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Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06


Ling K H* and Lim L Y*

Singapore is the worlds leading exporter of ornamental fish and currently ranks first position in the global export trade. For the period from 1996 to 2000, Singapore captured 24% to 26% of the global export trade and contributed to 4% of the global import trade. Other major exporting countries of ornamental fish in 2000 were Indonesia (7%), Malaysia (6%), the Czech Republic (6%) and Japan (5%). The top five major importing countries in 2000 were USA (25%), Japan (13%), Germany (9%), France (8%) and UK (8%). In 2003, Singapore exported S$74.2 million (US$43 million) worth of ornamental fish to 71 countries, and for the same period, imported S$33.7 million (US$19.2 million) worth of ornamental fish from 25 countries. The top five countries that Singapore exported to in that year were USA, UK, Japan, Germany and France. Singapore produces about 44% of the ornamental fish it exports. In 2002, there were 64 farms covering 133 hectares of agrotechnology parks established and managed by AVA. The farmers breed only freshwater ornamental fish species with some 400 species and 1000 varieties being exported annually. Singapore was the first in the world to obtain approval from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to trade in the endangered Dragon fish (Asian Arowana) by documenting the breeding of second filial (F2) generations of the fish and demonstrating that microchips can be used as tags to distinguish progenies produced in captivity. To-date there are six Dragon fish farms in Singapore that have been registered by CITES.

The ornamental fish industry in Singapore is currently doing well and enjoys a major position in the global business of ornamental fish export. However, it faces many challenges, which will have to be continually addressed to ensure that Singapore retains its position.

Singapore, a city-state with scarce land for agriculture, is ironically regarded globally as an ornamental fish capital. Strategically located at the center of the Southeast Asian region, Singapore is rich in fish fauna. With its excellent telecommunication links, good network of air connections, high temperature and rainfall all year round, the climate in Singapore is ideal for farming tropical fish. The ornamental fish industry in Singapore consists of two major sectors - export trade and farming industry. Over time, well-developed distribution systems for ornamental fish, comprising farmers, wholesalers and exporters, have been established in Singapore. Farmers specialize in breeding popular species. New varieties of fish within a species are continually developed, and reared to market size at their farms. The fish are either sold directly to exporters or to wholesalers. Wholesalers first buy fish in bulk from local farms or farms in the region, then proceed to condition and repack them, before distributing them to the exporters. Exporters, who are also importers themselves, in turn sell their fish to overseas buyers. There is a trend towards vertical integration in the industry. Some of the exporters have turned to farming to guarantee a more stable supply as well as to have better control over the quality of the fish.

Aquaculture Services Centre, 17km Sembawang Road, Singapore 769194


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

Status of Ornamental Fish Export

With reference to Fig 1, in Year 2000, Singapore is the top ornamental fish exporting country with 23.9% of the market share, reaping in an estimate of US$43.5 million (Anonymous, 2001). Within the Asian context (refer to Fig 2), in Year 2000, Singapore also earned the position of top Asian supplier country with 38.52% (US$43.5 million) of the ornamental fish export market.

From Fig 3, it can be seen that USA is the leading importing country of ornamental fish in Year 2000, with import as high as 24.5%, which is worth as much as US$60 million. Singapore, on the other hand, imports a mere 4.12% of ornamental fish (US$10 million) in the same year. Singapore, a world famous ornamental fish hub, imports only a mere portion of its ornamental fish from overseas compared to other Asean countries. These types of trends are reflected in Fig 4.

Others 26.5%

Phillppines 3.7%

Israel 3.0%

Singapore 23.9%

Sri Lanka 4.2%

Japan 4.6%

China/Hong Kong 10.6% USA 4.6% Czech Rep 5.6% Malaysia 6.3% Indonesia 7.1%

Fig 1: World trade: Share of main exporting countries (2000) (Total: US$182.13 million)

Malaysia 10.20%

Sri Lanka 6.83%

Phillippines 5.96%

Thailand 2.18%

Others 0.33%

Taiwan 1.91%

Japan 7.49%

Indonesia 11.37%

China 15.21%

Singapore 38.52%

Fig 2: Asian suppliers (2000) (Total: US$112.92 million)


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

Singapore 4.1% Italy 3.9%

Others 21.4%

USA 24.5%

Holland 3.5% Belgium 3.9% UK 8.1% France 8.3% Germany 8.9%

Japan 13.4%

Fig 3: World trade: Share of importing countries (2000) (Total: US$245.38 million)

$25,000 $20,000
$ (USD '000)

$15,000 $10,000 $5,000 $0


















Fig 4: Asian trade over past 15 years (Import) Although Singapore is one of the top exporting ornamental fish countries in the world, when compared to the total Asian export data for the past decade (1990 to 2000), Singapore still has some catching up to do. This trend is reflected in Fig 5. Singapore has been the top exporting country for ornamental fish for the past decade starting from the early nineties as shown in Fig 6. Hong Kong and Indonesia are second and third respectively. In 1995, Singapore reached a peak export value for ornamental fish. It exported 235 million pieces (pcs) worth S$84.2 million (US$48.7 million) to more than 70 countries worldwide with transactions in about 50% of the 1,000 species and varieties. From Fig 7, a comparison of the world ornamental fish export data was compared against the Singapore export data. The graph revealed that Singapore exported about US$50 million for the past decade


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

$140,000 $120,000 $100,000 $ (USD '000) $80,000 $60,000 $40,000 $20,000 $0 '90 '91 '92 '93 '94 '95 Year '96 '97 '98 '99 '00

Fig 5: Asian trade (Export) from 1990 - 2000


Fig 6: Top five Asian exporting countries (1990 2000)

whereas world export ranged from US$100 million to US$200 million. With reference to Fig 8, the graph shows that Singapore export percentages of ornamental fish far exceeded the percentages of local production of ornamental fish. In 2002, about 110 million pcs of ornamental fish worth S$33 million (44.9%)

(US$19.1 million) were produced in Singapore. The export percentage for 2002 was 74.2%, which hints that Singapore needs to further improve its breeding techniques and skills to further meet the world demand for ornamental fish. Other major exporting countries included China, USA, Czech Republic, Malaysia and Indonesia.


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06 From Fig 9, a performance comparison was carried out between USA, Japan and West Europe. From the graph, West Europe was the best potential market for ornamental fish as it had the best profit margin. However, over the period of 1996 to 2000, there was a steady decrease in value of Singapore ornamental fish exports to these three sectors. Japan had the worst performance, reaping in the least profit margin.

Singapore Ornamental Fish Market

In recent years, despite stiff competition, Singapore still remains a major player. In 2002, there were 96 licensed importers and exporters of ornamental fish in Singapore (Singapore Trade Statistics 2003). The main bulk of ornamental fish exported from Singapore were farm-bred freshwater species. For freshwater species, the fish exported comprised one-

$250,000 $200,000 $ (USD '000) $150,000 $100,000 $50,000 $0 '90 '91 '92 '93 '95 Year World '94 '96 '97 '98 '99 '00


Fig 7: Growth in world export versus Singapore export (1990 2000)

90.0 90.0 80.0 80.0 Percentage (%) 70.0 70.0 60.0 60.0 50.0 50.0 40.0 40.0 30.0 30.0 20.0 20.0 10.0 10.0 0.0 0.0

1993 1993

1994 1994

1995 1995

1996 1996

1997 1997

Export Export
Fig 8: Export value and percentage of local production ion

Year Year Local Production Local Production

1998 1998

1999 1999

2000 2000

2001 2001

2002 2002

63 63

Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

Fig 9: Export performance comparison between USA, Japan and West Europe

TABLE 1 TOP TEN SPECIES OF FISHES EXPORTED IN YEAR 2002 Species Tetra Guppy Catfish Goldfish Platy Molly Gourami Cichlid Loach Arowana Total Value S$ 8.6 mil S$ 6.5 mil S$ 5.6 mil S$ 5.4 mil S$ 4.8 mil S$ 4.6 mil S$ 4.5 mil S$ 4.3 mil S$ 3.9 mil S$ 3.8 mil

quarter of live-bearing fish and three-quarters of egglaying fish. The top five groups of fish exported in Year 2002 were Tetra, Guppy, Catfish, Goldfish and Platy with Tetra exceeding a profitable sum of S$8.6 million as reflected in Table 1.

Species and Varieties

An important strength of the Singapore exporters is their ability to supply a huge number of fish species and varieties to their customers. The Singapore


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

$14,000 $12,000 $10,000 Value (S$) $8,000 $6,000 $4,000 $2,000 $0 E1 E2 E3 E4 E5 E6 Exporters E7 E8 E9 E10

Fig 10: Top ten exporters in Singapore

IM10 IM9 IM8 IM7 Importers IM6 IM5 IM4 IM3 IM2 IM1 0 1000 2000 3000 $ (SGD '000) 4000 5000 6000

Fig 11: Top ten importers in Singapore

exporters source their fish globally in order to meet the market demands. Singapore thus is a one-stop supermarket for the global ornamental fish trade. This is reflected in the numerous fish species and varieties available for export.

fish farms in Singapore in 2002, with a total of 133 ha of farm areas. Figs 10 and 11 reflect the performances of the top ten importers and exporters in Singapore, with the top exporter achieving 17.4% (S$13,000) and top importer achieving 17.9% worth S$5,250. In 2002, Singapore farmers produced around 110 million pcs of ornamental fish worth US$19.1 million,

Status of Ornamental Fish Production

Singapore is one of the worlds largest producers of farm-bred ornamental fish. There were 64 ornamental


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06 which accounted for 44.9% of the fish exported. Fig. 12 reflects the performances of the top ten farms in Singapore for Year 2002. Farm 1 had the best performance, producing up to S$4.5 million worth of ornamental fish. The ornamental fish produced in Singapore are solely freshwater species. In terms of value, live-bearing fish made up almost one-third of the ornamental fish production while egg-laying fish made up the remaining two-thirds. The Guppy, Platy, Swordtail and Molly are the most important livebearers. Dragon Fish, Goldfish, Cichlid, Angelfish, Gourami and Tetra are the most important egg-laying fish groups. The Dragon Fish is one of the most popular ornamental fish in Singapore. Fig 13 shows the import, export, local sales and local production of Dragon Fish from 1998 to 2002. From the graph, import of Dragon Fish was the highest, reaching a peak of 15,000 pieces of Dragon Fish imported in Year 2001. Local production of the Dragon Fish appeared to be very small in numbers but it had been growing for the past five years. In order to stay competitive, Singaporean farmers strive to produce new fish varieties which are achieved through hybridization. For the last four to five decades, farmers had worked to select new desirable traits arising from genetic variation or spontaneous mutations, such as novel colours, patterns and fin shapes through selective breeding. After breeding for over 100 generations, the farmbred fish, such as the Guppy, are now more colourful, attractive and diverse from their wild counterparts. A total of 359 varieties of freshwater ornamental fish of commercial importance are being cultured in Singapore. The live-bearing fish, although averaging at only 7 species, accounts for as many as 48%, or 174 varieties. The Molly has the greatest varieties, followed by the Guppy, Platy and Swordtail. The egg-laying species account for the remaining 185 varieties, with the Angelfish having the most varieties, followed by the Tetra, Gourami and Discus. This is attributed to the fact that majority of the fish, especially the live-bearing fish, are relatively easy to breed.

Research and Development

To remain competitive in the global market, it is important for both the farmers and exporters to continuously strive for higher productivity and better fish quality. This could be achieved through application of science and modern technology in ornamental fish farming and export operations. AVA has been working closely with the industry and tertiary institutes on Research and Development (R&D) of ornamental fish culture and export, aiming at improving the production technology and the fish quality for export. These studies have led to many new technological developments. They are:

Water recirculation systems

Two water recirculation systems have been designed and developed for intensive ornamental fish farming and for holding of ornamental fish for export. Use of the systems have resulted in increased yield and better quality fish. Many farmers and exporters have shifted to recirculation systems in their farming and export operations.

Fish quality evaluation system

Development of this system has enabled farmers and exporters to screen the resistance of their Guppy against stress, by subjecting the Guppy to osmoregulatory stress tests. With this system, exporters can identify which of their sources are providing excellent Guppy. This will avoid them taking in or shipping out weak or unhealthy fish that may perish during shipment.

Fish quality enhancement

AVA has jointly developed with the industry several treatment protocols that aim at enhancing the health quality of the Guppy and Angelfish through eradication of fish parasites prior to export. Use of the protocols in export operations have resulted in


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

4.5 4.0 Production Value (S$ million) 3.5 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 Farms F7 F8 F9 F10

Fig 12: Top ten farms in Year 2002

Fig 13: Import, export, local sales and local production of Dragon fish (1998 2002)

better post-shipment survival of fish.

Enhancement of stress resistance

Ornamental fish are subjected to stress arising from handling, prophylactic treatment and conditioning prior to packing, crowding and adverse water quality during transportation. Studies conducted by AVA

demonstrated that the stress resistance of the Guppy could be enhanced through nutritional prophylaxis using vitamin C. AVA is conducting further experiments to apply these findings to enhance the post-shipment survival of the fish.


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06

Control of Salmonella and Vibrio cholera

AVA had completed a study and developed practical treatment protocols using copper sulphate and chlorine dioxide for controlling Salmonella and Vibrio cholera in packing water of ornamental fish consignments. These protocols were found suitable for use in consignments of the common ornamental fish such as the Guppy, Goldfish, Swordtail, Platy, Clown Loach and Tiger Barb.

(b) Training workshops to highlight key concepts of fish health management and to promote proper farm husbandry among farmers and exporters. (c) Talks and seminars to disseminate new techniques/technology to the industry. The AVAs research findings are also published in newsletters, technical pamphlets and scientific journals.

Key Challenges
Ornamental fish is an export-oriented business. Fish must not only be attractive to look at but also robust enough to withstand the long air journey in order to arrive in excellent condition at their destination. The key challenges to the ornamental fish industry are to produce new fish species and varieties as well as to supply higher quality fish to meet the increasing demands of overseas buyers.

Production of new fish varieties

AVA has jointly developed (with a commercial farm) a new Dragon Fish hybrid known as the Rainbow Dragon. Breeders in Singapore are also active in developing new fish varieties of Guppy, Discus, Swordtail, Molly and Platy through selective breeding. AVA will continue to work closely with the industry and the tertiary institutes on R&D that will enhance the ornamental fish quality and the performance of the industry.

Production of New Fish Species and Varieties

An important factor contributing to the success of the Singapore ornamental fish industry is the ability to supply numerous fish species and varieties to their overseas customers, which makes Singapore a onestop hub for the global ornamental fish trade. Unlike foodfish, most ornamental fish species have the unique characteristic of a short breeding cycle. Many species mature as early as three to four months, and mostly within eight months. Fish breeders can, therefore, develop pure breeds of new fish varieties over some five to ten generations within two to three years. Thus, Singapore farmers produce about seven to ten new fish varieties through selective breeding annually. Most of these new varieties are live-bearing fish, as they are relatively easy to breed compared to egg-laying fish.

Technology Transfer
It is critical for farms and exporters to be updated in terms of technology and management skills so as to stay competitive, productive and profitable. To achieve this, AVA officers provide technical advice on farm management, health matters and fish conditioning and packaging techniques during their routine inspections of farms and exporter premises. AVA also holds regular dialogue sessions with the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters Association (SAFEA) and the Singapore Tropical Aquarium Fish Breeders Association (STAFBA) to identify the technical assistance required by the industry, and organize technical activities to suit the needs of the industry. These activities include: (a) Talks on AVAs new rules and regulations related to farming, import/export of ornamental fish and new requirements imposed by the authorities of the importing countries.

Production of Suitable Ornamental Fish Larvae




The larvae of live-bearing fish like the Guppy, Molly, Platy and Swordtail are large and capable of ingesting Moina at initial feeding. In contrast, the larvae of


Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 59-69 2005/06 most egg-laying fish species are too small to feed on Moina or Artemia nauplii at their first feeding. The larvae of egg-laying fish like the Angelfish and Discus are reared in glass tanks and are fed with egg yolk suspension at their first feeding. The burden of producing new varieties of Discus and Tetra are now largely borne by hobbyists in Singapore. Many wildcaught Tetra species with small larvae are not produced commercially, because of the lack of suitable live food organisms for first feeding. For Dwarf Gourami, the larvae feed on natural plankton, induced by artificial fertilization of the culture water. Due to the high nutrient load and highly polluted water, fish raised by this method may suffer from Tuberculosis infection caused by Mycobacterium. These situations suggest that the lack of small-sized live feeds is the bottleneck in the fry production of ornamental fish. Development of the production technology for small-sized larval food organisms such as rotifers would provide opportunities for commercial breeding of ornamental fish species with small larvae, thereby enhancing the number of fish species and varieties for export.

Improvement of Packing Technology

The fish packaging technology is another critical factor determining the quality of fish on arrival. During the transportation process, ornamental fish are subjected to a series of stress starting from the harvesting at the farm to packaging for air transport, the adverse quality of transport water under crowded and pressurized conditions during transport, and the stocking operations after shipment. Fish that have low stress resistance will succumb, resulting in high mortality within one week after shipment. This is common even in fish batches that appear healthy and have no clinical signs of diseases prior to shipment. Research should therefore be focused on fish transportation to improve the quality and survival of fish after shipment.

The ornamental fish industry in Singapore is currently doing well and enjoys a reputable position in the global business of ornamental fish export. However, it faces many challenges, and these will have to be continually addressed to ensure that Singapore retains its edge.

Supply of High Quality Fish

The ability to produce high quality fish and ensuring they arrive in good condition with a high survival rate at the countries of destination is a major challenge to the ornamental fish industry. Besides good water quality management, suitable food with high nutritional quality is a critical factor in determining the quality of aquaculture organisms. Over the last four to five years, farmers and exporters have shifted from the stagnant system to the water recirculation system for their farming and fish conditioning operations. With improved water quality, Discus and Guppy cultured in water recirculation systems are now of better quality and can achieve higher production outputs.

Anonymous (2001). FAO Yearbook of Fisheries Statistic, Vol. 89 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Singapore Trade Statistic (2003). StatLink, Singapore Trade Statistic, International Enterprise Singapore.