It is said that aquariums are kept at dentists’ clinics so as to calm patients. The colours and the movements of the goldfish help soothe nerves, say enthusiasts like Dr Adil Mustafa Khan. Given this advantage, one would expect great many takers for such a hobby in a troubled city like Karachi. And to meet the growing demand, a collection of shops in Saddar near the passport office have many tales to tell.
Shopkeeper Rais Ahmed, who learnt the trade from his uncle, Abdur Rauf, known in the business as “Munshi sahib” is one such person. Rais says that his family is credited with introducing the hobby in the country around 1958. “Munshi sahab started importing fish initially from China,” he says. Rais remembers working in the aquariums since he was ten years old. Till then the fish lovers were restricted to Karachi. “Today we get orders from all over the country.”
After years of importing specialised species, when fish would initially be brought in by PIA pilots going to the Far East, now there is commercial import thanks to rising demand for these non-edible variety of fish. People are spending millions on the hobby, say the traders here.
The good news now is that some of the varieties that were imported from as far as Thailand are now being bred in farms across Sindh, where the temperate climate allows this kind of activity.
Some businessmen say that they are having success in breeding some varieties in places near Karachi like Thatta, Badin, Sujawal, Gharo, Sakro and Gadap. The species being bred include goldfish, carp, mollies, platii, Guppy, black moor, and multi colour Kajiki outdoor fish. This not only cuts down the cost of the fish but also significantly reduces mortality rate.
There are about 70 types of fish in the local market that include both imported and locally bred ones. The price of varieties ranges from Rs150 to Rs150,000, say traders. Most of the fish are sold in street shops and larger stores. Others are sold by entrepreneurs on thelas as well.
The famous varieties now readily available include the Elephant Nose, the Discus, Scar Mouth, Chinese Sucker, Rat Tail, Clown Loach, Ratcap, Lion Head, Snow Angel, Black Marble, Zebra Ange and Yellow Cap Angel, said Sajid, another vendor.
And then there are the fish that only enthusiasts seek. Some varieties like Arowana, Discus and Cichlid can cost from Rs15,000 to Rs150,000. Prohibited fish such as the ray fish and flesh eaters like the Piranha have also found their way into the market.
Dr Adil Mustafa Khan, a passionate fish hobbyist was busy this Sunday buying feed for his Brazilian fighter fish called Oscar, from the Cichlid family. “I am a professional rearer not a breeder” he said. Khan has a taste for dull fish and takes pride in rearing them such that their colour is enhanced. “When I started initially, there was no help on fish keeping so I learned the skill by buying books from Khori Garden and from websites by questioning other international hobbyist groups,” he said.
To increase Oscar’s fighting instincts, Dr Khan will start feeding it dried beef balls once the fish has crossed its teenage years. The age can be gauged by changes in the colour bands on Oscar’s body and fins. The supplement will help Oscar grow four times faster to a weight of about 1.5 kg.
Another rearer, Manaal, a 27 year old jewelry designer, is one of the few lady-enthusiasts. She has reared some of the most difficult fish such as Arowana besides carp besides goldfish. “I inherited the hobby from my father so there is more solace in it, not just excitement,” she says. Her achievement is rearing a red tail cat fish of up to 1.5 feet in her aquarium.
There are others in the city with specific tastes, for example Wasim who was a hobbyist first has now become a first rate breeder of goldfish, and Muqeet, a lawyer by profession, has reared South American Piranhas, the flesh eating fish for whom he has dedicated a 1,200 litres tank.
The future, say enthusiasts, is bright. With local production increasing, they are hopeful that prices will come down, further popularising the hobby amongst people across Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2012.
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