One question that often appears in my inbox is “How can I make money breeding fish?” And you can’t blame people for asking. Keeping fish is an expensive hobby and if you can earn some money doing what you already love, why not do it? After all, if you could breed just a few of the more expensive fish at home, you could probably earn some decent money – or at least cover the next aquarium purchase.
Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that unless you have access to a warm climate, are a highly experienced fish-keeper, and can breed fish on a large scale, then you’re not going to make much money from breeding fish. In fact, you probably won’t even recover the costs from raising them.
The problem is that fish are now raised on an industrial scale, and the days where one guy was out collecting them in a dugout canoe are mostly gone. Now vast fish farms in Asia – or other areas with low wages – raise millions of fish to be sold around the world, and it’s almost impossible to compete with their prices.
To make matters worse, nearly all the old local fish stores have been replaced with big box chains – and they’re not going to buy fish from some random guy on the street, holding a dripping bag of fish.
But now that I’ve suitably discouraged you from running out and spending thousands starting a fish farm, I will say you can still make ‘some’ money breeding fish. In fact, if you do it right, it can be enough to help defray the costs of this hobby (which have almost put me in the poor house more than once). Plus, breeding fish is enjoyable, so at times it doesn’t even feel like work.
But then how do you breed fish for money? The answer partly depends on your location, and partly depends on how much you’re willing to hustle. Below are the four ways to make money breeding fish and invertebrates.
Breed the Old Favorites
Breeding popular, long established fish is probably the best way for most people to make some extra money on the side from this hobby. There will always be demand for fish like guppies, platies, bristlenose plecos, and other easy to breed fish. Yes, these fish are readily available and cheap at most of the big box stores – but have you seen the tanks there?
With the exception of some well-maintained PetSmarts and Big Al’s, most of the big box store’s tanks are stocked with sad, sick, and lethargic fish, and it’s not unusual to see tanks filled with fish corpses. Many people absolutely hate buying fish from these places, and they’ll seek out reputable breeders to purchase from. They may cost more, but at least they know they’re getting a healthy fish.
If you plan to make money this way, the first thing you must do is check out your local market. Find out what is selling and what isn’t selling. Then start breeding and offering the fish for sale on local forums, or sites like Craigslist, eBay, or Aquabid.
But you really have to watch your profit margin when breeding these kinds of fish. They don’t sell for a lot, and you can’t sell them until they’re juveniles. It’s very easy to end up losing money if you aren’t careful. Any fish you’re breeding should be kept in a room where heating is kept to a minimum, and you should try to cultivate your own food for them: mosquito larvae, blackworms, and vegetables grown in the backyard really help to keep food costs down.
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Breed the Oddballs
Another way to make money breeding fish is to focus on the oddballs: The ones that can’t be found in local pet stores, or the ones people just simply don’t think of selling. Once again, this is highly dependent on your area, and you need to do a bit of research before you settle on what you want to breed.
But some examples of the oddballs are shrimp, snails, or exotic looking fish like blind cave tetras. None of these sell for that much money, but there is a demand for them, and they can be incredibly hard to find. For example, in most areas it’s almost impossible to find Malaysian trumpet snails; Which seems absurd, since they breed like rabbits, have very few requirements, and are often in high demand. But still, almost no one thinks to breed them.
And if you can ship these oddball fish, then you can really produce a steady income. But once again, I can’t stress how important research is before getting started. There’s nothing worse than breeding hundreds of shrimp or fish, and then realizing there is no market for them.
Breed Live Food
Strangely enough, the one thing that always seems to sell is live food for fish. There is always demand for live food, and it costs virtually nothing to get everything up and running. And not only does most live food reproduce fast, but it also sells for a lot – often much more than individual fish.
But once again, I’m going to sound like a broken record and say research is key before committing to anything. If there are a few dozen people already selling what you’re about to start cultivating, then you’re going to have a hard time making any money. But if there are only a handful – or even better, no local sellers– then you can make a killing selling live food.
Some live food to concentrate on are microworms, wingless fruit flies, blackworms (impossible to find in many areas), pesticide free earthworms, vinegar eels, grindal worms, and white worms. Often, you’ll make much more selling an entire cultivation setup, rather than just some of the live food for feedings.
While there is a certain ‘ick’ factor in cultivating many of these live foods, in my experience, they tend to have an excellent return on investment. That, and they’re far easier to breed than fish or invertebrates. Their low cost also makes mistakes far less painful. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much to lose a microworm culture, as it does to lose a freshwater stingray.
Breed the Rare, Expensive Fish
Speaking of stingrays, when someone first sees a freshwater stingray selling for a few hundred dollars in a store, they often get dollar signs in their eyes and rashly decide that this is the fish they’re going to breed. Or maybe they see a Red Frontosa, or a Zebra Pleco, or any of the other hundreds of fish fetching top dollar. But the result is often the same: they jump in with little to no experience – often after spending thousands on an aquarium setup – and end up with a dead fish, or with fish that won’t breed.
That’s not to say you can’t earn money with these fish. If you know what you’re doing – and your local market isn’t flooded – then these fish can produce an impressive flow of income. But there’s a reason these fish are so expensive: they’re hard to keep, sometimes even harder to breed, and in the case of freshwater rays, produce few offspring.
And to make matters even worse, most people won’t buy off an unknown breeder. After all, you probably don’t offer a warranty, and there’s no easy way to tell if the fish has been well cared for and is healthy. So, if you do decide to pursue breeding these kind of fish, expect it to take a while to build up a good reputation. Once you have a good reputation, it becomes much easier to sell these fish.
However, the market for any kind of expensive fish is often very limited. After all, how many people do you know that are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a single fish? If you’re looking to breed fish for money, there are usually easier and more profitable options.
Breeding fish for money is a business and it should be viewed as such. It takes research, hard work, and a little bit of luck to make any money doing it. But it can produce a nice little stream of income if you do it right. And since it’s already a hobby you enjoy, why not make some money out of it?