Sample chart about the fishkeeping industry statistics

Fishkeeping Industry Statistics: Global Wealth Drives Growth

When your local fish store is relatively small and you never see customers queueing at the cash register, you might get an erroneous idea about the size of the fishkeeping industry.

Let me fix that for you:

It is HUGE.

With global value in the billions and a projected CAGR of 10.5%, it turned out to be considerably larger than I thought. I collected the latest fishkeeping statistics available to get a better idea about its true reach and impact.

Here are the most outstanding numbers.

Insightful Fishkeeping Industry Statistics

  • In 2019, the global market for ornamental fish was valued at $12.25 billion!
  • Until 2028, the projected compound annual growth (CAGR) will be 4.4%-8.5%.
  • Currently, the reef aquarium market segment is valued at $4.36 billion.
  • Marine aquarium aficionados are projected to boost the sector by 9.5%-11% CAGR by 2028.
  • COVID-19 had a massive impact on the pet industry as a whole, and it significantly increased the number of fish keepers.
  • In the UK, over 3.2 million households acquired a pet during COVID.
  • Currently, over 7 million households in the UK have an aquarium, and 6 million enjoy an outdoor pond.
  • Tropical fish accounted for 51.6% of all aquatic pets in 2022.

The numbers that follow paint a fairly comprehensive picture of the last two decades. I had to comb through a lot of verified but sometimes contradictory data available online.

That’s because several reputable reports have been widely quoted and that’s fine. The confusion doesn’t stem from the reports themselves. It comes from the fact that the numbers quoted come from different years and different data collection methodologies.

Different editions of the reports report different numbers. That’s how reports work.

What’s clear from all sources is that the industry is massive and is enjoying healthy annual growth. There are several dents into the endless-growth predictions, but more on that in a bit.

To set the record straight, I am using the latest reliable industry statistics available. Wherever fitting, I’ve quoted older numbers to provide comparison and historical context. Just like our fish tanks look better with substrate, statistical data makes more sense when compared to the past.

Now is the time to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Here we go.

Here’s how we’ll go about it: we’ll take a look at the global state of the freshwater fishkeeping industry and then we’ll zoom in on the US market. There is data available for the UK and Europe too, but since the United Kingdom still is part of Europe, albeit grudgingly after Brexit, will clump those two together.

And then there is a section with facts about marine aquariums, public aquariums, and other interesting numbers that didn’t quite merit their own category.

As a bot that is insanely skillful at generating regurgitated content would say, let’s dive right in. Without further ado.

  • The reef aquarium industry is projected to grow up to $7.29 billion by 2027.
  • 11% CAGR will account for this rapid increase.
  • This projection is slightly higher than the 10% growth observed between 2022 and 2023 when the industry expanded its worth from $4.46 billion to $4.8 billion. (PRNewswire)
  • Invertebrates were the strongest growing ornamental in 2020, accounting for nearly half of all aquarium livestock trade.
  • In 2019, Japan was the largest exporter of decorative fish and invertebrates, with a $43.1 billion market share.
  • In 2021, through tradition, location, and innovation, Japanese exports grew to $44.9 billion, holding 11% of the international export market.
  • Through size, economic might, and a keen sense of beauty, Americans are the biggest appreciators of ornamental fish. In 2021, the US imported 19.1% of all traded — and recorded — aquarium livestock. That amounted to $74.8 million. (OEC)

One conclusion to derive from this batch of statistics is that fishkeeping can be a more self-sustainable hobby if we breed and grow more invertebrates. Shrimps are already a massive star in the hobby, but the great variety of intriguing aquatic snails should also be enjoyed and multiplied.

What about crabs? Are they included in these trade statistics? The sources are a bit unclear but they are. They are invertebrates that need lots of water to thrive and most paludariums are situated in aquariums.

US Fishkeeping Statistics

Let me be clear about the stat above testifying that the US is the largest aquarium fish importer:

It’s not even close.

Some charts show the EU as the largest importer (and it is), but the EU consists of 27 countries. Each one of them has its own economy and imports, in particular.

Back in 2007, the National Wildlife Federation estimated that there were 2 million marine tanks worldwide; 40% of them were kept by American households. Marine aquariums certainly have grown in numbers and so has the largest decorative fish market in the world.

  • 2022 estimations are that the US aquarium fish market size was $1.42 billion.
  • Annually, it’s projected to grow by 9% until the end of the decade. (Grand View Research)
  • In 2021, the US imported $74.8 million worth of livestock. Most aquarium livestock came from Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. (OEC)
  • The ghost shrimp was the only non-fish entry in the top 3 of most imported species in the US. Goldfish held the second position and neon tetra was number 1 back in 2020. 
  • When it comes down to marine livestock, the top 3 didn’t contain a single fish species! The blue-legged hermit crab (Clibanarius tricolor) is the top dawg. It’s followed, slowly, by two turbo-charged snails: Astraea turbo snail and Zebra turbo snail.
  • In 2020, 60% of all marine ornamentals imported into the US were invertebrates and not fish. (Bassleer Report)
  • As far as fish bred in the US go, Florida is the main producer. Back in 2018, it recorded $28.7 million in sales. The total sales of aquarium-raised livestock amounted to $41.3 million. (University of Florida)

Invertebrates are crawling to the top in the US as well!

This is only natural, as snails, shrimp, and crabs are truly fascinating. (I wish I could get a new apple snail soon.)

The rapid growth of the saltwater segment deserves careful consideration, as about 90% of all species sold were captured in the wild. That’s an improvement, as not so long ago over 98% of all seawater livestock was caught. Breeding techniques and better living conditions will help alleviate the damage such large-scale fishing causes, mostly, in certain parts of Asia.

Breeding marine species is a much more lucrative endeavor, as their prices tend to be higher.

EU Fishkeeping Statistics

The EU block is the largest importer of aquarium fish and invertebrates. Europe is also the second largest exporter of livestock, holding about 17% of the global market. Asia dominates there, with 74%. North and South Americas together amount to about 6%.

But let’s break things down a bit, as Europe is a continent with 44 countries. Or 45, if you ask Kosovans. The EU is a large political and economic block that still consists of 27 independent countries. They share a common market, but each one has its own import and export policies.

  • The Netherlands is the largest European exporter of marine fish. It is second globally, after Sri Lanka. In total, the Netherlands exported $31.5 million in 2021 or about 8.03% of all the decorative fish in the world.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, until 2016, the UK used to be the largest importer, both in freshwater and saltwater ornamental fish. As of 2021, the largest importer in Europe was Germany, with $31.1 million, followed by France ($25.5 million), and the UK, with $24.4 million. (OEC)
  • Respectively, in 2021, Germany had the largest population of ornamental fish in the EU, with over 2.3 million livestock, closely followed by France, with Italy distant third, with 1.5 million. (Statista)
  • In terms of the reef market, Europe accounted for 32.2% of the global market share in 2020. And while Europe is by far the largest reef aquarium market, Asia is expanding the quickest.
  • According to the same report, five of the top nine global aquarium reef companies are from Europe. (Grand View Research)

The UK aquarium fish market grew significantly during COVID-19, but since the numbers have fallen. All the same, 7 million households in the UK have an aquarium, and 6 million enjoy an outdoor pond. That’s 15% of all households with aquariums and 11% with ponds.

The verifiable available numbers in Europe aren’t as specific as they were for the US, but the picture is similar — a largely growing trend in fishkeeping. The COVID pandemic increased the number of pets owned and once the restrictions were lifted, there was a noticeable bud modest decline in numbers. Basically, regression to the mean.

And, despite their diminutive sizes, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are becoming the dominant exporters of ornamental fish in Europe.

While curious and enlightening, the fishkeeping stats reported here are far from exhaustive. The industry is growing rapidly and that is evident by more and more data being gathered, crunched, and analyzed to identify new business opportunities. It seems that calls by Gerald Bassler have been heeded. Even though the traceability of all data remains tough, the reporting is improving together with the predictive models.

The thing is, global wealth is constantly growing over the last decades. Despite a couple of economic crises, wars, a global pandemic, and broken supply chains, fewer and fewer people live in poverty. Indeed, the COVID impact is still having repercussions around the world, but the economies are recovering.

All this is to say that more people have more money to invest in the hobby. The growing interest has produced a growing variety of species, much better technology, and an overall increase in knowledge.

All this is fanatics!

As long as it is done ethically and carefully.

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