The Asian arowana is a freshwater fish distributed geographically across Southwest Asia.
There are several varieties of this fish in the wild that some consider as one species, while others differentiate into multiple species. It is not harmful or poisonous to humans, but it is a fierce predator dating back to the age of the dinosaurs.
The fish is edible, but reported to be bony and very bland. Its big claim to fame comes from being an exotic and popular aquarium fish sought after by serious hobbyists. For the Asian elite, the Asian arowana has become a coveted status symbol and all-around obsession. It is prized for its large, metallic glimmering scales and sinuous body which undulates like the paper dragons you see in a Chinese New Year's parade.
Certain varieties of the Asian arowana have become one of the world's most expensive aquarium additions. Habitat loss continues to make some varieties of this slowly reproducing species endangered in the wild. Because of this, some of the more popular varieties are allowed by international law to be made available to the aquarium trade through captive breeding programs.
Unfortunately, a thriving black market in wild-caught fish still exists.
The captive breeding programs have led to a thriving trade in Asia, particularly China, where high-quality specimens are viewed as a status symbol. In addition, the fish is also considered to bring good luck and prosperity to the keeper of the fish if it is kept healthy and happy.
An albino adult, which can grow up to 3 feet or more in length, may sell for $70,000 and some specimens have been rumored to fetch up to $300,000 or more. Such fish are typically microchipped and certified by breeders.
While not all are priced in the six figures, a young Asian arowana in Singapore could easily bring $300.
This fish also requires a gargantuan aquarium since it is a strong powerful swimmer, can be fairly aggressive at times and can grow to weigh in excess of 13 pounds. When raised in captivity, it can have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years.
Unfortunately, some of the cheaper varieties are often released by hobbyists into the wild when they get too large to care for properly. In many parts of the U.S., the release of an exotic animal such as an arowana is illegal due to concerns about invasive species and the damage they can cause to an ecosystem.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.