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Thailand’s fighting fish still the world champions, says betta breeder

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Not many people gain income from their hobbies, but Wisit Phumpetch is one of the rare and lucky few. A prominent breeder of Siamese fighting fish, Wisit has managed to turn his casual pastime into a lucrative career.

A fish with history

Also known as betta, Siamese fighting fish are a freshwater species native to Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and of course Thailand.

Fighting fish go back a long way in Thailand, first surfacing during the reign of Rama I (1782-1809). But it wasn’t until the rule of King Rama III (1824-1851) that their fame spread overseas. The third monarch of the House of Chakri gave some fighting fish to Danish zoologist Theodore Cantor, who became the first Western scientist to describe the species. Betta first appeared in the West in the late 1800s, and within decades were popular as ornamental fish.

They remain a symbol of Thainess around the globe, even inspiring the national costume worn by Thai contestant Amanda Obdam during the recent Miss Universe contest.

To learn more about the fish, The Nation Thailand visited Wisit at his farm in Rat Burana, Bangkok.

Thailand’s fighting fish still the world champions, says betta breeder From hobby to lucrative business

Known in the trade as Deen Chevroret, Wisit began breeding fighting fish three years ago after being captivated by their beauty and variety. He explained that today’s ornamental betta are far more beautiful than in his younger days, when the fish were bred purely for fighting, like cockerels or bulls.

His first big success as a breeder came six or seven months after he went full-time. He put a fish he had raised up for auction in an online group. The price started at 1 baht but the bidding eventually soared to THB4,800. “I was very happy with that success, which has inspired me to breed betta to this day,” he said.

Wisit now makes a good living from ornamental fighting fish, selling specimens to both Thai and foreign customers for impressive sums of money.

Thailand’s fighting fish still the world champions, says betta breeder High-priced fighters

He explained that fish with unique and colourful markings fetch the highest prices.

“Low-priced fish are what you see sold in [Bangkok] pet markets such as Chatuchak or Thonburi,” he added.

Away from shops and pet markets, much of the trade in fighting fish happens on social media. However, trading and prices have been subdued since Covid-19 arrived in Thailand – though Wisit said his business was only slightly affected.

Demand from abroad may have helped soften the impact of the virus crisis.

Wisit said most of his foreign customers live in Southeast Asia, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. But he also receives orders for fish from as far away as Europe and America.

That should come as no surprise since Thailand still produces the best quality betta in the world, he said. And with ornamental fighting fish in high demand, there is room in the market for new players, he added.

The current trend is for specimens with dark pigmentation or dazzling scales.

“The scales shine when they are lit up,” he explained.

Thailand’s fighting fish still the world champions, says betta breeder Raising a fighting fish

The obvious question to ask someone who won success so quickly is how he overcame the challenges of breeding fighting fish. The answer was simple yet surprising: There was no hardship involved, said Wisit, since he loves his work.

Despite his answer, raising fighting fish as a career requires hard work, time and attention. Wisit told us that he worked every day, with only one assistant to share the load. He breeds the fish, then feeds and cares for them until they are large enough for selection.

The most beautiful specimens are exhibited in glass bottles for his online and offline customers. Meanwhile, the lower-grade fish are retained for breeding or sold on for modest prices.

Fortunately, keeping betta as pets is a much easier task than raising them professionally. Wisit explained that fighting fish are a good choice for people who have limited free time.

Despite their short average lifespan of three to five years, betta are a tough species. Owners can leave the fish at home alone for up to five days, as long as they have fresh water and adequate food supplies.

Published : May 28, 2021

By : Thanachart Chuengyaempin/The Nation