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Business Insight

Fishing for Bargains

Marie Iimura

Fish auctions are big business in Japan, with the most flavorful specimens making their way to top-tier sushi restaurants. One particular auction, however, deals with ornamental fish.

Overseas brokers get out of their cars to take in a preview of auction lots-- Nishiki-koi carp.

Some carp sell for several-thousand dollars. Their colorful patterns have earned them the nickname swimming jewels.

A wholesaler, Manabu Ogata of Ogata Koi Farm, says buyers from abroad account for 95% of his annual sales. He says he's seen a shift in nationalities. "I used to have a lot of European buyers," he says.

This graph shows export sales of Nishiki-koi and other aquarium fish. Over the past 10 years, the biggest increase has come from Hong Kong, the doorway to China.

That market has started to shrink, though.

Danny Ngai is from Hong Kong. He exports to China. He buys expensive carp at this auction every year. But he says wealthy Chinese aren't spending like they used to.

On the other hand, Sugiarto Budiono, a broker from Indonesia, is eager to buy. He says the market for nishiki-koi is growing. Budiono's country has been enjoying economic growth. Sales are up there and in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is a huge market, with the fourth largest population in the world. Many well-to-do young people are moving from Jakarta to the suburbs, where they have room to build big houses with gardens. Nishiki-koi add to the atmosphere.

Budiono was keeping an eye on a large carp going up for auction. But he wasn't the only one. He suspects it may sell for more than one million yen.

Bidders send the price soaring, but Budiono got what he came for, with a one-million-yen bid. That's more than $8,000 dollars.

He went on to pay an even higher price for another carp. He says auctions are good, with reasonable prices.

Ngai, the dealer from Hong Kong, was shopping in the $2,500 range. His strategy was to re-sell to younger customers. He bought 35 carp. That was more than any other buyer.

Altogether, the auction set records for volume and money following the currents of economies in Asia.

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