Originally from Japan, koi fish are the most popular breed of pond fish there is. It’s not hard to come across young specimens for as little as $10. But exotic examples of the species with bright colors and defined features can actually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars!
So, how much should you really be paying for a koi fish? Read on for our complete guide to how much koi fish cost based on various characteristics such as size, pattern, and lineage. We’ll also look at exactly how much it costs to build and maintain a suitable pond for koi fish.
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How Much Do Koi Fish Cost?
The question of how much a koi fish costs is difficult to answer because no two fish are the same. Depending on their individual characteristics, they can cost less than $10, but it is not uncommon to hear of fish selling for six figures.
The most expensive sale of a koi fish on record happened in 2017, when a rare nine-year-old female Kohaku with shiny white scales and red-orange detailing sold for $1.8 million! This fish was specifically bred for shows and was now ready for breeding, accounting for the extreme price tag. But this gives you an idea of just how valuable some people, especially from the koi fish’s native Japan, consider these ornamental fish to be!
So how much can you expect to pay when looking for koi fish? Let’s consider first the standard market for non-collectors.
If you’re looking at relatively small fish, under 15 inches, bred locally and with no specifically special characteristics, you might be able to get a koi fish for between $8-$20. For similar koi fish imported from Japan, you might pay about twice that.
Larger butterfly koi fish, which are mostly bred in the United States, can cost anywhere between $30 and $660 depending on size and coloring. Larger koi fish from Japan start at around $100 and can go up to $2,500 if they have desirable color markings.
After this, you get into the collector’s market where every detail of the fish’s appearance and lineage can make a difference in the price. It is not uncommon for rare breeds to sell for around the $200,000 mark.
Why Are Koi Fish So Expensive?
But why exactly are koi fish so pricey? The main reason is that desirable specimens are relatively rare and also expensive to breed.
Every female koi fish lays millions of eggs over the course of her lifespan, which can be as long as 50 years, but only a small percentage will produce the kinds of high quality koi fish that aficionados are looking for. Many of the fish have deformities and are sold cheap. These are the koi that you get for less than $20.
They are also expensive to breed. These are big fish, and if you have a lot of them, you need a very large pond ecosystem that has to be maintained. A pond for a couple of koi fish needs to be around eight feet by six feet and four feet deep.
Now, just imagine how big a pond would need to be for hundreds of koi. Maintaining the cleanliness and filtration of the pond is serious work!
These omnivorous fish eat almost anything, but they also eat a lot. Ideally, they should be fed four times a day. They do best on worms, larvae, seeds, algae, insects, and small crustaceans.
Finally, it’s complex and expensive to transport koi fish for sale. While they aren’t like goldfish, which seem to “float” dead every time you change their water, special care still needs to be taken while transporting them. Koi need appropriate tank conditions both while in transport and for temporary accommodations.
So remember, you aren’t just paying for the fish; you are paying for all the work that went into breeding and raising it, too.
What Affects Koi Fish Value?
We have already said a few times that a lot of different factors affect the value of koi fish when you get into the more expensive specimens, but what exactly are those factors?
Color And Pattern
The characteristics that influence the desirability and therefore the cost of a koi fish are the color and pattern of its scales. Black, white, and red are the most common colors, and exotic colors featuring yellows and blues can fetch a high price.
But the most common colors are the most popular if they are brilliant and have good patterning. Bright red-orange, dark black, and shining white are considered the best examples of the species.
Business owners in Japan will often seek out fish that match the color scheme of their offices or logo, such as yellow and gray. Fish that look like the Japanese flag — white with a red spot on their head — are also extremely popular and pricey.
Generally speaking, bigger is better when it comes to koi fish, and larger fish are more expensive. Domestically bred koi fish are usually the smallest and will measure 12-15 inches in length from tip to tail. Japanese koi fish are larger and will often measure between 22 and 26 inches, and this is considered the ideal size. There are also jumbo koi fish that measure 34-36 inches and carry a premium price tag.
Most people want young animals when they adopt puppies and kittens so they can bond with their animal in their youth, but the same is not true for koi fish. Collectors often buy koi fish when they are almost three years old, which is when they reach their full adult size.
This is because when the fish are juveniles, it is extremely difficult to determine with accuracy exactly how big they are going to get. So, buyers with specific size requirements will wait and purchase older fish. This is another factor that contributes to price since that means three years of feeding and care before they’re purchased.
Koi fish, when cared for properly, can live 50 years, so a three-year-old fish is still considered a good investment.
Females tend to be more expensive than male koi fish for two main reasons: First, they can be used for breeding, so you can expand your koi fish population. Second, they tend to be a little longer than the males and have rounder fins, which many consider desirable characteristics in an attractive fish.
The shape of the fish is also an important factor when looking for the perfect specimen, but tastes differ in different areas, In Japan, buyers tend to prefer shorter fish with neat fins; meanwhile, in the United States, there is a preference for fish with long fins that look like they flap a little like a butterfly’s wings.
Most people know that when it comes to dogs, purebreds with a clear record of their lineage sell for much more than mixed breeds with unknown parentage, or even purebred dogs that don’t have the paperwork to prove it. This paperwork is essential if owners want to enter their dog in shows or breed them with other purebred dogs.
A very similar system exists in the world of koi fish, and many individual fish can trace their ancestors for generations. Paperwork proving ancestry is also important for showing and breeding koi fish.
Just like there are different breeds of dog, there are also different breeds of koi fish and some are considered more valuable than others.
Below are some of the most desirable breeds and what you can expect to pay for common specimens. Special examples can be much more expensive.
Asagi are one of the oldest koi fish breeds and have non-metallic scales that are laid out in diamond patterns with blue coloring. They usually have red splotches on their head and fins. Asagi koi cost between $450 and $1,000 depending on their size.
Doitsu koi fish stand out because, while they are very colorful, they have no scales! They are one of the older breeds and cost starts at around $500.
Ginrin koi fish hail from Germany rather than Japan, but they are prized for their iridescent sparkling scales, which are usually orange or gold. They vary greatly in size, from 12 to 36 inches, and can cost anywhere from $150-$400.
Hi Utsuri are the koi fish with black and red coloring, and Ki Utsuri have black and yellow markings. They are among the most expensive fish, with starting prices around $1,000.
Matsuba stand out among koi because they have one solid color with no markings. They also have a dark pinecone pattern on their scales, with dark centers and bright edges, which makes them instantly recognizable among koi. These fish can also range greatly in size and will cost between $100-$200.
These koi fish have a solid white body with no other color markings and appear metallic, giving them a platinum look. They are among the most expensive of the koi and cost between $500-$1,000 depending on size, which ranges from 24 to 36 inches.
Taisho Sanke are one of the “big three,” the three most desirable breeds of koi fish. They usually have a white body with significant red and some black markings and were the first tri-color koi. The fish can measure anywhere from 24 to 36 inches and cost between $50-$300.
How Much Does A Koi Fish Pond Cost?
Purchasing the fish themselves is not the only major expense that comes with being a koi fish owner. Preparing and maintaining a pond suitable for koi can be a big expense, too.
Because they are large fish and quite active, they need a fairly large pond. A pond should be no less than 1,000 gallons and three feet deep, and you should have about 25 square feet of pond per koi fish.
If you only have a couple of koi, you still need a pond a minimum of about 15 feet by 20 feet in area. If you pay for a pond of that size to be specially installed, you could expect to pay around $5,000. Large ponds can cost upwards of $60,000, and the estimated average price of koi fish ponds in the United States is $20,000.
They are expensive because they are ecosystem ponds that require both mechanical and biological filters. Most ponds will also have a variety of features such as underwater lighting, waterfalls, and fountains.
Read our complete guide to caring for koi fish in a backyard pond.
Koi Fish FAQs
Can you have one koi fish in a tank?
Large fish tanks —150 gallons plus — can serve as a home for a small koi fish less than about six inches. But to keep koi fish in the best conditions, you need about 500 gallons of water per koi fish.
Can koi fish live in two feet of water?
Koi fish do prefer to stay within two feet of the surface of the water. But it’s recommended to have a pond at least three feet deep so they can swim comfortably without skimming the bottom.
Investing In Koi Fish
If you want to introduce some koi fish into your pond, it doesn’t need to be expensive. If you aren’t picky about characteristics such as color markings and fin shapes, you can get your hands on some beautiful fish for less than $20 each.
The problem is, the more you learn about koi fish, the more you are likely to appreciate their exotic characteristics. Before you know it, you are an aficionado seeking out the most beautiful and rare colors and patterns. These are the fish that can break the bank!