How to be a successful fish breeder...and make a fortune!
Secretary, Australian Discus Association INC
Quite A Few years ago I was visiting some friends and noticed a fish
tank (2-foot standard) on a stand and a bucket full of goldfish sitting
beside it in the driveway. It seems that along with a cardboard box of
goodies and a funny filter thing that hung on the back of the tank, it was
a complete fish-keeping unit that was being thrown out with the fish. I
had to have it, so it all came home and was set-up in the lounge room. New
plants were added, gravel cleaned, air pump reconditioned. And being a
mechanically minded person, the filter sorted out. Looking good. After one
week the goldfish had eaten all the plants, stirred up all the gravel, and
blocked the filter.
There had to be something better - so down to the armchair fish shop
near work. This shop was so named for its armchairs to view fish.
"Livebearers, you say. Cold water, you say. Don't eat plants, you
say. I had better have some of those, they sound a lot better - red,
yellow and blue ones. Better get some new plants and rocks - a three-foot
tank would even be better - with one of those "undergravel
Home I go, sneaking in the front door with 20kg of gravel and two new
air stones, a big bag of plants and of course 30 assorted-color
livebearers. I made a stand for the three-foot tank and put it in the
Livebearers, I had been told, were really easy to breed! What an
understatement - I had Platys, Mollies, Guppies and Swordtails coming out
of my ears and my wife was ecstatic about all the little baby fish! Only
problem was that the babies were disappearing faster than they were being
produced " They're cannibals (my wife said) do something!".
Back down to the armchair fish shop looking for nets and books on fish
breeding- "Ooh - I need a couple of those breeding tanks!". The
owner of the armchair shop was quite pleased to see me - I must be
"becoming quite a fish-breeding expert" so I would
"need" breeding nets as well and some "special food".
An hour later, a lot lighter in the hip pocket I slipped back to the
house, problem solved.
For a short period of time breeding was prolific, and I was selling my
babies off to recoup some of my money. ("This is a great idea - I bet
nobody has thought of this!"). There was only one problem with this
breeding game: the Armchair fish shop was on the way home from work, and I
stared to call in and look around. In retrospect I would have been like a
schoolfish to a Piranha as I kept coming home with all sorts of "you
beauty" fish-keeping items such as automatic plant planters and
second-hand de-nitaion systems. The owner was always really pleased to see
me though, so as far as cold water breeding was going, I had it made.
Then one Sunday night on my birthday, a dramatic change took place when
one of my very good friends brought me a half-a-dozen Anglefish as a
present. Now nobody could fool me with these Angelfish, experts had
assured me that they were tropical fish and I would need a heater. Big
problem - I didn't have a one. So I fished out one of my original tanks
and put them in it and had the bright idea to use a 150-watt portaflood
light to heat the water - that should do the trick. One day later with
only two Angelfish still alive, blind and sunburnt, I decided I'd better
get a heater.
Down to the Armchair fish shop where the owner is polishing his new car
- I bought my new 200-watt heater and a couple of books on tropical fish
and a book on water conditioning. As I had now entered the tropical fish
realm which opened up a whole host of possibilities, a whole new program
of study was embarked upon which included water technology, pH shock,
ammonia spikes and of coarse the all-important anaerobic and aerobic
bacteria colonizing. A book on canister filters, filtration and every
disease known to man was my bible. I spent more time in the armchair fish
shop where the owner had installed an EFTPOS machine and swiped my card
with a flick of his wrist.
Once again the fickle finger of fate pointed at me. At work I was asked
to do a day rotating shift that gave me four days off and four days on.
This gave me heaps of time to attend my fish - the back bedroom now had
six 2-foot high breeding tanks for angels. The dining room had a community
tank with all manner of cichlids. Out of biscuit tins I could make
canister filters (at work on weekends) and all that engineering knowledge
I had was put to good use (and I thought it was a wasted trade!).
I was breeding 4 types of Angelfish, Electric yellows, Electric Blues,
Bolivian butterflies and Firemouths, in the lounge room, a tank full of
all known catfish. The Armchair fish shop had never looked so good; he had
just opened a new west wing- just to cater to my needs, and had employed
another assistant, as I was still investing in my future as a professional
fish breeder. The owner of this shop assured me that all the fish I could
breed he would buy back off me or trade for supplies. Buy - breed - sell
… easy! I was on the way to my first fortune.
As time moved on, and my experience in breeding Angelfish and my
curiosity in the "King of Tropical Fish" (Discus) developed, a
fish room had to be built to accommodate my ever-expanding empire (in my
dreams). Supplying a number of shops in Sydney with fish on a regular
basis was not a problem, and with the sales, contacts were made.
The Armchair Fish Shop was definitely on the outer, as I had had a
disagreement with the owner over a filter system that I had purchased
second-hand. When I got home I found that the lid of the canister filter
had been stuck down with black mastic, and the bio-filtration medium, was
orange-colored onion bags, stuffed in the bottom of the filter. I was not
impressed, and returned the unit, only to be told "It was a
second-hand unit and you buy what you get" (caveat emptor - buyer
beware,). This was a big mistake on the shop owner's part, and at that
point our relationship ceased to exist. He had to put off the new shop
assistant and make the new wing into a general produce area for chooks and
To build a fish room required money, space, time and a good plan. The
money and the space were not a problem as the family was away on holidays.
I held a garage sale that solved the first two problems in one fell swoop.
The garage sale raised $1900 and cleared out all the old antique furniture
and vintage motor cycles which I had been saving to restore in my
retirement (It seemed like a good idea at the time).
Time was not a problem as I had just taken three weeks holiday. That
left just the "plan", which I had worked-over a 100 times in the
past three months and etched into my mind. An area in the garage was
cleared, that was 12' long and 9' wide, with a limit of 6'6" roof
space. It will contain two double racks on either side with a 3'-wide
center aisle and a drain across the room. Working from the left were six
2'-tanks all drilled and feeding into a single mini-reef and trickle
filter with the ability to be able to shut off any of the tanks and allow
a sponge filter to take over, just in case my new Discus were in the mood
The mini-reef was designed in such a way that the water could be
recycled around the reef, keeping the aerobic bacteria alive, while the
tanks were not on the main filter system. On the bottom left were three
3'x2'x2' tanks all drilled and serviced by a trickle filter 4' long and 2'
wide by 14 " high installed underneath the racks. On the top
right-hand rack I had four 30"-high tanks used for quarantine and
hospital tanks, all with their own filtration system. The bottom
right-hand side contained three 4' tanks, all drilled with a mini-reef
filter - again mounted under the racks. Air was supplied to all of the
tanks by a 32mm airline running in a loop completely around the fish room
and supplied by a Thomas double-diaphragm vacuum pump, modified to make it
into a compressor.
Eighteen power points were also added at the rear of the tanks so that
the water could not mix with the electricity and make "crispy
critters" out of anyone putting their hand into a live tank.
The whole system was now up and running, insulation being provided by
2" polystyrene around the walls (all that I could load into my L300
wagon for the paltry price of $20). Initially, the heating of the tanks
was done individually with about 20 300-watt heaters, later a fan heater
was installed. With all that in mind, an old fishhead told me (after I had
finished my fish room) that all fishheads who build fishrooms should
demolish them and start over, learning from their mistakes. This
statement, although very profound, as I now know is true.
As the fish room was up and running, with heaters working, filters
filtering, aerators aerating - 80 of my new baby Discus were installed
into the growing-out tanks. With the remainder of the money burning a hole
in my pocket, I purchased some breeding pairs and installed them into
breeding tanks. Not a lot happened for about three months, and my 80
babies were growing out well, until one day I noticed a pair of beautiful
Blue Turquoise had laid eggs. The eggs developed into wrigglers, and lo
and behold, wonder of wonders the parents accepted them. I had another 150
babies on the way. Within six months a number of pairs started breeding so
I joined the newly formed Australian Discus Association to get the
much-needed information on how to look after my ever-expanding stock.
As the money situation was starting to look a bit desperate, the
elusive fortune that I wanted to make kept getting further away. As luck
would have it, nearly all my babies grew-out without any problems and the
brineshrimp hatchery was in full production 24 hours a day. Believe it or
not, I received my first order for 100 Blue Turks to go to South
Australia. At last - $$$$$$$$.
The Red Turks, 150 of which were earmarked for a Queensland dealer and my
24-hour efforts were starting to pay dividends. A new water filtration
system scrounged from work was installed to supply the ever-increasing
amount of water needed for water changes, (a RO unit producing 600lts a
day). Electricity bills of $700 to $800 were not a problem, all was right
in the world of "Robinson's Discus".
Disaster was just around the corner.
With the discus fish room in full production and with orders in hand for
another 300 small 4cm babies the promised $$ were well on the way. Its
really quite amazing how many fry can be produced from 3 good breeding
pairs until one of the prize males decides to jump for joy out of the
small gap in the back in the back top glass and fall down behind the tank
at about midnight.
I got up in the morning to feed all the fry with brine shrimp and a nice
supplement of live food for the breeders and there is only one in the
tank. At first I thought I was seeing things and just stared blankly at
the tank. Then reality set in and I looked in, under, on top, on the floor
and for all the four eyes that I have I couldn't see him anywhere.
It wasn't until later when I was pulling out a polystyrene box, right
down the other end that I saw 1 flat dead male squashed behind the box. As
if that wasn't enough to rip your heart out 1 week later the company I
work for told me that the great shift that was allowing me to get all my
work done (fish room and around the house) had some inspiring news...
"your shift will finish, that's the good news, the bad news is that
it is as of Monday next week". Now everybody knows that keeping
discus requires a lot of time for preparation of food, water, cleaning,
tanks, and feeding fry at the optimum rate ( 5-6 times a day with a 50%
water change each feed) and if the only days left are Saturday and Sunday
- when the girls are off playing net ball , the wife has to go shopping,
the taps in the laundry need fixing, etc … there will not be enough time
to do all the above items in two days.
As I was coming to grips with a 5 day week (Does everybody work 5 days,
how trying) my mother in law informs me there is rising damp in her room,
(rising damp, how can that be?) Her room is above the garage and fish
room. Hmm I wonder if the humidity is going through the floor and into the
plaster. Upon inspection of the room with pealing paint all around the
walls to about 1m high the realization that the fish room is the culprit
sets in. (What else can go wrong). What a stupid thing to think when fate
is having a field day.With all the new times of feeding and cleaning the
breeding pairs stop laying eggs - so what else is new if you upset their
AHAHA! $$$ Are mounting in the form of food, power and it's got to get
With the shortened time at hand I will get my children into the fish room
to help out at night after they are finished their homework (all ½ of
it). Things were looking up and the routine was re- established with some
good well established practices and a little practical logic all the
feeding, water changing and cleaning could be done by 11pm at night until
one night one of my children asked " does it matter if I knocked that
brown bottle into the tank without the lid on it?" " What brown
bottle and in which tank!?" " The one with the skull on it and
it was over the growing out tank," has anyone ever seen what a full
bottle of formalin can do to 100 2cm fish in 15 mins if not told about it!
They DIE, very quickly.I can tell you that some choice words were said
that night- mostly about my stupidity for leaving the top off the bottle.
Well folks I am just about to give this get rich scheme away when the
last straw is drawn.
My employment will end on the 31st of August 2000, along with about 400
others as the company is undergoing global re-constructing - after a full
household meeting as one of the cost calling economies the get rich scheme
with fish will have to wait until another time.
One piece of advice on how to be a successful fish breeder and make a
fortune: Don't even try unless it is a hobby that by natural means
generates excess fish. It is only extremely hard work and a lot of
misfortunes (especially with discus) unless you love the Discus fish.
As a postscript - I now have a number of Great planted tanks around the
house with all my best fish enjoying themselves and giving us all a lot of
joy (and 6 growing out tanks under the house but don't say anything).
"Good luck" Ian Robinson