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HomePage The Freshwater Ornamental Fishes


Aquarium or ornamental fish are called the "living jewels" due to their 
diversity of species, great variety of colour, shape, behaviour and origin. 
All these factors determine their value in the market.
The keeping of ornamental fish is a hobby with world-wide interest. Globally,
the retail value of this industry was estimated about RM20 billion. However, 
if all other aquarium systems and accessories including feeds, drugs and 
aquatic plants put together their retail value was estimated to be about 
RM100 billion.
In Malaysia, aquarium fish trade started in the 1950's within the southern
state of Johor initially, the activity was mainly limited to the collection 
of fish from the wild for subsequent distribution to Singapore, which began 
to export fish to Europe in the late 1940's.


Signicant development of aquarium fish farms only began in the 1980's. Today, 
there are more than 400 farms, 90% of these produce ornamental fishes, and 
about 10% produce natural feed and aquatic plants. The potential for further 
expansion of the industry in Malaysia is enormous. Various support services 
and fiscal incentives are provided by the government to promote the 
development of the industry.

Ornamental Fish
In 1993, it was estimated that 188 million pieces of ornamental fish were 
produced valued at about RM33.65 million. This comprised of more than 250 
species of mostly freshwater species. The industry contiuned to grow rapidly 
at a very fast rate. By 1995 the production had increased by more than 30% 
to 253 million valued at RM49.13 million.

Aquatic Plants
In addition to the great diversity of ichthyofauna, Malaysia is also blessed 
with its rich resources of aquatic plants which could be easily propagated 
for ornamental purposes. The Indo-Malayan region has more species of aquatic 
plants than in any other region of the world. More than 30 species have been 
identified suitable for ornamentaal purposes. Some of these species are rather 
unique and are in greatt demand in the international market.
Currently most of farms producing aquatic plants are located in Johor. The 
production technique currently employed is vegetative propagation. However 
with the application of new technology such as tissue culture technique, 
propagation of these plants can be turned into highly profitable venture.

Aquarium Systems and Accessories
Besides the production of ornamental fish and aquatic plants, Malaysia has 
also the necessary resource, expertise and technology to manufacture 
aquarium systems and related accessorries. They include aquarium tanks, 
water filteration systems, pumps, aerators, lighting, water heating systems 
and water sterilisation equipment.

Aquarium Fish Feed
With the large quantity of ornamental fish being produced, the requirement 
of feed is also large. Aquarium fish feed also form a sizeable proportion 
of the overall trade. Although there are farms in this country which 
produce natural aquarium feed, the number and output are still small.

Drugs and Chemicals
In addition to the manufacture of feed, the aquarium fish industry also 
uses a variety of drugs andd chemicals for treatments. Even though most 
of these products are presently imported, there exists ample scope for the 
production of these products locally.

Export and Import
In tandem with the development of ornamental fish farms, there has been a 
significant increase in the export of ornamental fish from Malaysia in the 
last feew years. Within the five year period, from 1991 to 1995, export had 
significantly incrreased from 101.4 million pieces valued at RM14.8 million 
to 175.6 million pieces in 1994 valued at RM25.9 million, an increase of 
more than 150%. However, the exporrt in 1995 had decreased slightly to 
164.8 million pieces valued at RM23.8 million. 
Ornamental Fish farming is largely an export oriented industry. It was 
estimated that about 96% of ornamental fish produced in this country are 

As mentioned earlier the aquarium fish industry in Malaysia gained prominence 
in the 1980's, with the development of farms specially for the production of 
ornamental fishes. For example, there were only 18 farms in Johor in 1980. 
By 1988, this figure has increased to 35, covering a total area of 217 ha. 
The number of farms in Peninsular Malaysia in 1995 totalled 340.
More than 90% on the farms are located in Johor. Out of this total, 314 farms 
were directly involved in fish breeding, 13 in the production of aquatic 
plants and 13 in the production of natural feed for aquarium fish.
There is a certain degree of specialisation in thee production of ornamental 
fishes between the differrent states in Malaysia. While farms in the state of 
Penang place greater emphasis on the breeding of Discus Symhosodon Discus, 
the breeders in Perak tend to focus on producing varieties of goldfish and 
Japanese Koi Carps. A greater proportion of ornamental fish species bred are 
not indigenous to this country. In spite of the rich diversity of local fish 
fauna, very few species have in fact been commercially exploited through 
natural propagation in captivity. Efforts towards the propagation of indigenous 
species for ornamental fish trade have however been inttensified in the last 
few years. For example, there has been successful breeding of a number of 
ornamental fish species, both exotic and indigenous.
It should be stressed thatt the aquarium fish trade in Malaysia is almost 
exclusively made up of freshwater fish species. Successful attempts on the 
propagation of marine fish species for ornamental purposes are few, if any at 
all. With the emphasis on conservation gaining importance, exploitation of 
coral fish speciees in their natural habitats is prohibited.
Lately, there has been significant development in the production of ornamental 
aquatic plants and natural feed for aquarium fish. Farms specialising in the 
production of these commodities have spring up in the State of Johor.

Export Regulations
Since aquarium fish were exported live and consignment sizes werre generally 
small. Exporters were often faced with insurmountable difficulties, 
eg. congestion at the custom officers delayed clearing by several hours 
casuing massive mortalities.
Recognising the problems, the Department of Fisheries liaised with the Royal 
Customs and Excise Department. As a result a simplified procedure was 
established on 2 May 1988 specifically for the tradee. The new systems requires 
licensed exporters to make an appliocation to the Department of Fisherries. 
Upon verifying the application the Department then issues an export permit 
which is valid for one month. The exporter then presents the export permit 
together with invoices at the payable and makes an endorsement on the back page 
of the permit. The permit can be used a number of times until the quantity 
permitted or its validity is exhausted. In addition, custom officers would give 
priority to aquarium fish exporters to avoid lengthy delays.
Consequently the local air freight has also given flexible loading time to 
forwarding agents, that is cargo can be checked in 2 hours before departure time. 
Recently, more cargo space was createed, hence allowing greater passage of 
ornamental fish from Malaysia to all over the world. This capacity will be greatly 
enhanced with the completion of Malaysia's new modern international airport at 

Development of the aquarium fish industry is in line with the strrategies adopted 
under the National Agriculture Policy (1996-2000), which is now under review. The 
main objective of the Policy is to maximise income from agriculture through 
efficient utilisation of the country's resources and revitalisation of the sector's 
contribution to the national economy. It calls for the development of aquaculture, 
aquarium fish included. Augment local supply as well as to cater for the export 
market. The government through its various agencies, have formulated policies and 
implemented programmes towards stimulating the growth of this industry mainly comes 
under the purview of the Department of Fisheries. The Department has thus geared 
itself towards providing the necessary support to the industry. Among these include:

    Production of new varieties of fish is paramount to the further expansion of the 
    industry. It rrenders the local industry a competitive edge in the international 
    market. In addition, development of bettter handling and transportation 
    techniques are necessary in reducing the operational costs. Realising his 
    importance, the Department of Fisheries is actively carrying out research 
    programmes on aquarium fish. A special aquarium research unit was set up at its 
    Freshwater Fisheries Centre, Batu Berendam, Melaka to conduct research on various 
    disciplines and nutrition. At present the centre is experimenting on at least 70 
    aquarium fish species, both indigenous and exotic.
    The establishment of research infrastructure specifically for aquarium fish is 
    planned under the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000).

    Extension Services
    In an effort its to disseminate aaquarium fish farming technologies, the 
    Department of Fisheries maintains a comprehensive network of field extension 
    agents around the country. These agents are supported by a network of Aquaculture 
    Extension Centres, which provide back-up services in soil and water quality 
    analysis, disease diagnostics and general advice on culture management. 
    The Department also publishees articles/materials pertaining to the industry for 
    distribution to the target group. The Department has also organised and 
    participated in exhibitions on aquarium fish, both local and international. Prior 
    projects at farmers' plots are also initiated to deemonstrate new techniques in 
    aquarium fish farming.

    Various typees of training on aquarium fish are provided by the Department. These 
    include the formal 2-week training course conducted several times a year at its 
    Inland Fisheries Training Centre, Enggor, Perak. In addition, attachment training 
    at its research centre in Melaka and at successful aquarium fish farms are 
    arranged for interested individuals. Study visits to successful farms are also 
    organised to expose the public to the industry.

    Quarantine and Fish Health Centres
    Four Quarantine and Fish Health Centres are being established under the Sixth and 
    Seventh Malaysia Plan (1991-2000). The Centres are locateed at the major entry/
    exit points, naamely: Subang Internatinal Airport (Selangor), Tampoi (Johor), 
    Batu Maung (Pulau Pinang) and Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah). All the centres are 
    alreaady operational except for in Kedah. In aaddition, there will be aa new 
    quarantine centre at the new Kuala Lumpur Inteernational Airport in Sepang which 
    will be fully operational in 1998. 
    The main objective for the establishment of these centres is to safeguard the local 
    fish industry from inadvertent importation of harmful fish pathogens which can 
    cause epidemics. At the same time, these centres are designed to act as one-stop 
    centres providing, services pertaining to live fish export/imports and decease 
    Among these include the inssuance of export permits and the relevent fish health 
    certificates. Regular sanitary inspections of aquarium premises as required by the 
    importing countries, are also performed by these centres.

Future Outlook
It is evident that the aquarium fish industry in Malaysia is experiencing rapid growth. 
In contrast to the scenario a few years back, the industry is now more widespread. 
Malaysia has the necessary ingredients to develop the industry to its full potentials. 
It should take advantage of the limitations in labour costs and land resource facing by 
the traditional exporting contrries, to provide greater support to the industry. Provision 
of better infrastructures especially in the export of aquarium fash is imperative. Efforts 
should also be focused on seeking direct international markets for the local aquarium fish. 
This od course can be achieved with the opening of the new airport in Sepang in 1998. 
Support services should also be intensified and given due attention.

HomePage The Freshwater Ornamental Fishes