How to be a successful fish breeder...and make a fortune!
By Ian Robinson
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 filters".

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 dining room.

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 ducks.

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 to breed.

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 routine enough.

AHAHA! $$$ Are mounting in the form of food, power and it's got to get better!
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 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

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