Czechs world leaders in export of tropical fish

Photo: CTK

Czechs do not eat a great deal of fish. However for some reason or other a great number of them are enthusiastic fish breeders. The Czech Republic belongs among the worlds’ three largest aquarium fish exporters. In fact, exports of aquarium fish have exceeded the country’s traditional exports of carp. According to data published by the Czech Statistical Office, Czechs exported around 240 tonnes of aquarium fish last year worth more than 400 million crowns (nearly 25 million US dollars) and experts say the figures are probably much higher. What makes Czechs so fond of tropical fish breeding?

Petr Dvořák is the president of the Czech Union of Aquarium Fish Breeders:

“There is a long tradition of tropical fish-breeding in the Czech Republic. The 1950s saw a boom in this hobby. In the communist days fish breeding was a good business when you consider that the purchasing prices of fish are only slightly higher today than they were twenty or thirty years ago. The growing number of small apartments also forced people to create a bit of nature in the home. Keeping aquarium fish was the easiest thing to do.”

Petr Dvořák says it is impossible to establish how many Czechs currently own an aquarium but estimates that every second or third household has some experience with tropical fish breeding.

The small north Bohemian town of Rychnov nad Kněžnou at the foot of the Eagle mountains has been holding annual tropical fish exhibitions for more than 30 years. The event is organized by local fish breeders and this year boasted nearly 200 aquariums with 220 various fish species. Vladimír Hulman, the head of the town’s fish breeding association, says the Czechs’ love of tropical fish has a geographical reason:

“The reason is obvious. It’s because the Czech Republic doesn’t have a sea. So people make up for it by breeding tropical fish at home. It’s true that the sea is salty and we have mostly fresh-water fish. That’s because having a sea aquarium is much more financially demanding.”

On a Sunday afternoon, the exhibition grounds in Rychnov nad Kněžnou are swarming with people, who have come from far away to admire the colourful aquariums and to bring home some new acquisitions. The most popular are the traditional neon tetras with bright red bellies. Vladimír Hulman again:

“When people set up their first aquariums, they don’t care about what species they have, but what their fish look like. So they are mostly interested in colourful fish such as the neon tetras, rainbow fish or swordtails. They simply want something colourful.”

In recent years, exports of aquarium fish have gone down a bit, due to rising energy prices, the strengthening crown and mainly cheap imports from South East Asia. However, Petr Dvořák of the Czech Union of Aquarium Fish Breeders says Czechs have an edge over their rivals due to the high quality of their aquarium fish:

The quality of Czech aquarium fish is first-class and that is our main advantage in exports. We don’t use antibiotics like they do in South East Asia, where tropical fish breeding is more like our pond-breeding. Czech tropical fish are bigger and they are better adapted to life in an aquarium because they were already born in captivity.”

If you were to look at Czech websites devoted to aquarium fish-breeding, you would find that there is at least one fish exhibition on every month. In fact, one such event has just opened at Prague’s botanical gardens. One of the people who are exhibiting their prize fish is Ondřej Sedláček. I met up with him to find out how he got involved in fish-breeding:

“My father has always had an aquarium so I continued in the family tradition. That’s the reason why I decided to get my own fish at the age of five. They were the first fish that were really my very own.”

How demanding is it financially and time-wise?

Photo: CTK
“I devote about two hours a day to this hobby. But it’s not financially demanding because we are able to do many things by ourselves at home. For example I make my own aquariums from old windows. It’s rather easy for Czech keepers who are able to do a lot of things by themselves.”

What if you want to leave for the holidays? Who looks after your fish?

“I have got a special type of fish. They live in the African savannah, where there are wet and dry seasons. So I only have them for three or four months a year. Afterwards they lay eggs and die. After a few months you put water on the mud and a new fry develops. So you can have them seasonally, just like they live in Africa.”

Why do you think Czechs are so fond of aquariums?

“I think that many people want to have a small ecosystem in their flat and Czechs can do that very cheaply. That’s the reason why so many Czechs own an aquarium and why they are so good at fish breeding. And it’s a rather special hobby, a bit different than having a cat or a dog. You have to understand why the fish feel good or bad so it’s more difficult.”

Can you show me some of your specimen at the exhibition?

“They are called Nothobranchia and they are originally from Tanzania. You can see that the males are very brilliantly coloured, while the females have no colours on their body. The reproduction cycle is very short, so they have only three months and then they die. They are the first generation of fish that I caught in Mozambique this February.”

What kind of water do they need and what do you feed them?

“I feed them with live food, mainly mosquito larvae, which I collect in ponds and lakes. It’s their primary food in nature so they love it very much.”

Well, as you can see, being an aquarium fish-breeder is much more adventurous and creative than it may seem at first sight.