushing past the £100 barrier. If you can develop a viable unique variant, you’re in the money. This one is about following trends, and this trend is still current.
Now here’s a demanding target. Breeding Tangs is aquaria is not the norm, until recent years we thought it impossible or next to, but it’s been done now, so it is possible. Getting them through the early planktonic period is the real challenge – providing the right plankton foods in enough volume while keeping water quality high.
The thing that makes me include the humble Yellow Tang is the sudden rise in cost. Due to bans and pressure being put on wild marine fish collecting and trade tariffs, we have seen Yellow Tang values go from £35 to over £100 in the last few years and more tariffs may be on the way. There’s also the thought that if you can breed yellow Tangs, you could probably breed even higher value Tangs, and you might make some money out of writing articles about your success too.