The dos and dont's when starting a small ornamental fish business

You can get a good aquarium for Sh15,000.

Why keep fish that you can’t eat? This is a question that you may hear from those opposed to the rearing of ornamental fish. Ornamental fish keeping is one of the most popular hobbies in the world today.  You’ll find them in many offices and homes. Fishes that are kept in home aquariums, or for aesthetic purposes are considered ornamental fish. These fishes encompass a wide variety of species, shapes, sizes and colours.

Ornamental fish are usually kept in aquariums or tanks. The most common species of ornamental fish is Gold Fish which is scientifically known as Carassius auratus. Others are Discus, Angelfish, Corydoras Catfish, Bettas and Plecostomus.

You can get a live fish for about Sh500 or more depending on the species. While many of the fish are easy to breed, some are rare, difficult to breed and expensive. It is advisable to start with common, attractive, easily bred and less expensive species. 

An ornamental fish project can be either rearing, breeding or breeding and rearing depending upon the space available. Rearing these fish involves the following:


Glass tanks of varying size are used for rearing the fish. The number and size of the glass tanks depend on the species selected. You can get a good aquarium for Sh15,000. This comes with décor or plant like materials and rocks, filter pump, air pump and lighting system. This provides a near-natural environment for the fish. 


Feeding is generally done twice in a day or according to requirement. Formulated artificial or prepared feed can be used. The amount and type of food to be given depend on the size of the fry. The feed may include fish flakes, granules, blood worms and fish pellets. You can get these feeds at different packaging from a pet store near you.


The method of breeding is based on the family characteristics of the fish. The success of breeding depends on the compatibility of pairs, the identification of which is a skill born out of experience. It is always better to buy good brooding stock. Otherwise, the original characteristic of the species keeps on getting diluted because of continuous inbreeding. Brooders especially egg layers should be discarded after a few spawning.


For breeding, the tanks can be of brick masonry work having flat bottoms with inlet and outlet pipes. Clay, cement, fiberglass or plastic tanks can also be used. Rearing of fish should be done in large tanks. The size of the tanks varies according to the space, the number and the type of fish cultured.

Health care

The health of these gems is critical for their survival. Only healthy fish can withstand transportation and fetch good price. Support services include: research and extension and veterinary services, infrastructure and maintenance.

Target diseases

Water supply: Deep tube wells would be the best source of water. Recycling of water through bio-filters or other sorts of filtering mechanisms can be tried. Other sources like dug wells, and municipal water if available can also be used.

Aeration equipment: A blower pump with a network of tubes for aeration is a must. The continuous power supply should also be maintained through a generator set or inverter.


Ornamental fish can suffer from different diseases, so be on the lookout. Bacterial diseases are more common than viral ones. Among them, the most prevalent are infections caused by Aeromonas, Shewanella, Citrobacter, Pseudomonas and Edwardsville. These infections present with signs such as poor appetite, skin ulcers, darkening of the skin, protrusion of the eyeball, and fluid accumulation in the abdomen. A veterinarian comes in handy to sort this. 


At present, the market is mainly domestic. The export market is steadily increasing.

[The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at FarmKenya]

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