As a native of Southeast Asia, the Asian arowana is bred and sold in the region, fetching prices ranging from $300 to $70,000 or more. Known color breeds include the chili red, which goes for around $1,400, and the emerald violet fusion super red, which sells for about $12,000.
However, the fish cannot be brought to the US, where it is protected by the Endangered Species Act. Last year, a California man was busted after smuggling eight from Indonesia, keeping them in bags of water hidden in porcelain pots to avoid detection during shipping, The Mercury News reported.
The fish, with its red and gold colors, are believed to bring good luck in many Asian homes. They are especially popular among middle class Chinese men, who view them as a status symbol and apparently collect them the same way as cars.
“It’s a very valuable commodity, and that had driven a tremendous amount of crime around the areas where it’s bred,” Emily Voigt, author of “The Dragon Behind the Glass,” which explores the trade, told Business Insider. “Keeping this fish is very much a macho hobby. There’s not a lot of women that do it. And it’s almost like collecting cars or something like that.”
Interestingly, Asian arowana were not flaunted up until the second half of the 20th century. Instead, they were filleted and eaten.
Things began to change in 1967, when an aquarium trader from northern Malaysia saw a dead fish at a food market, found it attractive and purchased one to keep as a pet. Eventually, the fish showed up in Taiwan, and homeowners elsewhere in Asia wanted one for themselves.
Now, the Asian arowana participate in fish beauty pageants with armed escorts, CNBC noted. They even undergo cosmetic surgeries such as eye lifts and chin jobs, which cost somewhere between $60 to $90.
“I know some people think it’s cruel to the fish,” Eugene Ng, one of such surgeons in Singapore, told The New York Times. “But really I’m doing it a favor. Because now the fish looks better and its owner will love it even more.”