This S’porean Turned His Shrimp Hobby Into A Biz

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 store Shrimps Affair.

Located on French Road, Shrimps Affair specializes in the sale of ornamental shrimps, which represent 60 to 70 percent of their total income.

Ornamental shrimp are raised only to be kept as pets and are not edible.

A tiny shrimp is about an inch long, but it can cost anywhere from S $ 1 to S $ 1,000 at Derrick’s retail store. It keeps the most valuable shrimp “in the back”.

While keeping fish as aquatic pets was the norm, the trend for ornamental shrimp proliferated across the world, even reaching US and European markets.

But Derrick is not a simple businessman. This Singaporean shares a 20-year love affair with ornamental shrimp that has finally snowballed into the full-fledged aquatic trade that it is today.

20-year obsession with ornamental shrimp

The 39-year-old entered the ornamental shrimp craze more than 20 years ago, while still serving his national service.

Derrick discovered ornamental shrimp online and started sourcing them from a Taiwanese importer. Eventually, he started flying to Taiwan to buy ornamental shrimp himself.

Ornamental red prawns
Red Boa Shrimp / Image Credit: Mad Shrimp

At the time, few people knew how to farm shrimp (in Singapore). I wasted around S $ 30,000 to S $ 40,000 at the start.

– Derrick Toh, founder of Shrimps Affair

Shrimp are easy to care for for so long if you have the right water parameters, Derrick explains. However, rearing ornamental shrimp requires high initial investments.

A tank easily costs S $ 1,000, he adds. In addition to this, hobbyists also need to purchase coolers, cans, and filtration systems.

Either way, the payoff is worth it for some.

“It’s nice to see (the shrimp) grow and wander around the tank, and they’re all colors: yellow, orange, red and blue,” Derrick says.

“You can easily hold 500 to 800 shrimp in a 2 foot tank.”

Building a full-fledged business

The shrimp “farmer” decided to quit his job as a manager in 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 Derrick and his partners.

They then opened a retail outlet in a 400 square foot store, with Derrick overseeing operations.

“Others thought they should have spent at least $ 100,000 more to start an ornamental shrimp business,” Derrick explains.

However, the trio already had large collections of ornamental shrimp and simply needed a license to start selling their surplus cattle.

Unfortunately, Shrimps Affair had to move barely a year later because their owner had gone bankrupt.

The team had to move all of their equipment and livestock to a new space and reinvest their funds. Business quickly rebounded and is now settled into a larger 1,000 square foot store.

Shrimp business shop
Image Credit: Facebook Shrimp Affair

The founder of Shrimps Affair has since spent a few hundred thousand dollars on livestock and aquatic equipment.

Business also appears to be booming. Shrimps Affair receives a minimum of 700 revenue per month.

In addition to selling to consumers, Shrimps Affair also sells ornamental shrimp to wholesalers, usually in the thousands per sale. Each sale can generate between S $ 16 and several thousand dollars, says Derrick.

A risky investment: prawn farming

However, the ornamental shrimp trade is a delicate and risky business.

Derrick rents four breeding grounds and personally travels to Taiwan to spend up to S $ 40,000 to purchase high quality purebred shrimp for breeding purposes.

“Can you imagine? 30,000 to 40,000 Singaporean dollars in a little plastic bag,” Derrick explains. “It’s a scary experience.”

There are more than a few hundred unique species of ornamental shrimp. Since all shrimp are hybrids, it is difficult to breed pure descendants.

Due to mixed genetics, shrimp larvae tend to have different appearances than their parents. As a result, breeders undergo a selection process 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 shrimp and pure black shrimp.

White and red prawns
Image Credit: Facebook Shrimp Affair

To assess the value of an ornamental shrimp, its quality must also be taken into consideration. This involves evaluating their shell, legs and coloring.

Poor quality purebred shrimp can cost as little as S $ 7.

Its high quality counterpart is very rare and valuable. They are typically sold for breeding and typically cost between S $ 4,000 and S $ 5,000, says Derrick.

On top of that, breeders need to stay on top of the latest shrimp species. The value of shrimp depreciates over time, with shrimp valued at S $ 70 years ago falling to S $ 12 today.

“Demand always outweighs supply,” Derrick assumes.

Queues for shrimp after the breaker

The ornamental shrimp industry is a small community, says Derrick.

“So trust me when I say there were lines in front of all the aquatic stores (after the breaker).”

During the two-month period, Singapore had enacted a blanket ban on the sale of livestock, including retail and online purchases. Shrimps Affair survived through its sale of equipment during this period.

The demand for ornamental shrimp post-breakers came from the fact that people’s tanks slept for months before they could inject life into their aquariums.

Since then, the crowds have calmed down because “the purchasing power of people is tighter”, explains Derrick.

However, Shrimps Affair has thousands of loyal customers. In fact, Derrick had just made a sale of several thousand shrimp the morning before our interview.

Despite the hurdles ahead, the shrimp farmer seems happy with the business he has built and calls it any enthusiast’s “dream” to own such a business.

Featured Image Credit: Ryo Watanabe Youtube / Photography Life

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Jothi Venkat

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