Breeding Fish For Fun And Profit

Breeding Fish at Home

Almost every aquarist in history has at one time or another been lucky enough to feel the excitement and pride of discovering that they have provided a healthy and secure environment for their fish to feel comfortable enough to produce offspring for them. It is normally at this time that the aquarist then begins to wonder if they can make money doing this. Then wondering if they can make a living doing this. Then thinking maybe they'll get rich from doing this. I am here to tell you, without question, that the answer to these queries is: it depends.

Every person you ask about this subject, from the hobbyist breeder to the advanced specialist, will offer you different advice and thoughts on the subject. These can range from recommending anyone thinking of it to put that thought to rest, to going for it and offering any help or assistance they can. Just like any industry, there are a wide variety of personalities prevalent. Your success or failure depends in a large part on what you choose to do for yourself, so take all the advice with a grain of salt.

Breeding fish requires an in-depth understanding of the basic requirements of aquatic life. If you have not kept fish for at least a couple years successfully, it would make more sense to focus on getting these basics down before jumping ahead of yourself and attempting breeding. It only takes one problem you don't know how to handle to take all the fun out of fish keeping, and destroy your entire time and money investment.

The first step in determining what to do is deciding what level of involvement is right for you. Breeding fish, while often accomplished without any forethought, can be demanding, stressful and downright depressing at times, especially if it's on a large scale. Not only will you involve yourself physically and monetarily, but inevitably emotionally as well. Prepare yourself mentally for what may lie ahead.

Trials and Tribulations.

While holding the promise of something exciting, breeding fish will more often than not prove to be a tiresome process. Sometimes your fish just won't breed. Or you will lose that prized pair, no matter how hard you try. Batches of fry will do great for three weeks then all end up dead overnight. Without conviction and perseverance, setbacks such as these can become permanent. Days, weeks and months can sometimes be spent trying to pair off that perfect pair of fish, to no avail. Be aware of the pitfalls of breeding before taking it as a serious occupation. It is better to start off expecting very little. Be proud of small accomplishments. If you fail, use it as a learning experience: what did you do wrong? What can you change to make next time more successful?

Approach each event from an objective perspective. If you allow yourself to be caught up in the fish emotionally, failure can be devastating. Expect that you will have problems, because you will. Developing high-quality breeding fish can consume your time, your money and your patience.

Failures can be your greatest learning tools. If everything is done correctly all the time, you will never learn what to do in the event of sickness or other problems. Sometimes knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do. Prevention is much easier than treatment for any situation. You can only be successful if you know your trade completely and are be prepared and ready, no matter what happens.

Once you've steeled your mettle for handling the reproductive processes of fish, it's time to set a plan of action.

So Many Fish, So Little Time.

People are often attracted to breeding by a successful spawn in a community tank. Successes in this manner are almost purely luck. So where to begin? What better place than the beginning? It might seem obvious, but so many people skip the very important first step of researching. Once they begin having success with a certain species, they buy some others and try to make their way in the world of fish breeding. Expecting to have instant success without knowing the fundamentals is a recipe for disaster, and most of these endeavours will end in failure.

The first step is to decide what fish to breed. If you are looking for profit, then what appeals to you or is easy may not be the best option. Look at what fish are popular in your area. Ask around at your local fish stores. In most cases, they'll be more than happy to share with you what they could really use. Many fish simply don't ship well, but still remain popular (angelfish are a perfect example). By focusing on your market, you can choose a species that will be in demand and have a quick turnaround time. Breeding those rare expensive fish may just leave you with an expensive breeding pair of fish and expensive fry that no one can afford. Let's look at a few species that are relatively easy to breed and almost universally popular.


Freshwater angelfish are one of the staple members of the freshwater community tank. Their graceful nature and regal beauty make them quite popular among aquarists of all levels. Most beginning fish keepers start with angelfish as their showpieces. Breeding angelfish can be very rewarding.


Do fish get any easier to breed than guppies? Likely not. Among the smaller and more colourful of the common livebearers, guppies are always in demand. Their unique patterns and rainbow of available colours make them attractive to children and people looking for a colourful yet easy to maintain show tank. Since they also stay small, guppies don't require a large tank to house them. Throw in some of the more popular set color patterns, and guppies can be profitable in most areas.


There are many people fascinated by having fish that will breed easily in their tanks. Livebearers offer a variety of colours and patterns while being hardy and interesting fish to keep. Swordtails, mollies and platys are staple fish in the industry. Every store will offer many different strains of all these fish. Demand for these species is fairly consistent.

These three examples are among the easier to breed popular fish. All of them are relatively peaceful, are tolerant of a variety of water conditions and are attractive to many people. Breeding them is often as simple as placing a male and female together. None of them require large tank setup for breeding success. Check with your local fish store to see if there are any specific varieties they may be interested in. It is better to know that you will have fish that are in demand before you end up with hundreds of little mouths to feed and no prospective home in sight.

While I will pass over the specifics on breeding any of these fish, it is highly recommended to do as much research as you can before delving into any of these.

Setting Up the Breeding Area.

In order to successfully raise fish in a productive and consistent manner, it is of critical importance to have the proper setup. Without exception, this means multiple tanks of varying sizes, various live and prepared food sources, heaters and filters for all the tanks and the ability and willingness to change water frequently and feed multiple times per day.

The actual setup can vary depending on the level of involvement you desire. Large systems with central filtration are easy to maintain, with a consistent water quality due to the large volume of water. They also allow diseases to run their courses through every tank in the system unchecked. Single tank set-ups allow you more flexibility for each individual tank, but can be more costly, especially for equipment, seeing as each individual tank will need its own heater, filter and thermometer. Central filtration systems are effectively cheaper to run, as one large heater and filtration unit can handle the entire system in most cases. These are all important things to consider when planning an aquaculture setup.

The Act.

The act of having your fish breed is spurred by providing them with the proper water conditions (chemistry and temperature) and food. It is often said that you do not breed your fish, but that you simply supply them with the proper breeding environment. This is truer than you may think.

Water chemistry plays an important role in breeding fish. Fish are animals of instinct. Breeding in the wild is often triggered by certain environmental events or conditions. Raising or lowering of temperature, varying the pH and water hardness and even daylight and lunar cycles can all be influential factors to induce breeding in certain fish. Research on your particular choices will need to be done to determine what has been successful and what has not. The rate of egg hatching with some species is heavily dependant on the hardness of the water. The eggs of many soft-water species (angelfish, discus, rams, etc.) will not develop properly in hard water due to osmosis between the eggs and the surrounding water. Harder water has a lower osmotic pressure. The eggs then intake less of the surrounding water and often fail to harden properly. Softer water is required for these eggs to properly develop. Water temperature is an important factor in breeding. Many fish are naturally wired to breed when the temperature either rises or falls, in close conjunction with certain seasons that naturally would allow for the greatest chances of fry survival. This will vary between species and should be determined before attempting breeding.


Healthy eggs and fry can only be produced from healthy parents. The breeding fish need to be fed high-quality foods frequently to ensure robust spawns. Undernourished adults will often produce weak spawns that will ultimately not survive. The yolk sac of the young fry is made up of nutrients passed to them through the parents. An unhealthy parent (more the female than male) will not have enough nutrients to pass on to the young. Some fish are actually triggered to spawn with influxes of large amounts of tiny food particles. This would correspond to times in nature when the food count would be high enough to sustain fry.

After a spawning, the parents will be rather taxed. It is sometimes necessary to separate the male and female in order to restore their strength, with clean water and a good diet. The female, having formed and given birth to the eggs, is often the worse for wear, while the male may still show the inclination to spawn. Overly aggressive males should be separated from the females at the first sign; otherwise he may injure or kill the female.

As you can see, there is no set structure for breeding fish. Research your choices beforehand and pass on any that may have requirements you cannot provide to them.

When It Gets Egg-citing.

Once you have met the requirements for breeding your fish, odds are you will find spawning has already occurred. This is the time when most beginning breeders will panic, since this is likely to happen at a time when they least expect it and they're not prepared. Never fear, sometimes it's best to let the first spawn go, as it can be a hectic and futile effort to make last minute preparations for raising fry. This is the time to prepare for the next round, as many species will spawn at regular intervals.

Different species of fish will have different preferences for spawning sites. These can range from a vertical or horizontal flat surface, to caves, to pits dug out to mouth brooders, who will hold the eggs and resulting fry in their throat sacs. Knowing the specifics of your fish will help in determining your course of action.

Fish who lay eggs on a flat surface tend to be rather simple to collect. If you offer them a potential breeding spot, they will often accept it. A flat piece of slate is a popular choice and seems to be accepted by most fish of this inclination. Once the eggs have been laid and fertilized, they can be removed to a hatching container.

Pit spawners can be a little more difficult, as the parents will not lay the eggs on something that can be removed easily. Collecting these eggs is sometimes best left alone. Once the fry become free-swimming is a better time to remove them. Conversely, the eggs and fry can be left with the parents, who will often offer some level of parental care.

For fish that lay their eggs in caves, it is usually best to leave them until you can observe free-swimming fry. These can then be removed.

Mouth brooding fish can be handled in a few different ways. Some breeders will strip the eggs from the female, while others will wait until the fry are developed to strip them. Stripping involves removing the fish from the tank and forcibly opening their mouths to expel the eggs or fry. This can stress the fish greatly, so care is needed when performing this procedure. Still other breeders will wait until the fry are free-swimming in order to remove them.

Sometimes, especially with fish that provide some level of parental care, it is better (even necessary) to leave one or more of the parents in with the fry to care for them. Male Betta splendens are an example of a patriarchal family, where the male displays brood care. Most cichlid species also offer parental care, often from both parents. Be aware that young pairs often are not quite attuned to what the fry require and will fail to provide the care necessary for raising their young - even going as far as eating them.

Once the eggs are in your care, it is up to you to provide them with the same care their parents would give them, to keep them fungus and bacteria-free. Every breeder has their own tips and tricks for hatching out eggs. It is best to find something that would work for you and then modify it to your exact needs.

Preventing fungus on eggs has been one of the main concerns for breeders for many years. This can be accomplished in numerous ways. Adding methelyne blue to the hatching container can help inhibit fungus. Methelyne blue simply dyes the water blue, blocking out the light that fungus needs to grow and reproduce. It is often used in conjunction with an anti-fungal agent such as Acriflavin or Formalin to ward off fungus. Using these two substances requires water changes to dilute them once the fry near the free-swimming stage. Covering the hatching container can also have the same effect as methelyne blue. Some breeders simply keep the container in a dark closet or box.

In my breeding projects, I have experimentally been using hydrogen peroxide (the normal 3% solution found in grocery and drug stores) as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent. So far, the results have been very promising. I have yet to develop fungus on any viable eggs, with no apparent ill effects on the eggs or fry. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong anti-oxidant that breaks down after a few hours into water and oxygen. Not only is it a viable alternative to expensive and potentially harmful substances but it also has the added benefit of oxygenating your water. More experimentation with different types of fish and varying levels of peroxide is needed to suggest this as a truly viable alternative, but it may be worth looking into as a cost-conscious yet effective method of fighting fungus and bacteria.

In most cases, the eggs will also need to be kept in some sort of motion. They are much less prone to developing problems if they have a constant supply of fresh water passing over them. For eggs that's are attached to slate or something similar, adding an airline which passes bubble by the eggs should be enough to keep them oxygenated and clean. Eggs from mouth brooders can be a little more challenging, as they require constant motion, often accomplished through the use of an egg tumbling device. Plans for an inexpensive do-it-yourself egg tumbler can be found on the web. There are also many aquaculture sites that offer pre-made units.

The hatching container for your eggs will also vary depending on species. The eggs should be kept warm and clean at all times. A hatching container completely separate from the parents can be used, as can a container (such as a mason jar) placed inside the parent's tank in a location where they do not have access to it.

Hatching times will vary with the species, the temperature and any other number of factors. Once again research will be invaluable to you in knowing what to expect from your eggs.

Of course, there are also the live bearing fish, which produce fry that have been developed internally and expelled as tiny versions of their parents. These are best removed to their own grow out tank, to lessen the possibility of them being eaten.

They're So Tiny!

Tiny fry have tiny mouths. And tiny mouths need tiny food. And fry require lots of food. Finding a suitable food source, both in size and nutrition can sometimes be difficult, especially with smaller species. Food sizes ranging from microscopic to simple crushed flake are required by fry. Knowing what your fry will require for food is a very important step in raising them. Culturing some of these foods needs to be started in advance of the eggs hatching. A fish starved of nutrition for any amount of time during these critical development stages will very rarely recover.

Newly hatched brine shrimp is a favourite of most breeders. The hatched shrimp, called nauplii are a good size, high in protein and fats and brightly coloured. Their blazing orange color and slow movements make them very attractive to most fry. An additional advantage of their orange coloration is the ability to tell the fry have been eating by their tiny bulging orange bellies. Hatching out brine shrimp is not difficult to do and instructions can be found in many locations (even the package that they brine shrimp cysts came in).

Of course, there are larger and smaller fry. Larger fry can often be started on finely crushed flake foods or specially prepared fry foods. Even larger fry will relish newly hatched brine shrimp though.

Then there are the fry that are too small to accept brine shrimp nauplii. When the old standard doesn't apply, it is time to begin looking at alternative food sources. These must be sufficient in both size and nutrition. Depending on the size of the fry, foods can range in size from as small as phytoplankton (tiny, single-celled algae) to paramecium to vinegar eels and microworms. Most of these can be cultured easily with instructions found on the web or from the supplier of your starter culture. There are certain companies specializing in aquaculture supplies and live food cultures. Knowing in advance where you are going to get the appropriate food from can be a great asset to your breeding program.

Quick Growth equals Quick Profit.

The faster you can grow out your fish to a saleable size, the faster your turnaround on investment will be. Frequent water changes and nutritious, consistent feedings are the two most important factors to fry growth.

Fry grow at a rate far superior to that of larger fish. To meet these needs, their diet needs to be high in nutrition. They will also digest and utilize these foods quite quickly, requiring feedings on the level of six to eight times per day. Depending on species, some fish may require a few months to reach a saleable size. Anything you can do to speed up that growth will benefit you in the long run.

There are many theories as to why water changes aid in fish growth. Dilution of organic compounds (fish waste) in the water may aid in growth. It has also been suggested that fish excrete hormones into the water that inhibit the growth of other fish. These may be removed with the water changes. There is only one thing that is certain here: frequent water changes results in faster growth. Regardless of the reasons behind it, for the serious breeder, it's the prudent thing to do.

Weaning the fry onto prepared foods early can also be very helpful. If you sell healthy, hungry fish to the stores that will accept most foods offered, you can rest assured that they will be more interested in your offerings for the future. Selling sick fish or fish that refuse to eat and slowly waste away because they have been spoiled and are not getting what they want results in unhappy customers for the store buying your fish. Their desire to purchase fish from you in the future may be negatively impacted.

Is Breeding For You?

I hope by reading this article you have gained an idea of the dedication and time required to successfully breed fish. Of course, this information is provided for small-scale breeding. For a purposeful business venture, much more planning and research would be required in order to not have it end in complete failure.

If you feel you can successfully breed fish and intend on making a possible career out of it, my best advice would be to start small, with easier fish so you can develop your technique and understanding of the processes. If it still appeals to you after a year or two, then plan out your ideas and business and see what you can do.

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