SINGAPORE – An obsession with the beauty and grace of Japanese ornamental carp, or “koi,” and a land shortage has spawned a phenomenon in Singapore known as “Koi hotels,” but the operators fear their business may be wiped out.
That is what could happen if Japan fails to control the spread of a virus threatening the fish.
Koi hotels, basically sprawling koi farms of concrete ponds that koi owners can rent to keep their fish, are virtually unheard of in other parts of the world. But in this small island state, where most people live in cramped high-rise housing, koi hotels are a flourishing business.
Koi are seen as auspicious symbols by Singapore’s predominantly Chinese population. They have long adorned ponds in the compounds of bungalows owned by Singapore’s wealthier families, but with rising affluence many middle-class Singaporeans also aspire to own the fish.
And they have turned to koi hotels to provide the ponds to raise their fish, which they visit on weekends.
There are now eight koi farms in Singapore, most of which provide “hotel services.”
A koi owner pays a monthly rental, often about 600 Singapore dollars (a little more than 35,000 yen) for an 80-ton pond that can keep about 30 fish.
Hotel staff help feed and care for the fish, although the rental fee does not include food or the cost of any medication.
But the outbreak of koi herpes virus, or KHV, among black edible carp in Japan last year has dealt a blow to Singapore because Japan is a major source of ornamental koi, which can cost from S$100 to more than S$100,000.
“I can’t sleep because KHV might thrive in hot weather in Singapore,” said Pay Bok Sing, managing director of Nippon Fish Farm Trading, one of Singapore’s biggest koi farms and hotels. “I hope Japan can control it. If they can’t control it, a lot of Singapore’s koi hotels will have to close down. Many customers keep their koi here, and if the virus spreads to their fish, it will be disastrous.”
But some, such as Singaporean koi dealer Max Ng, are undeterred.
Ng, who is now developing Singapore’s biggest koi farm and hotel, said he is going ahead with his plans.
The S$4.5 million farm, which is expected to be completed in June, boasts 90 ponds spanning 4 hectares.
“We want to increase our percentage share of sales in the local retail market,” Ng said. “We are also looking at the region because the koi market is growing in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.”
Japan is a small source of carp imports for Singapore, with only 28,000 fish coming from Japan, but they are high-grade varieties such as “nishiki.”
While the Singapore government has stopped short of imposing an outright ban on koi imports from Japan, it has started tight restrictions, requiring importers to quarantine the fish on arrival and wait for confirmation from lab tests to ensure they are not contaminated with KHV.
They have to destroy the whole batch if any of the fish is found to be infected.
Many of Singapore’s koi importers put off purchasing trips to Japan during the peak winter season because of the KHV outbreak.