Why are Koi so expensive?

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

For those just entering the hobby of Nishkigoi, and find yourself wanting an original Japan bred Koi,

the question often comes up. Why are Koi from Japan so expensive?

In 2018 a female 101cm variety Kohaku was sold for a record of 203,000,000 Yen by Sakai Fish Farm in Hiroshima.

Some of the underlying factors that make Koi a costly purchase are:

1. Supply and Demand

2. Competition

3. Breeding

4. Cost of production and maintenance

5. Costs of losses

6. Rarity and beauty

When breaking these items down and analyzing them, the reason becomes clearer.

1. Supply and demand

First, the marketplace for Japan bred Koi is global, meaning there is a huge pool of consumers who wish to acquire high quality Japan bred Koi. However, high quality Koi is in short supply in Japan and globally. In Japan, the highest quality of Koi are bred, and to this day (2020) no other global producers of Koi have matched the quality and quantity of Japan bred Koi.

Even given this fact, the production of high-quality Koi is still difficult to produce and acquire in Japan, making the supply in Japan short of intense global demands. Some of the global leader countries which drive the strongest demand of high-quality Koi are countries like China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, and a few others. In addition to these global leaders, other countries as well such as the United States, United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium and other European countries also drive high demand for high quality Koi and middle and lower grade level Koi. This combination of global demand is a huge contributing factor to the reason why Koi are so expensive.

2. Competition

Together with this global demand, an attributing factor for expensive Koi prices is that Koi are competed, much in a way as horses or other livestock are competed. Competitions both in Japan and international competitions drive a competitive market for high quality, competition grade Koi.

3. Breeding

Although one pairing of Female and male Koi can produce hundreds of thousands of offspring, the market does not demand the majority of that offspring, and through selections and culling, over 90% does not make it to market. In addition to losing many offspring to natural causes, not all spawning is successful, every year there are a certain number of females which will not lay eggs, and certain percentage of eggs which will not be fertilized.

To add more difficulty, some pairings produce unfavorable results or a lower percentage of favorable traits, for example bad patterns, bad color etc. making them unsalable to the market.

4. Cost of production and maintenance

I have often heard people say that the Koi breeder in Japan has an easy life, just breed fish together and magically collect money from the sales. However, this could be no further from the truth. It is said that one small greenhouse using kerosene to heat the water can bring a cost of tens o thousands of dollars over a period of a few winter months, only for the cost of kerosene. When you carefully consider individual costs such as electricity for running filtration systems, pumps, maintenance, kerosene, food, tons of salt, medicines, vehicle fuel, time, worker’s salary and insurance, work vehicle insurance and many other individual costs, the reality of the difficulties of being a Koi breeder becomes apparent. And this is not even considering the mud pond costs used throughout the summer months, such as land rental, brush and weed clearing, tools and supplies, tons of food etc.

The costs of a Koi breeder are astronomical, and the work very demanding and difficult, only to end up with a very small percentage of high quality Koi.

5. Cost of losses

Now that the cost of production and maintenance is understood, there comes the cost of losses. There are several ways that losses are incurred for a Koi farmer, one of those losses is from the non-paying customer. Having a global demand for koi means that there are is an unlimited supply of risk due to non-paying customers who agree to purchase Koi, ship Koi, and then not pay for the Koi. Getting that one out of the way, there are many other ways losses are incurred such as nature. Disease, Bacteria and infections, Heavy rains, flooding, earthquakes, snow, predators such as birds, frogs and insects, all take a heavy toll on Koi production. There are at least five species of birds and other species that regularly consume Koi out of the mud ponds in Niigata every year, some of those creatures are Kingfishers, Cormorants, Herons, bullfrogs, dragonfly larvae and others.

Thousands of Koi are lost due to natural causes, weather issues and predators, making the supply of high quality Koi even smaller.

6. Rarity and beauty

In the end the Koi breeder is left with only a limited supply of high quality Koi. These Koi may exhibit great colors, body, luster but may still may not reach the perfect goal. Each individual Koi is like a piece of art, none like any other. These few fish find a special place in the breeder’s heart, the years of sacrifice and dedication, the astronomical costs that it took to achieve such a masterpiece cannot be let go of so easily. Each individual breeder has his own difficulties that they had to endure to reach this pinnacle therefor in the end, the breeder decides the value of any particular Koi. Market trends do have an impact on how Koi are valued, but it cannot dictate the value of art that for the breeder is priceless.

Valuing a Koi is not something written in stone, in the end, it is living and swimming art, and every year the market is shown just how far people are willing to go to reach the pinnacle and have the most beautiful Koi in the world.

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