The Best Aquarium Industry Side Hustle

One of the most common questions fishkeepers have is how they can make some money from their aquariums. If you look online, the most common response people have for this question is to breed ish. You can certainly make some money from breeding fish. There are however some important drawbacks. I argue that growing aquatic plants is far more suitable as a side hustle. In this article, we will discuss why I argue that breeding fish is not as beneficial, and the reasons why growing plants will work better. I will also give some details on the best methods for maximizing plant growth.


I argue that for the vast majority, breeding fish is not the best way to profit from aquarium keeping. There are a few reasons we will discuss for this position.


Cost


The first reason that I argue breeding may not be the best method for making money in the aquarium space is cost. Breeding fish is relatively expensive. The most obvious primary expense is the inputs to the aquarium in the shapes of food, clean water, etc for the parents, and the time it will take to raise the fish to a sellable size. These are of course important considerations, however there are others you will want to consider. If you want to make some money from fishkeeping, you will most likely need multiple tanks. There is the obvious initial setup cost of the aquariums themselves and the equipment, but there is also the ongoing running expenses of power and water, not to mention the labour that would be needed to maintain the aquariums.


The Fish you may want to breed, may not be viable


I find that this is often the hardest part. The fish that you love and enjoy the most, are often not the ones that will be the most suitable for earning long-term. In my opinion, the most common fish are some of the best to breed.
When considering what to breed, most people will look at what is the most expensive fish. The classic example of this is the L046 'Zebra' pleco. In New Zealand, these fish will commonly be sold for $450. The obvious thought is if I can supply ten of these per month, that's an easy extra $4,500 per month for me!

Zebra Pleco (L046) siting on a branch

The problem with this logic is that fish such as these have a very narrow market. For niche or expensive fish like the Zebra pleco, for example, there is a very limited market. It does happen often, where a fish with a limited market gets really 'pumped out' by someone. Then after a few months, there is nobody left to buy the fish. The most recent example of this we have seen at The Aquarium Project is with Neolamprologus Lelelupi. Over the past year or so, they have been bred in such volumes that the market simply cannot support them.

N. Lelelupi on black sand

If you do want to get into breeding, the best options are easy fish with strong demand that can breed in good volumes. Some good options are platies, guppies, corydoras, or fancy bristle noses.
You will always be able to find people to buy these fish and won't get bogged down with fish you are stuck feeding and housing.


The Better Way


In my opinion, the best option for making money in the aquarium hobby is by growing and propagating plants. Propagating plants, in my opinion, is going to suit most people more than breeding fish.
Plants will grow fast enough that, once you get everything up and running, you will be able to sell plants most weeks. This ongoing cash flow is very important when it comes to a side hustle. You do not want to invest a chunk of your cash, tie it up for a year, or two years for a payoff. There is clearly risk involved in that, and a side hustle like this should not be considered a traditional investment. Cashflow not only supports ongoing costs associated but removes risk from the calculus.
Growing plants will need far less labour on your part than fish breeding for example. You do not need to worry about separating parents, grading fry, conditioning parents and heaps of water changes. A weekly water change and prune will be more than enough to keep them cranking away.
Unlike fish breeding, you will always be able to find people to buy your plants. Whether it is taking bulk lots to a local fish store, or selling them off at club meetings or online, you will be able to find buyers, particularly with the explosion of aqua scaping in recent years. You don’t have the same ethical requirements of ‘good homes’ with plants as you do with fish. If someone wants to give a plant a go that is unlikely to survive in their aquarium, that is ok, because it is a plant. Clearly, the same could not be said for a fish as they are of course sentient.
You do not need as great of an initial investment when it comes to growing plants as you would with fish. You do not need to separate out different sizes, you don’t need to buy fish food and you won't need to power water change for growth. Of course, there are some expenses to consider that we will detail below. It is important to note, that the below will vary according to what specific plant you choose. For this example, I will assume easy, fast-growing stem plants such as Ambulia, Rotala Rotundifolia and Hygrophila Polysperma for example.

Rotala Rotundifolia


If you are wanting to make money off them, I would suggest a pressurised Co2 system. Depending on where you live, the price will of course vary, but say you need to invest $350 NZD in a decent second-hand setup. Once you have the setup, the ongoing costs are negligible. For the average aquarium, you may need to buy $50 worth of Co2 per 6 months on average. But for this investment, your plant farm will grow exponentially faster.


The second expense would be lighting. You won't need any of the lights that will cost you thousands. A good, middle-range adjustable light will be perfect for most options. I would recommend starting off lower and building it up.
The final expense will be fertilisers. Internationally, there are a few budget-friendly but good liquid fertilisers available. I would look for a decent one that is affordable in your area. These plants will not need root tabs or incredibly nutrient-dense substrate, so whatever un of the mill, easy enough stuff you can find is a good option. The only thing is I would steer clear of fine silica sand. You will want something easy for the plants to root in. A grit-type substrate is a good option here.


A great value add here is I would recommend bunching your plants. When you buy plants at a fish store, for example, they will be bunched using something like lead. You don’t need to use lead or even a tie in general. But sorting them into separate groups of say five stems will be beneficial when selling bulk amounts to a fish store for example. If you throw them all in a bucket, the store will have to invest labour to make them sellable. If you take care of this step, that leaves more money for you as they just must throw them in the tanks. Our growers still bring them in a bucket but will offset them for example and alternate orientations to keep them separate. This means less work for the buyer and more money for the grower.

Bunch of Polysperma with the lead hghlighted


Another value add that may be worth considering is you could offer ‘pest snail free.’ This could be as simple as keeping a group of Chain Loaches in the aquarium or dipping the plants before selling them. Aquascapes especially, will find this a great service they are willing to pay for.
The final consideration for this hustle is that you can still breed fish! If you have a tank focused on farming your plants, throw a handful of mollies for example in the aquarium. They will help keep on top of any algae that may arise, and breed, adding another string to your bow. However, this is all excess value. You won’t even need to separate the parents from the fry when it is lush with plants. They will add value by eating algae, and you can sell them when they overpopulate. This is a win-win situation.
I argue farming aquarium plants is a far more suitable side hustle in the aquarium space. The most common solution of breeding fish can be problematic for many reasons, ranging from difficulty to investment in terms of time and money. Growing plants gives you far greater steady cash flow and requires much less labour. Growing plants is my recommendation for making some money to help support your hobby and bring in some extra income for yourself.

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