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The Aquarium INDUSTRY

Keeping ornamental fish dates back to ancient China and Rome, so it has along history, but the modern aquarium industry really started in the 1950’s when air transportation and new technology made it easier to access and keep fish.

The industry has grown and now an estimated 1.5 billion fish are sold worldwide each year comprising of 3,500 species of plants, invertebrates and fish

The global ornamental fish industry supports mature hobby around the world, providing livelihoods to people in many of the developing countries across the Asia Pacific and other developing regions. These people collect and farm fish that feed into a global supply chain supporting employment and jobs in markets across the globe.

The ornamental fish industry includes more than 120 countries in the collection, breeding, import and export of ornamental fish. FAO data suggest that exports were worth approximately $330 million USD in 2011, with the number of fish traded estimated at approximately 1.5 billion fish per annum. However, accurate trade data on the industry is difficult to obtain for as statistics vary from different countries in terms of data collected, format and reliability. It is generally considered that FAO data are the most accurate, although it is likely to be significantly lower than actual trade (some industry sources suggest actual trade being between 30-40% higher than FAO figures), but illustrates generally strong and sustained growth of exports of the past 20 years.

The industry suffered two significant declines over that time, once in the late 90’s and again in 2009. The latter was due to the Global Financial Crisis. Despite these dips global ornamental fish exports have shown resilience, stabilizing and then rebounding to greater levels each time. Industry analysis does suggest, however, that despite the stabilization and recovery from the most recent dip, the degree of recovery varies between countries, which is largely a reflection of their economic status. 

Industry sources estimated that in the 1990’s between 8-13% of households had aquaria in the major markets of Europe, the USA and Japan; with ornamental fish keeping being the second most popular hobby after photography with an estimated 100 million hobbyists throughout the world.

The European Union, collectively, is the largest market for ornamental fish; however, the United States (US) is the single largest importing country for ornamental fish in the world. As the generalized marketing channel for ornamental fish shown below depicts, there are several steps within the chain:

There is a significant mark-up at each step of the chain, generally in the order of 100%.  Therefore, prices of fish at the retail level may be several times higher than at the farm gate. This value chain can be extended through additional middlemen who aggregate supplies of fish for export, or who distribute to wholesalers, all of which add to the end cost of fish.

The ornamental fish industry is generally segmented based on whether fish are tropical or temperate, freshwater or marine. This creates the following market segments.

Table 1: Market Segments for Ornamental Fish




Tropical Freshwater

The most popular and largest segment, kept in glass aquariums. 800 plus species, accounts for more than 50% of trade. Majority are farmed in Asia.


Neon tetra

Temperate (Coldwater) Freshwater

Often kept in outdoor ponds, considered to be easier to manage, accounts for 45% of trade and the majority farmed.

Koi Carp


Marine Ornamentals

Consists primarily of reef species, include fish, invertebrates and corals

Majority wild collected

Clownfish – ‘Nemo’

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Ornamental Fish International

Computerweg 16

3821AB Amersfoort

The Netherlands

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