Fish keeping can be an expensive hobby, so many aquarists wonder if it’s possible to make money by breeding aquarium fish. Based on our experiences from running a fish store, speaking with many fish breeders, and personally breeding fish to sell, we’ve collected the most important things you need to know about the best fish to breed, what supplies to buy, and how to sell them.
The reality is that selling fish from home as a full-time job is not a very profitable venture, and most other careers can make you more money for the same amount of time and effort. Fish farms produce millions of fish and make very slim profits by selling them for less than $1 each. That being said, breeding fish as a side gig is a great way to pay for your aquarium hobby expenses. The goal is to be profitable and not run at a loss, which means our #1 tip is to not invest a lot of money in this project. Start small, and don’t buy a lot of tanks and equipment at first. In the beginning stages, you need to vet out any potential problems – such as how to get your fish to breed, whether or not people will buy your fish, and so forth.
You want to select the most profitable fish that are easy to breed and easy to unload, so go to a mainstream pet store and see what kinds of fish they sell in mass quantities. Although they may go for a higher price, don’t breed fish like discus, stingrays, or rarer African cichlids because not enough people buy them and you’ll end up with a surplus of fish. Instead, breed something like assorted guppies that sell for less but are always in demand.
Most people who visit fish stores are beginners, so research what kind of fish they like to buy by reading articles on the top beginner fish for freshwater aquariums. Beginners also tend to keep smaller fish tanks, so go with nano species instead of oscars or goldfish. Smaller animals can be kept in both little and giant aquariums, so there is a higher demand for them compared to monster fish.
Small, colorful, and hardy fish that breed frequently are usually great options to breed for profit.
Finally, remember that what you think is cool is not necessarily what the public wants to buy. For instance, many shrimp enthusiasts love the striped pattern on rili shrimp, but if you show a rili shrimp versus a solid red cherry shrimp to the general public, they will almost always pick the regular red cherry shrimp because they think there’s something wrong with the rili shrimp missing a patch of color in its midsection. If you’re interested in profitability, sell what the public prefers and keep your interesting, unique fish just for fun.
Most small, profitable fish can be easily bred in a 10- or 20-gallon tank, so let’s say you start with a 20-gallon tank, heater, filter, and some assorted guppies. If you get a growing colony and are able sell 50 guppies every month for 50₵ each, then you would earn $25 per month. How do you increase your profit? Instead of buying another tank (and additional equipment) to raise more guppies, let’s find a way to make more money using the same tank.
One idea is to add a plant to sell. Java moss is a great candidate because not only is it easy to grow, but it serves double duty by providing cover for your guppy fry and increasing their survival rate. Local fish stores typically run out of java moss because it’s quite slow-growing, so you may be able to sell a bucketful of java moss for $20 a month. By adding java moss to the breeding tank, you can also breed another species like red cherry shrimp. Start with a high-quality stock and you may be able to sell 25 shrimp each month at $1 a head. That brings your total monthly revenue to $70 a month or $840 a year with only one aquarium.
By breeding complimentary species in the same tank, people can then set up an aquarium like yours and buy more than one product from you. Other possible combinations for a single breeding tank include angelfish with corydoras or Apistogramma cichlids with java moss. Also, diversifying your offerings allows you to continue making some revenue each month even if there isn’t a demand for one of your species. For example, if your local fish store can’t take any more guppies, you can still give them cherry shrimp and java moss.
Cherry shrimp and moss can both reproduce in the same tank, upping the amount of revenue you get from a single setup.
The reason you don’t want to keep adding a lot of new aquarium setups (even if you get the equipment for free) is because each tank costs money to run every month. For now, let’s ignore certain costs like the mortgage or rent of your home and gas money to deliver fish. Get your electricity and water bill to find out how much it costs for each kilowatt of energy and each gallon of water you use. Plus, record down how much time it takes you to maintain the aquarium. Then overestimate how much it costs to run each tank.
For example, let’s pretend every month you are paying $10 for power, water, and food for one fish tank. You also spend 2 hours a month working with the tank (at a rate of $15 an hour), so you put in $30 a month of labor. Therefore, every month you are almost doubling your money from a $40 investment to $70 in revenue. Plus, you have already built in the cost of paying yourself, which means one day you can afford to hire someone else to help maintain the tanks so you can focus on building your business. By calculating your operating costs, you can determine whether or not your fish breeding side hustle is running at a profit or at a loss.
The easiest, most hassle-free way to sell fish is to go to your local fish store. (Most big brand pet stores won’t buy fish from local breeders because they already have contracts with large fish farms.) You may be able to make a little more money by selling to individuals online or locally, but you will end up spending a lot of time on customer support, catering to each person that has a special request or problem with your fish. With fish stores, the only customer you have is the store manager, and therefore you can fully devote your time and attention to make that customer very, very happy.
If you have multiple local fish stores in your vicinity, commit yourself to only working with one store. (Usually, the fish store closest to you is the most convenient to work with because of the shorter driving distance.) The reason for this is to avoid market competition. If you sell your angelfish to four different stores in the same area, inevitably one store will set the angelfish at the cheapest price and win all the sales, souring your relationship with the other three stores. Also, don’t sell the remainder of your angelfish in your local fish club auction or on classified ad websites, or else you are directly competing with the fish stores and they won’t be as likely to work with you again.
Start small and form a solid, long-term relationship with one local fish store to sell your fish.
Once you have chosen a fish store to work with, bring them a sample bag of fish, as well as a cover letter with your contact information and a pricing list labeled by species name. Give the sample of fish to the store for free to try selling to their customers. This donation is a show of good will so that the store can see whether or not your fish will sell at a certain price. If the fish don’t sell, then the store won’t be unhappy with you because they didn’t lose any money. Remember that you’re handing them $30 of free fish for a potential $840 per year in return.
Most local fish stores are independently owned, small businesses that are low on cash, and therefore they will likely offer you to pay you store credit. However, the best practice is for you to get paid in cash. This method helps you create a clearly documented paper trail of all expenses and revenue for tax reporting purposes. If the fish store cannot pay you in cash, then get an inexpensive credit card reader for your smartphone. Your business suddenly becomes more legitimate and professional because you can accept cash, credit, or check.
In order to build a strong, lasting relationship with your local fish store, only breed the species that match what the store sells. If they don’t sell African cichlids, then don’t make yellow labs (or Labidochromis caeruleus). Also, make sure your fish are healthy and robust. If your fish keep dying at the fish store, try to solve the problem by feeding your fish the same foods, keeping them at the same temperature, and changing your water at the same frequency your fish store does. Finally, fish stores are looking for long-term breeders who always provide the same species and aren’t constantly switching up their offerings. If you decide to be the best provider of red bristlenose plecos, have them available at all times. When your local market is flooded with them and no one wants to buy right now, just scale down the number of tanks dedicated to bristlenose plecos but keep them around because eventually people will come back asking for them and you want to be ready for that opportunity.
Build your reputation as a reliable breeder that always has the same species available for sale.
Pricing is a tricky subject because you are competing against the wholesaler that the local fish store buys from and they can sell at very cheap prices. Therefore, whatever you offer to the fish store must be either at a better price than the wholesaler or at a better quality that the customer can instantly see. If your fish are priced right, look fantastic, and never die, then the customer develops a great impression of the fish store, and the fish store wants to work with you more. It becomes a win-win-win situation for everyone.
Before you approach the fish store, do your research to find out how much fish cost, depending on their size, quantity, and quality. Then, instead of asking the fish store how much they will pay you, you can make the first offer. Share your market data with the store manager and what price you believe customers will pay for your fish. The lower the price, the faster the store can sell them. (Remember, guppy lovers may pay $50 in an online auction for a pair of specialty guppies, but the general public may only pay $20 in a store for those same guppies.) Then, negotiate your price to be approximately 25% of the total customer price. If the store disagrees with your assessment, they can always try selling the sample fish you provided at a different price and then figure out your cut afterwards.
The supply and demand for different aquarium fish species is a constantly moving target. Sometimes one fish is all the rage, and then half a year later, no one wants them because everyone bred them and now the market is oversaturated. One day someone may buy your marbled angelfish from the store, breed a ton of them, and then undercut you in price. Luckily, fish breeding is a long-term game. If you have your pricing correctly dialed in and the other breeder’s price is too low, eventually their business will no longer be sustainable (or they lose interest in angelfish) and they will quit breeding your species. Wait for the market bubble on marbled angelfish to crash and eventually rise again. You need to be that stable person who controls the market and always has marbled angelfish available at the same constant cost.
Fish keep breeding all the time, and just because you made a fish doesn’t mean you can sell it. To avoid holding excess inventory, don’t raise up more fish than you can sell. A single spawn of angelfish can make enough babies to sell for an entire year, so let any subsequent spawns get naturally eaten or separate the adults. Also, research the ideal size for each species to be sold. A 2-inch oscar is adorable and everyone wants to take one home, but a 12-inch oscar is difficult to rehome even for free. It may be smarter to raise up several smaller spawns with different hatch dates so that you always have fish available at the ideal size for the fish store to sell them.
If you still have too many fish, talk to your local fish store about offloading the surplus to their wholesaler, selling it to a remote fish store that is more than 50 miles away (thus decreasing the chances of them being a direct competitor), or selling the fish out-of-state via online auction websites. If the store can’t accept any of these options, you may need to find another shop to work with.
If you have an excess of fish, talk to your fish store before making any decisions so that you won’t break the trust you’ve built up with them.
Selling fish online and shipping them is one of the hardest ways to make money breeding fish. Yes, you may be able to sell them for a higher price, but don’t forget that you need to pay for extra shipping costs and there’s no guarantee your package will arrive on time and in good shape. In our experience, 1 out of 5 orders seems to have problems, such as wrong addresses, shipping delays, connecting flights diverted to hot locations, or boxes sitting outside for hours because the customer was at work. In those cases, the only way to make your customer completely happy is to ship replacement fish at your cost or refund their entire order, resulting in a lot of lost time and money for you.
Selling on classified advertisement websites like Craigslist is the second hardest method. The average client often doesn’t show up to scheduled meetings or is looking to bargain your price down. If you let them come to your home to pick up the fish, be prepared to spend a lot of time with each customer because they will want to see all your tanks and talk shop about the aquarium hobby. That being said, an at-home visit is also a good opportunity to upsell them on additional fish or small add-on purchases. Good ideas for value-added sales include microworm cultures, live daphnia, ramshorn snails, plants, food samples, spawning mops, and even used equipment. (This is another reason to have a credit card reader in case they don’t have exact change in cash.) If they like what you’re offering, you may earn yourself a repeat customer for easy future sales.
Local fish clubs and their online social media groups are nice because the audience usually consists of more serious fish keepers who are not automatically looking for the cheapest prices. It’s also easier to form relationships with them and meet up in person. Depending on the rules of your fish club’s online group, post your available fish listing no more than once a month to avoid looking like spam. Also, people will compare your prices with other sellers’ if you publicly post them, so instead use private or direct messages to communicate them with interested buyers. Eventually, you will build up a good reputation among the local hobbyists so that they start recommending your name to others who are looking for certain fish.
Best of luck with your fish breeding endeavors. If you liked this article, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter and stay up to date on our latest blog posts, products, and more.