The Aquatics Industry: The Challenges of Selling Fish, Livestock

By Joe Hiduke//August 29, 2023//

The Aquatics Industry: The Challenges of Selling Fish, Livestock

By: Joe Hiduke//August 29, 2023//

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After years of growth, the aquatics segment of the pet trade is dealing with a slowdown due to economic headwinds, and uncertainty tied to regulatory constraints. Despite the challenges, there are still many stores performing well in this category, and opportunities for everyone to do well.

Like all aspects of the pet trade, aquatics experienced unprecedented growth and sales during COVID-19 year. However, 2023 has been extremely volatile. The year started off strong with great sales through the winter. As the weather warmed up, we’re seeing a return to the pre-COVID sales pattern. Summer has been up and down, with some slow weeks. The good news is this is an expected seasonal slowdown, and there are still lots of things you can do to sell a lot of fish.

Aquatics have always been strongly seasonal. When people are stuck inside during the wintertime, they tend to spend a lot more on their fish tanks. If you’ve opened a store in the last couple of years you should know that slow summers are normal, and you can expect a big uptick in wintertime sales.

While summer sales are typically down, there are still things you can do to sell more fish. This starts with differentiating your store from your competitors.

The availability to import fish is finally back to nearly normal. Like all supply chains, the supply of far-east farm fish and wild fish from South America, Asia and Africa was severely disrupted during the pandemic. For the first time in years, flights are available from most sources of ornamental fish.

Don’t get stuck filling your tanks with the same fish that you always have. Of course, you never want to be out of such staples as GloFish, neon tetras and zebra danios. However, you should always have at least a few tanks where you rotate different items. If you stick to a planogram where the fish never changes then your customers won’t have any reason to come back.

Mixing up the fish you carry doesn’t have to break your budget either. While big show cichlids and fancy plecos are selling well for some stores, other stores are just as successful stocking tanks with less common community fish. Fish like green neon rasboras, checkerboard barbs or ruby tetras are inexpensive and pretty, and they aren’t likely to be in your box-store competition.

Beyond the seasonal slowdown, there are certainly parts of the country that are experiencing a general slowdown in the economy. Fortunately, the growth in the nano tank segment of the hobby over the last decade means there are plenty of high-quality small tanks and small fish to go in them. Celestial pearl danios, emerald dwarf rasboras, chili rasboras and a host of other nano fish are regularly available.

Plenty of stores are still selling bigger tanks and bigger fish as well. Malawi cichlid hybrids have been extremely popular recently. Malawi peacocks and Haps readily hybridize and produce a dizzying variety of colors and patterns. While purists will turn their nose up at these hybrid fish the rest of your customers will be amazed at their beauty. Varieties such as OB red empress show a red-orange and blue blotched pattern, a pearly sheen as well as red and white fins.

None of this variety will be available if the current amendments to the federal Lacey Act are passed by congress. Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, the very state that will be most adversely impacted by restricting trade in ornamental fish, introduced legislation that would create a whitelist of species allowed in trade. This should sound familiar as it was introduced last year, and this legislation is likely to come up annually as it is a priority issue for groups like the Humane Society of the United States and Center for Biological Diversity.

In addition to our challenges on the federal level, Florida has been facing the possibility of a whitelist. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) put together a Technical Assistance Group for non-native species of fish as well as birds, mammals and reptiles nearly two years ago. While some at FWC have been pushing for a restrictive whitelist of allowed species, the commissioners directed them to find better options.

Be sure to receive updates from USARK and the Pet Advocacy Network, and please do your part to help fight these unreasonable restrictions on aquarium fish.


Joe Hiduke is the sales manager at Nautilus Wholesale and 5D Tropical. He has decades of experience in aquatics and herps, having worked in wholesale production and distribution, sales and retail over many years.