10 ways to make money from your fishkeeping hobby

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For many of us, the hobby can be a one way, relentless black hole for cash. Fish, hardware and fuel all add up. Nathan Hill looks at a few ways you can reclaim some of that expenditure.


1. Breed fish

What a no-brainer. Except, everyone seems to get this one wrong.

Don’t try to go for bulk breeding on things like guppies.  In the UK, you simply cannot compete with the prodigious efforts of far eastern, Czech and Israeli farms. If it’s a common species, someone’s producing it cheap, and exporting it to the UK already.

Be careful of boom and bust fish. Don’t assume that because a fish has just arrived in the UK for the first time, and it’s costing £100 a head, that you’ll make fortunes breeding it. Chances are, plenty of others will be thinking the same as you, and before you know it the market will have flooded and the value floored. Just look to what’s going on in the UK reptile trade to see what I mean about boom and busts…

Be tactical. Think fish that can’t be imported in huge numbers because of export restrictions. If I had the time and facilities right now, I’d be tracking down Hisonotus aky from Argentina, and doing my damndest to get endless broods out of them.

As much as I’ll hate myself for saying it, there’s cash in variants, too. Look to the marine market, and the current trend for designer clownfish. Misbars, Picassos, Platinums and so on. You’ll feel dirty doing it, but if you can get your own colour variant on the go, you might have a few pounds headed your way.

2. Make your own plant hybrid

Any budding botanists out there? Aquascaping is big money now, and suppliers are looking out for new and exciting plant species to add to their product range. Dennerle even employ a man specifically to journey around the world looking for new varieties.

If you know a thing or two about cross pollenating, it’s worth considering a little aquarium mix-up in your plant collection. If you can make a red Hemianthus callitrichoides, or a jet black Cryptocoryne, you can bet your sweet boots that one of the big names out there will want to get hold of it.

Approach them with whatever you can create, and ask for royalties. If you can get a penny on every pot sold from now to the end of time, then there’s gold in that greenery.

3. Write

I often get asked, why haven’t I written an article on X, Y or Z? Well, maybe I haven’t got the time, or maybe it’s outside of my comfort zone.

Why not write it yourself? Magazines pay for quality words, and over the years many fishkeepers have supplemented their wages with a little freelance. I know I did, before I went full time, and it paid better than I thought it would, considering the time it took me.

Don’t wait for magazines to contact you, you’ll need to go to them. And go with an idea, or a pitch. If you just phone up and say something like 'I want to know if you have any articles you want written', then expect to never get called back.

Tantilise us, offer us a subject we’ve not thought of. If it’s any good we’ll run it, any mag looking for diverse content will, and you’ll get paid into the bargain.

4. Photograph

A logical follow on to writing. Plenty of people have quality cameras these days, and a lot of people know how to use them too.

If you’ve mastered landscapes, portraits and everything else, turn that camera tankwards and get building up an archive. Make a note to photograph those rare fish as and when you see them, too. First time in the UK? Get it photographed, asap, and stick it in the collection. Magazines, books and websites will pay good money for images of fish they can’t find elsewhere.

Anyone can get hold of a Betta picture, or some slow moving cichlid. Get cracking with those fast movers, and the rarities. Once you’ve got it, it’s not costing you to store it…

5. Buy and sell

Ebay, clubs, Facebook pages – there’s never been such a big arena to sell your products as there is now. And what’s more, in this time of recession, people are more keen on fixing and going second hand than they are on splashing out on new.

If you’re at the boot fair, and you see something fish based, don’t ask yourself if you have any use for it yourself. Ask if you can get more for it from someone in the hobby than it’s going to cost you. The simplest fundamentals of business. Get it, and stick it out for all to see.

Don’t even throw out old gear when it dies, either. Powerhead given up? Cool, pull out the impeller and get it on sale. Get the suckers off and cleaned up and advertise them. Waste nothing. Scavenge its electrical carcass until nothing remains. You can guarantee that someone out there in the world is looking for the very thing you’re about to skip.

6. Pet-sitting

Oh, there are plenty of dog sitters, and parrot watchers out there, but not many specific fish sitters.

Fishkeepers take holidays like everyone else, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced that absence of peace of mind when we’ve spent a week or so away from our aquaria.

Offer your services up locally as a fish sitter. Give a package that includes a daily feed, water tests, top ups for evaporation, and, if the owner is away long enough, a waterchange and filter clean.

Yeah, you’ll need to figure out a watertight contract and disclaimer in the event of a tragedy, but frankly, if you suspect it’ll all go pear shaped in your care, then it’s not the extra income for you anyway.

7. Installations

A few individuals have tried this one now, but aside a handful of genuinely good aquarists like Akil Gordon Beckford, most have failed abysmally.

You can make money selling your layouts to people that lack the creative flair and time to do it themselves.

You’ll need a portfolio, and it’ll need to be good. Maybe think about getting a pro photographer to take shots of your finest ever designs, and gradually build up a compendium of every amazing tank.

But be realistic. If your tank looks like a shed, with garish gravel, ropey plants and ugly aquascaping, then you’re not going to be able to deliver. Get your house in order, find your limitations, and use that as your basis of selling yourself.

Don’t blag, though, and don’t try to peddle off the tanks of others as your own. Retain integrity, and word of mouth will travel – if you’re any good.

8. Invent

Have you improvised something that you’re keeping to yourself? Some kind of ultra-easy primer for siphons, or a round-the-house device that you’ve found, that with a few tweaks makes the perfect algae remover?

Get out there and try to sell the idea to someone, be it a big or small company. Some of the giants have big research budgets, and if you can come up with the new cat’s eyes without them having to splash out tens of thousands getting there, they’ll be grateful and they’ll pay you for it.

If you’ve got something really good, consider getting a patent on it and making it yourself. We’ve seen a few unique designs these last few years, like the Seneye monitor, that came about through following an innovative idea to its logical conclusion.

9. Teach/lecture/consult

Are you something of an expert in your field? You should share your knowledge with others, and charge them for the privilege.

If you have good experience of breeding fish, or keeping hitherto impossible species, then people will want to know more about how you do it.

With a little savvy, you can set up fishkeeping workshops, or offer your services out to clubs, or even aquatic companies. If you’re the best mind in the UK for feeding difficult corals, then it’s likely there’s a coral supplier out there that could do with your services in replying to emails from consumers.

They’ll probably be up for getting you to talk at somewhere like Aquatics Live, or other fishkeeping events, too. And they’ll happily pay to have you up there representing them if you’re really good.

Build up a reputation for being knowledgeable in your field, and let those people in the trade that connect to your world know you’re interested in doing something for them. Like writing, it’s unlikely that someone will come to you and ask for something, but if you turn up with an irresistible package, they’d be mad to turn you down.

Before you know it, you could be guest lecturing all around the world, in all-expenses-paid hotels, supping at a minibar. Nice.

10. Go part time at a retailer

Again, you’ll need to know your stuff, and experience will likely be necessary, but there are key times that your local store probably wouldn’t mind having you in their employ.

Weekend work is a great start, but even if you can offer your services for a fee over hectic times like Easter weekend and the summer holidays, then you might find you get requests to come in more and more frequently.

If you know how to acclimate fish the retail way, then you might be able to get a few hours extra money helping out on the occasional late night, midweek.

Or why not offer something different? Just go in and do some of the chores that eat into the time of a busy shop owner. Things like the algae wiping, waterchanges, testing – that kind of thing. I can think of a lot of retailers that wouldn’t mind those chores out of their hair, if you can spare one or two afternoons each week.

You won’t get paid like a London banker for it, but you’ll likely get discounts for anything in store, plus first dibs on anything brand new that comes in.

In fact, now I think of it like that, I’m inclined to tidy up my own CV and send it off to some local shops…