Exports of aquarium fish by Sri Lanka have been increasing substantially over the past ten years. The value of ornamental fish exports increased from LKR 30 million1 in 1981 to LKR 370 million by 1997. This growth has been mainly because existing importing markets have expanded and Sri Lankan exporters have acquired access to new markets. According to the 1999 FAO News Highlights, the export value of ornamental fish and vertebrates worldwide was over US$200 million in 1996.
The same report indicated that international trade of aquatic organisms for ornamental purposes increases at an annual rate of 14 per cent. Sri Lanka’s share in the world trade, at over 1 per cent, is projected to increase to 10 per cent in the medium term. The largest supplier of freshwater ornamental fish is Singapore, which accounted for 33 per cent of global imports in 1986. Singapore has 130 exporters of ornamental fish compared with Sri Lanka’s 14, of which only around five or six export in any significant quantities. The major buyers of ornamental fish are France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the USA.
Thus far, local Sri Lankan production has not been able to fill the volume requirements of export markets. Among the biggest fish export companies are Lumbini Aquarium, O.C. Tropical Fish Aquarium and Lanka Aquarium. Recently a large fish export company, Joan Kees, set up shop in Sri Lanka, and this has given worldwide prominence to the local industry.
Around 75 per cent of ornamental fish exported from Sri Lanka are marine varieties. In recent years, however, Western countries have been putting restrictions on the importation of fish caught from the ocean. This has led the Sri Lankan government to promote freshwater ornamental fish production in the country. Central province, especially Kandy and Matale districts are endowed with favourable climatic conditions that make it suitable for rearing and breeding freshwater fish.
Among the problems of the local industry are inadequate stocks of freshwater aquarium fish, lack of communication between small-scale breeders and established exporters, lack of research and development in freshwater aquarium fish breeding, lack of government support to the industry, and lack of adequate facilities for packaging and air transport.
The main varieties of fish produced by the project participants were as follows: