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The Global Ornamental Fish Industry

An outlook on the First Decade of the New Millennium


A presentation done at the International Conference on the Global Ornamental Fish Industry Way Forward. February 2012, Cochin, Kerala, India

Kapila Tissera Independent Consultant Ornamental Fish Farm Management The hobby of keeping colourful fish in tanks and garden ponds for decor and for companionship dates back to the Ming Dynasty in ancient China. However, it became a truly global industry with the advent of civil aviation after the Second World War. The major markets for ornamental fish are the developed countries in the West and Japan, while the developing countries of the tropics became the major suppliers for this commodity. The cost of land and labour, and the need to maintain tropical temperatures in the production facilities makes it cheaper for the developed countries to import their supplies from the warmer tropical countries, where the land and labour are relatively cheaper and there is no need to provide special heating of the culture facilities. The new millennium starts with an annual global export value of US$ 176 million in the year 2000. Throughout the 11 years including 2010, the world export trade has developed at an annual compounded growth rate of 6.2%, reaching an annual value of US$ 342 million in 2010. This behaviour of the export trade during the first decade of the new millennium can be modelled by the equation Y = 15,193 + 217,038 with an acceptable accuracy (R2 = 0.83).
Fig: 1 Global Ornamental Fish Trade - Exports 2002-2010

Singapore has maintained its position as the largest exporter of tropical ornamental fish to the global trade. In 2010, it reaches a value of 59 million US$ catering to 17% of the world demand. It is interesting to note that while Singapore produces most of the fish that it exports, it also depends on imports from the region to further augment its exports. While Indonesia is the largest supplier by value of fish (35%) imported to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are close at its heals with 20% and 12% respectively. In addition to the above, Taipei and China, along with another 29 countries, supply this commodity to Singapore making it the strongest country in the export of live tropical fish.

United Kingdom and the United States of America are the biggest Markets for the ornamental fish exported from Singapore. They import 16% and 13% in fish value respectively of Singapores exports. On the other hand, Singapore enjoys a staggering 37% of the UK market and 21% of the USA market for tropical fish (2010). Judging by the trends in Singapore, it can be treated as a gateway to the main markets and not as a competitor among other suppliers in the Asian region.

Fig: 2 Singapore; Ornamental fish trade 2002-2010

The situation of the tropical fish industry in Japan has undergone an interesting metamorphosis during the last decade. From a strong importing country, it has turned out to become a competitor to the ornamental fish exporting countries in the region. The value of the ornamental fish exports from Japan has increased at an impressive compounded annual growth rate of 12%. This growth has been taking place while the imports to Japan were going down at a compounded annual rate of 5% during the first decade of the millennium. This altogether, shows a development of a strong production capacity in ornamental fish in Japan. It can also be seen that the proportion of Gold Fish, for which Japan is highly famous, has not contributed to this perceived growth in exports. However, whether this growth seems to have peaked in 2010 has to be seen in Japans performance in the coming years. Hong Kong (34%), Netherlands (16%) and Germany (11%) are the Major markets of Japans ornamental fish exports. Although many exporters consider Hong Kong as the gateway to the Chinese market for ornamental fish, export statistics of Hong Kong are yet to confirm this. It is interesting to note that in 2011, 23% of Japans imports of Ornamental fish were supplied by Singapore.
Fig: 3 Japan 2002 - 2011

Indonesia caters to 21% of the demand in the Japanese market, which shows a strong market for salt water fish in Japan. Next to these two countries Brazil (15%), Columbia (15%) and Peru(10%) stand as the other major suppliers to Japan, showing a strong market for the Amazon and other Central and South American wild caught fish in the Japanese market. Malaysia caters to 6% of the worlds exports of Ornamental fish. Although considered a strong producer of this commodity, the countrys export trend shows a surprising similarity with that of its imports. This may suggest that imports play an important role in the countrys exports. It is seen that the value of the tropical live fish exported from Malaysia has been in the decline since 2008. A

further decrease from 2009 to 2010 is seen both in the export and import of live tropical fish to Malaysia, for which an explanation is yet to be sought. Indonesia (30%) and Japan (21%) are the major suppliers of tropical fish to the Malaysia market. This shows definitely a potential for imports of Marine ornamental fish to Malaysia. Japan being a strong importer of South American fish, it is possible that some of these fish are re-exported to Malaysia. Not surprisingly, Singapore is the largest market for tropical Ornamental fish from Malaysia absorbing 32% of Malaysias tropical fish exports in 2010. Next to Singapore, the Islamic Republic of Iran had imported 13% of Malaysias output to the world in Tropical Fish in 2011. The EU does not seem to play a major role in Malaysias tropical fish exports, the United Kingdom being the only major European importer taking in 3% of Malaysias tropical fish out put in the same year. Limited availability of data on the product mix from Malaysia shows an interesting market for fish fry intended for further growing to major markets such as the USA, Taipei, Australia and Thailand.
Fig: 4 Malaysia 2002-2011

An equal role by value in the global trade of ornamental fish is played by Indonesia (6%), although the product mix is different. While Malaysia offers mainly the fresh water ornamental fish to the international trade, Indonesia offers a mix of three products. Although fresh water fish show an acceptable presence, a large component of Indonesias exports are tropical ornamental fish of marine origin. With a very low amount of imports coming in, Indonesias exports seem to be almost totally of indigenous origin. The supply of fish fry and Marine fish are the strong areas of supply from Indonesia. Singapore (13%) and Hong Kong (12%) are the major markets for Indonesian tropical fish exports. While the EU seems to play a relatively minor role in Indonesias markets, regional markets such as Japan (12%), Malaysia (9%) and Vietnam (7%) were important destinations for the Indonesian fish in 2011. USA had imported 11% of Indonesias exports of tropical fish while Indonesia occupied 13% of the US Market for tropical fish in 2011. Thailand is a true producing and exporting country in the global trade for ornamental fish. During the 11 years of this millennium for which the export data are available, Thailand has seen a 20% compounded annual growth rate in the export of tropical fish, which is a very interesting rate worthy to be noted as this has occurred without a noticeable increase in its imports. Although Thailand shows a mix of three products in its export values, a consistent growth in the values of fresh water ornamental fish can be shown for the period under consideration. Hong Kong absorbed 16% of Thailands exports in 2011. Except for a 13% of its exports going in to the US, regional markets such as Singapore (9%), Taipei (9%), and China (7%) played an important role in buying up tropical fish from Thailand in 2011. Development of the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran as upcoming markets for tropical fish from Thailand has to be noted.

Israel, the Czech Republic and the US each contribute 4% of exports to the international tropical fish trade while Columbia and Sri Lanka contribute 2% each. It is worthwhile to look in to the activities of Israel in tropical fish exports as it is a developing force to be reckoned with. Israel has shown an annual compounded growth rate of 10% during the first decade. As the volume of imports of this commodity to Israel has been very low, it can be seen that this development has been mostly due to the development of internal production. Israel is a true exporter to the European region. It exported 20% of its production to the UK, its largest buyer, enjoying 14% share of the United Kingdoms tropical fish market in 2011. Although Israels imports of tropical fish are low, it can be seen that it does maintain a steady import from traditional exporters of the Asian region. However, no strong dependency on these exports to increase exports can be seen from the available data.

Fig: 5 Czech Republic 2001-2011

Fig: 6 Israel 2001 - 2010

No work on the global tropical fish trade would be complete without a close look at the tropical fish trade in the Czech Republic. During the first decade of the millennium the Republic enjoyed a 7% annual compounded growth rate in its tropical fish exports. Although in the beginning of the last decade imports of tropical fish to Czech Republic were around 5% of its exports, by the end of the decade it had climbed up to 20%. The import-export trends also show a relationship suggestive of a dependency on imports to further develop the Republics exports. As it is a major supplier to the European region that also tend to depend on imports, the Czech Republic can be treated as a gateway to the European markets by other small suppliers.. All major markets for tropical fish exported from the Czech Republic are located in Europe with France (26%), Germany (21%) and Italy (13%) taking up a major share. The United States of America is the largest market for topical ornamental fish. In the year 2011, it had imported a value of 22% of global exports in this commodity. Of the international suppliers to the US, Singapore enjoys a 21% market share. Thailand and Indonesia enjoy the second and third places at 20% and 13% of the market share respectively. The Philippines and Sri Lanka each share 7% of the US market for this commodity. It should be noted that the value of US tropical fish imports are in a decline since 2006. The second market by value for tropical ornamental fish is the United Kingdom. 12% of the global exports have been imported in to this market. Singapore enjoys a 46% of the market share, being

the largest supplier of this commodity. Israel (17%), Indonesia (12%) and Japan (10%) follow Singapore while Thailand, Sri Lanka and USA each enjoy a share of 5%. The United Kingdom also exports small amounts of this commodity, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Germany and France being the main markets. Although Singapore occupies the third position in the global imports of this product, almost all of these fish are re-exported to various markets. Germany comes next in the list at the 4th place having imported 10% of the global product in 2010 with France at its heals with 9%. Japan had been the largest exporter to Germany in 2010 enjoying a share of 18% share of the German market. Singapore (15%) and Israel (11%) occupy the second and third places in sharing the supplies to the German market. The Ornamental Fish Industry has had its lows and highs from time to time in the past. However, in the long run it has not only survived, but continued its slow, but steady development. This time again, the industry has shown signs of being affected by the recession in the US and in most European economies. This is evident in the latest data for many major European markets and the US. The industry is expected to pick up the lost rate of growth when these economies breakaway from the current spell of crisis.
Fig:7 Major European Markets

This is also the time to look in to the new and fast developing markets such as India, Iran and the Middle East, mainly, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Acknowledgements Most of the data that has been utilized for the current analysis has been obtained from the International Trade Centre and the Division of Fishery Statistics of the FAO. I am also deeply indebted to my friend John Dawes, Independent Consultant in the Tropical Fish Industry, for making available to me the latest data published by the FAO on the ornamental fish trade.