It sounds crazy, but people have paid up to S$13,000 for a single miniature ornamental shrimp, according to Darick Toh, the owner of local aquatic shop Shrimps Affair.
Located on French Road, Shrimps Affair specialises in the sale of ornamental shrimps, which make up 60 to 70 per cent of their total revenue.
Ornamental shrimps are bred purely to be kept as pets and are not edible.
A tiny shrimp is about an inch long, but they can cost anywhere from S$1 to a whopping S$1,000 at Darick’s retail outlet. He keeps the more valuable shrimp “in the back.”
While keeping fishes as aquatic pets used to be the norm, the ornamental shrimp trend has proliferated across the world, hitting even American and European markets.
But Darick is no simple businessman. This Singaporean shares a 18-year long love affair with ornamental shrimps that has eventually snowballed into the full-fledged aquatic business it is today.
18-Year Long Obsession With Ornamental Shrimps
The 39-year-old first got into the ornamental shrimp craze over 18 years ago, when he was still serving his national service.
Darick found out about ornamental shrimps online and began sourcing for them through a Taiwanese importer. Eventually, he began flying to Taiwan to buy ornamental shrimps himself.
Shrimp is easy to maintain so long as you have the right water parameters, Darick explains. However, keeping ornamental shrimps require high initial investments.
Back then, not a lot of people knew how to keep shrimp (in Singapore). I wasted around S$30,000 to S$40,000 (investing in the beginning.– Darick Toh, founder of Shrimps Affair
A tank costs easily S$1,000, he adds. On top of that, hobbyists also need to buy chillers, canisters, and filtration systems.
Regardless, the payoff is worthwhile for some.
“It’s nice to see (the shrimp) grow and wander around the tank, and they come in all colours: yellow, orange, red and blue,” says Darick.
“You can easily hold 500 to 800 shrimp in a 60cm tank.”
Building A Full-Fledged Business
The shrimp “farmer” decided to quit his position as a manager at a logistics company and turn his ornamental shrimp hobby into a business in 2018.
Shrimps Affair started off with S$45,000 seed investment, drawn from Darick’s and his partners’ personal savings.
They went on to set up a retail outlet in a 400-square feet shop, with Darick overseeing the operations.
“For other people, they would have had to spend at least an additional S$100,000 to set up an ornamental shrimp business,” says Darick.
However, the trio already had extensive ornamental shrimp collections, and simply needed a license to start selling off their excess livestock.
In a stroke of bad luck, Shrimps Affair had to move barely a year later because their landlord had gone bankrupt.
The team had to shift all their equipment and livestock to a new space, and reinvest their funds. Business soon bounced back, and they’re now housed in a larger 1000-square feet shop.
The Shrimps Affair founder has since spent a few hundreds of thousands of dollars on aquatic livestock and equipment.
Business seem to be booming too. Shrimps Affair receives around 700 receipts per month at minimum.
On top of selling to consumers, Shrimps Affair also sells ornamental shrimp to wholesalers, usually in the thousands per sale. Each sale can generate S$16 to several thousands of dollars, says Darick.
A Risky Investment: Shrimp Breeding
However, the ornamental shrimp business is a delicate and risky affair.
Darick rents four breeding sites and personally flies to Taiwan to spend up to S$40,000 buying purebred, high-quality shrimp for breeding purposes.
“Can you imagine? S$30,000 to S$40,000 in one small plastic bag,” Darick says. “It’s a nerve-wracking experience.”
There are over a few hundred unique species of ornamental shrimp. Since all shrimps are hybrids, it’s difficult to breed offspring that are pure.
Due to mixed genetics, shrimp larvae tend to have appearances that differ from their parents. As a result, breeders undergo a process of culling to increase the percentage of purebred offspring.
To date, there have only been two strains of ornamental shrimp that can be bred purely: pure red and pure black shrimps.
To assess the value of an ornamental shrimp, its quality also has to be taken into consideration. This involves the assessment of their shell, legs, and colouration.
Purebred low-quality shrimp can cost as little as S$7.
Its high-quality counterpart is very rare and valuable. They are usually sold for breeding, and typically cost between S$4,000 and S$5,000 for one, says Darick.
On top of that, breeders have to stay on top of the newest shrimp species. The value of shrimp depreciates over time, with shrimps valued at S$70 years ago dropping to S$12 today.
“The demand always outweighs the supply,” Darick surmises.
Queues For Shrimp After The Circuit Breaker
The ornamental shrimp industry is a small community, says Darick.
“So trust me when I say that there were queues outside all the aquatic shops (after the circuit breaker).”
During the two-month period, Singapore had enacted a blanket ban on the sale of livestock, including both retail and online purchases. Shrimps Affair subsisted on its sale of equipment during that period.
The demand for ornamental shrimp post-circuit breaker came as the product of peoples’ tanks lying dormant for months before they could inject life into their aquariums.
Crowds have since died down as “people’s spending power is tighter,” Darick reasons.
However, Shrimps Affair has a loyal customer base. In fact, Darick had just made a sale of several thousand shrimps the morning before our interview.
Despite the obstacles ahead, the shrimp farmer seems happy with the business he has built and calls it a “dream” of every hobbyist to own such a business.
Featured Image Credit: Ryo Watanabe Youtube / Photography Life