Fish exporters should sell a lifestyle

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At the opening of this year's Aquarama in Singapore, Minister of State Dr Vivian Balakrishnan announced the formation of the Ornamental Fish Business Cluster Group to spearhead the development of the ornamental fish industry in Singapore.

He said: "Through the efforts and initiatives of its early pioneers, Singapore is now the world's top exporter of ornamental fish. Singapore's annual export sales for 2001 and 2002 was around S$75 million (US$43 million), or 24% of the global export trade."

Singaporean exporters handle some 1000 species and 2000 varieties.

Outlining the challenges ahead for the industry, he said, exporters need to be proactive and continuously strive to make fishkeeping attractive and exciting to sustain hobbyists' interest.

"We must also strive to attract new enthusiasts to this hobby, especially from among young people. To do this, the industry must do more than just selling the fish, plants, tanks and accessories. It must sell a lifestyle," he added.

An example would be the breeding of newer species and varieties, especially of popular fish presently caught from the wild. This will help to minimise depletion of natural stocks.

Another is to ensure that fish are properly shipped to their export destination and arrive at the retail outlets in robust health and excellent colour and finnage condition.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: "The industry could also apply technology to suit the various needs of a potential market. Fish bred to respond to audio-visual stimuli, like the Koi, Dragon Fish or Luohan which respond when a person approaches the tank or claps, will be a boon for pet lovers.

"Programmable water-recycling systems for self-cleaning of fish tank will be welcomed by busy executives with little time to spare. Public fish displays in business settings can be enhanced by technology-assisted selection of the appropriate combinations of fish type, plants, organisms and accessories for the desired ecology feature."

He also suggested the use of Internet as it offers relatively low start-up cost for the producer and seller to extend their reach to a worldwide audience.

Dedicated fish websites, he added, can range from simple advertising of the company to more complex on-line e-auction services.

This year's Aquarama (the 8th International Aquarium Fish & Accessories Exhibition & Conference) saw more than 200 companies from 24 countries taking part. It is thought that about 5000 trade visitors and 20,000 public visitors went to the event held from October 30 to November 2.

Over 10,000 ornamental fish were on display, which included the dragonfish, Flowerhorns and fighting fish.