"Just a few more fishes..."

We love fishes. It's our thing...

The aquarium hobby and industry are surprisingly vast, diverse institutions. Being a global hobby and industry, there are many, many "players" involved in this thing. Have you ever stopped, just for a moment, and contemplated just how many fishes are bred and collected each year worldwide which end up in the ornamental tropical fish trade?

And when we talk about "breeding" of tropical fishes, we're not just discussing the big commercial hatchery level, mind you- we need to take into consideration "basement breeders", advanced hobbyists, and even the casual "dabbler" in the hobby. Cichlids, Guppies, Catfish, Tetras, Bettas, and thousands of species in between. It has to be a pretty staggering number, huh?

Where the mind really blows is when you think about just how many fishes are being produced and collected, versus how many people are in the tropical fish hobby, or simply keep tropical fish worldwide...I read somewhere that in 2012, a study concluded that 1 in 10 British citizens keeps tropical fish...Wow! And that's just in Great Britain. Consider continental Europe, North America, and the Asian marketplace...I mean, if it's even 1 in every 20...or 30, for that matter..."that's still a shitload of people", as a good friend of mine would say!

Yeah, that's a lot of fish!

Like, tons and tons of fish.

Although I can't help but think to myself, Where do they all go?

I mean, how often do we purchase fishes for our aquariums? Weekly? Monthly? More frequently? How many fishes does the average hobbyists purchase at one time? No one really has stats on this stuff...Or, if you find numbers, they're not too helpful, really. Now, I'm not trying to write a "white paper" here with detailed quantative research data.

Like most of my blogs, this is a combination of opinion ("Fellmanfluff", as one of my friends gleefully calls my ramblings...), observation, and good old-fashioned fish geek assumptions! However, if we just think about the possible numbers here, it IS quite staggering! And that is the point of this piece: To just sort of ponder the concept for a bit. 

We hear so much about pressure on natural habitats of fishes and wild populations. I think managed collecting is good, captive breeding is better...but again- just how many fishes are "in circulation" at any given time?

And this is just fishes.

I didn't even mention corals or other inverts.

I can tell you from my own experience co-owning a major retail coral propagator/importer, that we produced many thousands of frags a year in our 6,000 square foot, 15,000-U.S. gallon facility here in Los Angeles...That's just frags of corals, mind you...We sold maricultured colonies, too. Our focus was on sustainability...We could barely keep up with demand at times...And we were just one, mid-sized company doing this, in a field of many- in the U.S. alone.

Just how large is the appetite for this stuff?

It's got to be pretty huge, huh?

As a member of the vibrant tropical fish community on various social media platforms, I'm often struck by the sheer quantity and frequency of "for sale/for trade" listings on say, Facebook groups, specialty clubs, and forums. It seems like every day, some hobbyist somewhere is selling at least a few varieties of fishes, or giving them away, trading them, etc.

Now, some of these are "already in circulation", ie; fishes that the hobbyist bought or acquired from the LFS, breeder, etc., and maybe couldn't keep healthy, had no space for, or just got tired of. Yet, there are a lot of listings for cichlids and catfish, for example, that were spawned by the hobbyist who is listing them. And some of these are geographic morphs, captive-bred strains, variations, unidentified wild subspecies, etc.

That's even MORE fishes in "circulation", right?

And interestingly, I've talked to many vendors who sell tropical fishes over the year and they literally will cite clubs and basement breeders as "challengers" to their business models. I find this fascinating and actually kind of cool. But man, that IS a lot of "channels" for a LOT of fishes!

How do we absorb all of these fishes? How many tanks are there out there?

Well, if my decades of haunting fish clubs and shows is any indication...quite a few! I know dozens of fish geeks that maintain at least 5-6 aquariums, and quite a few who have 30-60 tank fish rooms!

But, still...

Then again, as fish geeks- we love to acquire new fish.

Think about your own habits at those club auctions and raffles...No matter how crowded your fish tanks are- you manage to find room for "just a few more" of those cool Tetras, Rasbora, or whatever...besides, they were only 3 dollars for like 10 of 'em! Can't pass up a deal like that, right?


As fish geeks, we're almost "genetically programmed" to accumulate fish! Even when we declare that we're "done" with acquiring new ones. I've seen this phenomenon play out hundreds of times at club meetings and hobby conventions worldwide for decades...

And I sometimes think about this: When we can't find the space for our new fishes, and don't sell or give away any...what do we do with our "old" fishes? I'm not suggesting anything sinister may be afoot...I'm merely pondering about how we absorb so many fishes? How does this all go down?

Do we just "find space", or..?

Nah. I can't believe that. No way.

Well, maybe?

Nah. No chance...Right?

Yet, one can't help but wonder where the hell all of the fishes go.

I mean, I'm as active a hobbyist as anyone, but I personally haven't purchased or acquired any new fishes in a couple of months. I may be a bit "anal retentive" in my selection process (you recall we've discussed this before), but there must be a few thousand other fish geeks like me worldwide, right? So maybe, it's just a couple million of you guys "hogging" all of the fish?

It IS a big planet, filled with possibilities, right?

I guess we purchase a lot of new aquariums each year, too. And filters, pumps, heater, additives, plants, wood, food...and even botanicals!

Okay. I'm good with that.


Yet, on mornings like today, I sit back with my coffee and do the "amateur math" in my head...and wonder...

Where DO all of the "extra" fishes go? Who has them? 

Well, no answers today...Your guess is as good as mine. Yet, interesting to contemplate, huh? 

I think so.

Until next time.

Stay resourceful. Stay curious. Stay enthusiastic. Stay excited. 

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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