It sounds crazy, but people have paid up to S$13,000 for a single miniature ornamental shrimp, according to Derrick 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 Derrick’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 Derrick is no simple businessman. This Singaporean shares a 20-year long love affair with ornamental shrimps that has eventually snowballed into the full-fledged aquatic business it is today.
The 39-year-old first got into the ornamental shrimp craze over 20 years ago, when he was still serving his national service.
Derrick 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.
Back then, not a lot of people knew how to keep shrimp (in Singapore). I wasted around S$30,000 to S$40,000 in the beginning.
Shrimp are easy to maintain so long if you have the right water parameters, Derrick explains. However, keeping ornamental shrimps require high initial investments.
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 Derrick.
“You can easily hold 500 to 800 shrimp in a 60cm tank.”
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 Derrick’s and his partners’ personal savings.
They went on to set up a retail outlet in a 400-square feet shop, with Derrick 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 Derrick.
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 Derrick.
However, the ornamental shrimp business is a delicate and risky affair.
Derrick 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,” Derrick 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 h…