The ornamental fish business in Mumbai comes across as an attractive option for young businessmen, especially those who maintain aquariums at home and raise fish as a hobby. Veterans in the field also maintain that the competition is not cruel and that with the right information, facts and precautions, success is achievable.
The Breeding Cycle
Local breeders, most of whom have breeding tanks on the outskirts of the city, obtain fish from either local shops or from imports from Calcutta, Madras and Hyderabad. Once breeders get a variety of fish, they raise them, and when they multiply to a satisfactory number, they sell them to local shops who package them ornamentally for decorative and aquarium purposes, the demand for which is high in the city as many Mumbaikars keep home aquariums. Breeders either sell fish directly to retail shops or sell large quantities of small fish to middlemen who in turn sell the bulk to shops once the fish grow to medium size. The latter, being wholesale business, is more profitable. Breeders are less likely to sell directly to customers.
Things to watch out for
Pisciculture in Mumbai is lucrative and the ever growing demand for home aquariums is adding to its profitability. Resident of Santacruz, Lynn Sequiera says, “I have pet fish at home. The tank is beautiful and is supposed to have feng-shui advantages. Just watching the fish lowers my blood-pressure. I plan to get another tank for the kid’s room.”
Mahim-based breeder Sunder Pujari, who started his business on a very small scale says, “The merit of being a breeder is that you can begin on a very small scale with minimal capital, as given the right environment, the fish multiply rapidly. A friend of mine began with Rs 5,000, and today his business is worth lakhs.” However, breeder Arun Alvares, who resides at Mahim but breeds at Badlapur, gives a reality check for aspiring breeders and says, “True, you can start with a small amount but the other investments, like the fish, actual physical space for tanks, the tanks themselves, fish food, water supply, electricity, lighting and filtration system, are expensive. Some varieties of fish are not compatible with one another so they have to be kept separate. This demands additional tanks and space. And since we deal with live fish, the stakes are high. In case of fish viruses and diseases, there is mass death and subsequent loss” he explains.
Another investment of abstract nature is adequate knowledge about fish medicines, about when to chlorinate the tanks and about how priority-fish need to be changed according to the climate because some are prone to virus in the summer while some thrive only during the monsoon. Thus being well-informed about the seasonal aspect of this business is an asset. According to Pujari, competition in the field is not harsh and with the right knowledge and investments, a new-comer can flourish. However, most breeders do not have fixed contracts with aquarium shops so this could lead to some competition.
Speaking of competition, one wonders whether imports from overseas, mainly Singapore, pose a threat to local shops, as the most exotic aquarium fish are known to come from there. When quizzed about this, Salim, who owns an aquarium shop at Crawford Markets says, “Imports from overseas have been legally banned for years now.” And contrary to expectations, he was rather unhappy about this veto because variety has suffered in the bargain. Another shop owner Sheikh sums it up by saying, “As long as the imported fish were multiplied locally it was fine; but now the question doesn’t arise as overseas importing is a thing of the past.”
Pre-monsoon anxiety for breeders
With the monsoon due anytime now, breeders are worried about their tanks and fish because the Mumbai deluge of 2005 and last year’s heavy rains washed away the breeding tanks of several entrepreneurs, especially the ones beyond Kurla. “My tanks at Badlapur were washed away in the deluge and I suffered heavy losses. The Ulhas River inundated and destroyed my breeding tanks. We breeders hope this year’s rains bring no such fiasco” says Alvares.
Approximate price ranges of various ornamental fish in the maket are as follows:
(Pic: Tanya Alvares)