It sounds crazy, but according to Darick Toh, the owner of the local water business Shrimps Affair, people paid up to S $ 13,000 for a single ornamental shrimp.
Shrimps Affair is located on French Road and specializes in the sale of ornamental shrimp, which make up 60 to 70 percent of their total sales.
Ornamental shrimp are only bred to be kept as pets and are not edible.
A tiny shrimp is about an inch long, but can cost anywhere from S $ 1 to a whopping S $ 1,000 at Darick's retail store. He holds the more valuable shrimp "in his back".
While it used to be common practice to keep fish in the water as pets, the trend towards ornamental shrimp has spread worldwide and even reached the American and European markets.
But Darick is not an easy businessman. This Singaporean shared an 18-year love affair with ornamental shrimp that eventually grew into the full-fledged water business it is today.
18 year old obsession with ornamental shrimp
The 39-year-old fell into the ornamental shrimp craze for the first time over 18 years ago when he was still doing his community service.
Darick found out about ornamental shrimp online and began sourcing them through a Taiwanese importer. Eventually he flew to Taiwan to buy shrimp himself.
Red Boa Shrimp / Photo Credit: MADSHRIMP LLP
Shrimp are easy to care for as long as you have the right water parameters, explains Darick. However, keeping ornamental shrimp requires a high initial investment.
Not many people knew how to keep shrimp back then (in Singapore). I wasted about S $ 30,000 to 40,000 (invested initially.
– Darick Toh, founder of Shrimps Affair
A tank can easily cost S $ 1,000, he adds. In addition, hobbyists also need to buy chillers, canisters and filter systems.
Regardless, the payout is worth it for some.
"It's nice to see (the shrimp) grow and wander around in the tank, and they come in all colors: yellow, orange, red, and blue," says Darick.
"500 to 800 prawns can easily be stored in a 60 cm tank."
Building a full-fledged business
The shrimp farmer decided to give up his position as manager of a logistics company and turn his ornamental shrimp hobby into a business in 2018.
Shrimps Affair began with an investment of S $ 45,000 drawn from the personal savings of Darick and his partners.
They set up a retail store in a 400-square-foot store, with Darick overseeing operations.
“For other people, they would have had to spend at least S $ 100,000 extra to start a shrimp business,” says Darick.
However, the trio already had extensive collections of ornamental shrimp and only required a license to start selling the excess livestock.
In one misfortune, Shrimps Affair had to move barely a year later because their landlord went bankrupt.
The team had to move all of their equipment and livestock to a new room and reinvest their money. Business soon recovered and they are now housed in a larger 1,000 square foot store.
Photo credit: Shrimps Affair Facebook
The founder of the Shrimps Affair has since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on aquatic animals and equipment.
Business seems to be booming too. Shrimps Affair receives at least 700 receipts per month.
In addition to selling to consumers, Shrimps Affair also sells ornamental shrimp to wholesalers, usually in thousands per sale. Each sale can generate S $ 16 to several thousand, says Darick.
A risky investment: shrimp farming
However, the ornamental shrimp business is a delicate and risky business.
Darick rents four hatcheries and personally flies to Taiwan to spend up to S $ 40,000 on the purchase of purebred, high quality shrimp for breeding purposes.
"Can you imagine? S $ 30,000 to 40,000 in a small plastic bag," says Darick. "It's a nerve-wracking experience."
There are over a few hundred unique types of ornamental shrimp. Because all shrimp are hybrids, it is difficult to breed pure offspring.
Because of the mixed genetics, shrimp larvae tend to have a different appearance than their parents. As a result, breeders are culled to increase the percentage of purebred offspring.
So far there have only been two types of ornamental shrimp that can be grown purely: pure red and pure black shrimp.
Photo credit: Shrimps Affair Facebook
In order to assess the value of an ornamental shrimp, its quality must also be taken into account. This includes assessing their shell, legs, and coloration.
Low quality purebred shrimp can cost as little as S $ 7.
The high-quality counterpart is very rare and valuable. They're usually sold for breeding and typically cost between S $ 4,000 and S $ 5,000 for one, Darick says.
In addition, breeders need to keep abreast of the latest shrimp species. The value of shrimp is decreasing over time, and shrimp worth 70 years ago today fell to S $ 12.
"Demand always outweighs supply," suspects Darick.
Queues for shrimp after the breaker
The ornamental shrimp industry is a small community, says Darick.
"So trust me when I say there were lines in front of all water shops (after the breaker)."
During the two month period, Singapore had issued a blanket ban on the sale of cattle, including retail and online purchases. Shrimps Affair consisted of selling equipment during this period.
The demand for ornamental shrimp circuit breakers came as a result of people's tanks being dormant for months before they could breathe life into their aquariums.
The crowds have since subsided, as "people's purchasing power is lower," Darick explains.
However, Shrimps Affair has a loyal customer base. In fact, Darick had just sold several thousand shrimp the morning before our interview.
Despite the obstacles ahead, the shrimp farmer seems satisfied with the business he has built and calls it a “dream” of every hobbyist to own such a business.
Selected image source: Ryo Watanabe Youtube / Photography life