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Sri Lanka is naturally suited for aquaculture with a total coastline of approximately 1700 km. The total extent of lagoons and estuaries on the island is estimated to be 121,000 hectares. These continental areas support many reef habitats that provide a home to nearly 158 species.

The industry is based on both marine and freshwater ornamental fish varieties. The diverse drainage present within the country makes a path to the distribution of freshwater fish. This includes inland canals, rivers, lakes, etc. However, the industry comprises many establishments and labour dedicated to managing the growth of these fish communities and subjecting them to different markets. Sri Lanka’s first public aquarium was built in Dehiwala Zoological gardens in 1952 initiating these practices and providing knowledge for generations to come.


Ornamental fish farming is an important aspect of aquaculture. It is the practice of breeding and raising colourful fish varieties of various species for commercial purposes. This is mainly carried out by professional farmers and hobbyists. There are two main types of aquarium fish. They are livebearers and egg layers. Livebearers retain their eggs inside their bodies and give birth to live, free-swimming young fish. Egg layers on the other hand lay eggs, where the young fish eventually hatch themselves out. Sri Lankan fish breeding establishments breed both these varieties under the categories of marine ornamental fish and freshwater ornamental fish varieties. Guppies, swordtails, platys, barbs, tetras, angels, gouramis, and catfish are some of the most famous aquarium fish that can be found in these establishments.

The marine ornamental fish industry has been there in Sri Lanka for over 70 years. In the beginning, most marine ornamental fish were wild harvested from natural habitats such as coral reefs. Trained professionals such as scuba divers handle this collection process. This helps them to move on to a much-protected environment where they are kept away from pollution that may occur due to oil spills, chemical leaks, and trash. There are almost 250 marine species present around the island. Most fishermen might accidentally damage their habitats with the intention of fishing for food.Today most of these species were farm-bred by ornamental fish breeders due to increased restrictions in wild harvesting ornamental fish species in Sri Lanka.


The Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, The United Kingdom, The United States, China, Poland, Italy, and Canada are the major export markets for the Sri Lankan ornamental fish industry. The industry provides income streams for many individuals including ornamental fish growers, ornamental fish exporters, and vendors. While the ornamental fish industry is a multi-billion dollar franchise all over the world, the local industry still has a lot of untapped potentials.

The ornamental fish industry in Sri Lanka was first an area of unidentified export potential when fish lovers used to import their favorite fish varieties back in the 1930s. Export of ornamental fish was initiated in the 1950s once Sri Lankan exporters identified the industry’s true capability. Sri Lanka presently earns about 8.7 million US$ from the aquarium trade and export ornamental fishes to over 40 countries. In Sri Lanka, there are about 20 large scale companies engaged in exporting ornamental fish into various countries, throughout the world (EDB 2007).

The government has initiated more awareness among interested parties to show their support to improve the industry which can soon become a major income earner for the country’s economy. The individuals who currently engage in fish breeding practices having good knowledge about the industry. They are well trained and educated about the fish varieties and their behaviour. Scuba divers adhere to government rules and regulations when collecting fish. Exporters also have special quarantine practices to follow when they prepare fish for export.

Sri Lanka’s ornamental fish industry is monitored and regulated by the Wildlife Act and programs conducted for fish breeders and farmers. The National Aquatic Resource, Research Agency, and National Aquaculture Development Authority are some of the government institutions that show dedicated interest in the industry activities. The Sri Lanka Export Development Board has provided exporters with quarantine facilities that ensure minimal health issues in ornamental fish exports. Before exporting ornamental fish, all exporters have to follow a process which includes obtaining a health certificate from the Department of Animal Quarantine, a certificate of origin from the Department of Commerce, and a permit for .restricted species from the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources along with a water quality certificate from NARA/ITI.

SWOT Analysis of the Ornamental fish industry


  • Sri Lanka is a country with different Geographical locations which facilitate the expansion and the sustainability of the Ornamental fish industry.
  • Sri Lanka is also having rich biodiversity and a tropical climate which helps the fish to breed in natural substances.
  • Most of the experts such as the exporters of this industry have a religious background; therefore no harm is done to the fish while respecting all living beings.
  • Present government policies and the government officials prominently supports this industry, therefore it is easy to perform activities among the international arena.
  • Having a set of good expertise such as exporters, breeders who can go further innovations in the industry.
  • Sri Lanka is known for the finest quality production and has a reputation for its trustworthy exporters in the Ornamental fish industry.
  • To some extend the Sri Lankan exporters of this industry are born with the necessary skills, technology to match with the international standards.


  • There are few of the old colonial day’s rules which are still followed by the  government such as the wild life act which would eliminate certain activities of the ornamental fish industry. E.g.: Export of Endemic breeds is not allowed inSri Lanka.
  • Some exporters in Sri Lanka do not practice the hygiene facilities to keep the fish safe.
  • No certain criteria for export guidelines are given to the exporters.
  • Facilities for research and development of this industry are poor.
  • Ornamental fish exporters are lack national priority


  • Most of the exporters of this industry do this as a hobby and hobbies never tend to get fed up, therefore this industry will never die.
  • Mind soothing Industry, therefore the exporters are very dedicated towards what they do.
  • Continuous opportunity to explore.
  • Sri Lankan Exporters have the ability to directly transact with the ornamental fish suppliers without any intermediation of a third party.


  • There are limited sources in obtaining financial assistance because of the risk of the ornamental fish industry.
  • Destruction of the corals by the divers.
  • Dynamite fishing and the netting system fishing would disrupt the bottom of the lagoons, therefore the resources will be limited.
  • Also bad fishing habits would disrupt the breeding grounds for the ornamental fish.
  • Since only a few airlines provide the facility of exporting the fish there is a need for a few more airlines for exporting.
  • High rate of air freights which are caused due to the risk of exporting them would create more expenses for the exporters.


Christie, D. (1993) Action international working paper on the development of ornamental fishexports from Sri Lanka,

EDB (2007) Export Development Board of Sri Lanka, 2007. Statistical database.

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act, No 2 (1996) Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republicof Sri Lanka. Colombo, Sri Lanka,

IUCN (1997) A list of Threatened Animals of Sri Lanka and the Western Indian Ocean: extractedfrom the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, The World Conservation Union, Sri LankaCountry Office, 7, Vagira Lane, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka,

Jonklass, R.S.L (1989) Past present and future status of live tropical fish and plant business inSri Lanka. Aquarama Proceedings,


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