How Much Are Koi Fish? (And What Makes Them Cost so Much)

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Did you know?

The most expensive Koi fish sold in Japan was worth $1.8 million in 2018. 

Quite a hefty amount, right? Well, not really!

Koi fish are known to adorn garden ponds, restaurant interiors, and lounge space for their beautiful lineage and bizarre coloring. But do you know, how much are Koi fish and what exactly adds to their worth? In this article, I’ll list some mind-boggling factors that determine Koi fish’s cost and overall quality of a Champion Koi.

Let’s get Koi-ing!

Why are Koi fish so expensive? (12 Reasons That Explain How Much Are Koi Fish)

There’s no one answer to this question, the worth of Koi fish highly depends on some obvious factors such as the quality of Koi, colors, and patterns. On the basis of quality and price, Koi fish are usually categorized into three classes;

  • Pond raised Koi – The Koi that we raise in ponds are the easiest to find and the cheapest in the market.
  • Ornamental quality Koi – The popular category that we raise as ornamental fish, such as Butterfly Koi. These are cheaper than the show-quality Koi fish but a bit pricey than the pond-raised fish.
  • Show quality Koi – The highest quality of Koi fish all around the world and the costliest. These are raised for competitions and Japanese Koi shows.

However, not all Koi qualify as the Grand Champion and some might end up in the bargain bin. As an avid Koi enthusiast, I’ll specify some of the greatest reasons for Koi’s unrivaled value.

1. Successful Spawning

Any Koi keeper would agree; despite thousands of Koi eggs during the spawning behavior, only 20% of quality Koi survive, sometime the survival is by chance. The survival chances make Koi more cherished and an expensive pet fish.

But what exactly is a spawning behavior?

Koi Spawning Behavior

The process of spawning in Koi fish happens once a year when male Koi show great interest in the female Koi fish and keep following them for a day or two. Finally, the male Koi, usually in the early morning chase and nudge the Koi fish, and this is how the spawning begins.

During spawning, the female Koi lay thousands of eggs that are then fertilized by interested males immediately.

Now, this is where the quality and high prices come in.

The Egg Stage

Koi eggs stick to whatever they come in contact with. Usually, Koi fish like to deposit their eggs in aquatic plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce. Therefore, I always encourage plants in a Koi pond if you want to breed them. However, around 20% of the thousands and thousands of eggs usually die of fungus, infertility, or eventually rot to death.

The Hatchlings

Under favorable water conditions, the eggs hatch in around 4-5 days. The hatchlings feed on their yolk sac until they are fully capable to eat food. Nevertheless, 20% of the hatchlings usually die before they are 1 inch long.

The Culling Process

Generally, only 60% of Koi fish reach 1 inch in length and make it through the hatching phase. This is where the farmers start the culling process.

During the process, breeders discard all of the bad and deformed fish into the bargain bin. Hence, the healthy Koi fry feeds on a high-protein diet for around 3-4 weeks for further inspection when they reach around 2 to 3 inches. After a couple of weeks, breeders examine the baby Koi and discard another 15% of Koi into the bargain bin. And so, only the best, high-quality Koi makes it to the Grand Champion Koi list.

After successful tallying of the Koi fish, they are either sold locally or internationally for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

2. Body Conformation or Shape

Koi Body

Novice Koi hobbyists often overlook the conformation or body shape of Koi fish, mainly because they are not aware of its worth.

However, let me tell you;

The quality and cost of Koi fish are highly dependent on its body shape. The award-winning Koi fish is free of any defects and deformation in body shape. The ideal conformation of Koi fish is a torpedo-shaped, symmetrical body with even fins, corresponding to the body.

3. Colors and Patterns Diversity

One thing that outshines Koi is the color variety and fascinating patterns that keep the spectators in awe.

The colors in Koi can be classified into six extraordinary variations ranging from metallic and white to blue, yellow, red, and black. Nonetheless, not all the colors and patterns are as appreciated by Koi owners. Hence, the high pricing.

Also, the depth of Koi skin cells affects the vividness of Koi. That being said, the brighter the Koi, the costlier. 

Therefore, Koi breeders particularly pick the best colors and develop them into a brighter appearance through nutritious food for a heftier price tag.

The Grand Champion Koi that sold for $1.8 million in Japan had sultry red patches on a white body surface that sparkled like diamonds. And so in an enthusiast mind, the cost was justified.

Thus, the rarity and purity of colors and patterns increase the value of Koi fish.

4. The Biosecurity of Koi farms

Experienced Koi breeders maintain strict biosecurity in farms to prevent fish diseases and keep an active protocol for their inventory.

These Koi ponds are usually in remote places to prevent the contamination of water through pathogens, and all of this costs substantial money.

5. The need for a Large Pond

Unlike goldfish, guppies, and other commercial aquarium fish, Koi demands a huge pond for their survival.

The depth and intensity of Koi’s color and luster depend on water quality, therefore, Koi breeders prefer breeding and raising them in large ponds.

Consequently, a Koi farm needs a vast space with sufficient ventilation and filtration that add to its overall yield.

6. The import Costings

No matter what you do and how you do it. Let’s admit this – The quality of Japanese Koi is second to none and unmatchable. Therefore, all countries import show quality Koi from Japan, and this also adds to the ultimate price of Koi fish.

7. Connoisseur’s Craze for the pet Koi

I’ll be honest here, it’s a game of supply and demand.

The more the demand, the higher the cost.

People are crazy about Koi. Thus, Koi are expensive. In Japanese culture, Koi is considered a sacred pet that brings good luck and prosperity to the family.

And so, people show immeasurable affection towards Koi. They want it in their garden ponds, large indoor aquariums, and for winning the grand competitions, including the most popular All Japan Grand Koi Competition. Hence, the mad price. Let’s look at some Grand Champion Koi from the show itself over the years. Check out Koi Port Indonesia for more videos:

8. High-quality Koi Luster

High-quality Koi fish are free of blemishes and the skin is lustrous and rich with pigments. Just like you can easily distinguish between cotton and silk. The high-quality Koi can easily be recognized through its shimmery lustrous body.

9. The Overall Personality – Quality & Elegance

The judgment of quality and elegance on the basis of Koi’s personality is an arbitrary choice. However, Koi connoisseurs rely on this factor heavily. High-quality Koi fish are proven to perform exceptionally, be it swimming or socializing (aggressive or slow Koi fish are naturally devalued.)

Also, Koi owners judge the fish by their body movements and how gracefully they flex their bodies in the water. If the Koi fish looks healthier and energetic among the shoal, it is always rated higher. 

10. Extended Breeding time

The breeding of Koi is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Unlike guppies and bettas, Koi breeding needs patience and resilience. Any breeder will at least need 3 to 5 years to nourish and sell the show-quality Koi in the market.

11. Distinctive Features

Breeding Koi fish is a life-changing experience, and breeders put everything at stake to hit the jackpot.

Sometimes, when breeders are being a little adventurous, they might interbreed some of the rarest and quirkiest fish with distinctive qualities. The result is an extraordinary baby koi that manifests in magnificent colors and patterns.

Hence the breeders demand an exceptionally high price for Koi fish with such peculiar qualities.

12. Heritage and Legacy

You would be surprised to know that Koi fish, in their early years, were only bred for food. However, as time passed, breeders started seeing great potential in breeding the fish and making a living out of it. Nowadays, Koi fish are kept for their extravagant patterns and exquisite colors in landscaped ponds and large aquariums.

Did you know?

Even though Koi are commonly called Japanese Carp, they did not originally originate from Japan. Their exact origin is highly debatable by the Koi experts.

Nishikigoi

The carp that we call Koi, is Nishikigoi, which is termed as living jewels or brocaded carp. Nishikigoi possesses wonderful patterns and colors that we adore and love today.

Although Koi is not originated from Japan, Japanese breeders get the credit for fine-turning and breeding them to the remarkable color variations we witness now.

The Big Three

There are 15 major types of Koi but the most popular among them are the three varieties namely, Kohaku, the Sanke, and the Showa. These varieties of Koi fish are commonly called, the big three in the USA and Europe.

What determines a Champion Koi?

Even after years of breeding Koi fish, many breeders still couldn’t master the art of raising a Champion Koi.

According to Koi fish experts, the cost of Koi depends on the diverging intensity and depth of the colors. Also, there is an ideal size for a very expensive Koi fish.

The most prized Koi is not very large. Rather, they are 1.5 feet long with a torpedo-shaped body.

But how do experts judge Koi for a Grand Champion?

Well, they have their ways. However, there are five factors that determine a Champion Koi.

  • Overall Body Size
  • Shape and Body Conformation
  • Patterns
  • Color Depth
  • Intensity

Overall Body Size

Like in many departments, the bigger the size, the better. The same is the case with Koi fish. 

A larger size Koi fish has reached maturity and thus its full potential. Therefore, the ideal size for Champion Koi is as long as it can handle without compromising its color intensity and depth.

Big Girl, reportedly known as the largest Koi fish to date, weighs 40kg (90lbs) and is 1.2m (4 feet) long.

Shape and Body Conformation

Grand Champion Koi Sanke

About 60% judging score of a Champion Koi makes up the body shape and conformation of Koi fish (2010 Champion Sanke showed above1).

For the fish to qualify as a Champion Koi, it should have a long, broad head with a symmetrical tail and pectoral fins. Also, it should have a beautiful streamlined shape with thin bodies.

Any deformities, be it around the eyes, mouth, or fin areas are a minus. Furthermore, fins should be in optimal condition with no fraying or wear and tear.

It is observed that female Koi tend to win majority shows because of their peculiar shape and body conformation.

Patterns

The judgments based on patterns are a bit difficult to understand for novice Koi keepers.

Nonetheless, I’ll make it sound easy-peasy.

On the basis of patterns, we classify Koi fish in several categories. What judges basically look for is the clear and crisp outlines or edges, colloquially known as ‘Kiwa’ (meaning: verge, side, edges).

Therefore, if we speak about Koi, the edges or Kiwa constitute the hi (red) or Sumi (black) patterns. These patterns although seem identical, tell a lot about the quality of the Koi fish.

Patterns, together with color depth and intensity make up 30% of the total judging score of Champion Koi. Let’s look at some examples from The Daily Koi Channel of the All Japan Young Koi Show in 2021.

Where’s the highest quality of Kiwa found?

The big three.

Yes, Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa possess the highest quality of Kiwa, especially the Kohaku varieties where red patterns are adorned on a white surface to illustrate the Kiwa. Kiwa refers to edge of a pattern element.

Besides, the uniformity of colors also counts. For example, even hues of Crimson red or persimmon and orangish-red patterns throughout the body. The Champion quality Koi has a very dense red hue on the sharp edges of the pattern. Also, the barrier of red and white should be crystal clear with no blurring.

Types of Kiwa

Based on super edgy patterns, Kiwa is divided into two types.

  1. Kamisori Kiwa: Kiwa with razor-like edges, running through individual scales
  2. Maruzome Kiwa: Resembling the outline of a cherry blossom petal, Maruzome Kiwa gives a scalloped appearance to the trailing tip of the red patterns.

Please note that we always consider the trailing edge of the pattern in judging Kiwa. (i.e., the edge nearest to the tail of Koi fish)

The Distinctive Colors

For determining a Champion Koi, Koi experts look for the following color varieties;

  1. Pearly white surface with red (hi) patterns and definite outlines, such as Kohaku
  2. Pure black body base with white and red hues, such as Showa
  3. Peacock like metallic looking, red and orange attractive markings, such as Kujaku

Hinkaku

The overall personality matters.

And this is exactly what the judges assess while choosing a Champion Koi. The general aura of the fish with traits such as vitality, behavior, and overall personality against the norms.

Sometimes, while judging, the ‘seemingly’ healthy but quiet fish might lose the race against the boisterous, energetic, and lively ones.

How to Raise A Prized Koi?

Raising a Champion Koi is not a five-finger exercise, instead, it takes a lot of hard work and patience in raising one.

Quality Food

Premium quality Koi food makes all the difference. Not just quality food but with efficient measurements will help your fish grow and develop vivid colors.

Particularly in summers, when Koi are much hungrier and active, you should increase the frequency of daily feedings. Furthermore, you also notice that Koi will prefer eating food at one time more than the other. So, I recommend scheduling the feedings manually or get an automatic feeder for consistent feedings.

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Also, always measure the water temperature manually. 

Recommended Feed Measurements based on water temperature

  1. Below 55° F = Feed once a week
  2. Below 61° – 65° F = Feed twice a day
  3. Bello1 65°- 73°F = Feed thrice a day
  4. Over 77°F = feed five times or more per day.

Floating vs Sinking Food: Which is better?

Almost all the Koi owners prefer floating food because it makes less mess. However, in recent years, there is a surge of sinking Koi food as the secret to Japanese jumbo-sized Koi is high-quality sinking Koi food.

Let’s decide on the best type of food based on your preferences.

Floating Food

Let’s admit it! Floating food is fun to watch. Also, you can always hand feed your fish and enjoy the graceful sight of your Koi flexing their slender bodies.

Furthermore, floating food allows you to diagnose health symptoms and carefully examine their odd behaviors. Therefore, I always enjoy giving floating food to my Koi as I get to spend more time with them and catch serious problems before they get worse. But there are cons to everything. Floating food has a lower conversion rate that would cease your Koi’s growth.

Sinking Food

Japanese breeders love sinking food as it stimulates growth and has a higher feed efficiency.

However, you cannot deny the fact that sinking food means lesser interaction with your Koi and the chances of examining or diagnosing health issues are close to none.

Treats to the Rescue

High-quality Koi not only rely on the feed but consume occasional natural treats to grow into healthy and happy Champions.

Therefore, if you’re adamant to hand feed your Koi, you can always choose to offer them yummy treats that would add to their nutritional value, such as orange peels, lettuce. You can also offer a mix of floating and sinking food to enjoy time with your pet and feed them wholesomely.

The Quality of Koi food affects Water Quality

As an avid Koi keeper, you should know that water quality is the number one factor that keeps Koi healthy and striving. Therefore, it’s imperative to feed your Koi premium-quality food that doesn’t pollute your water quite often. Inferior quality feed also increases the chances of pond scum and cloudy water that is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

Thus, I recommend feeds that do not fall apart quickly with less particulate matter to maintain the water quality and hygiene for your pet.

Where To Buy Champion Level Koi

I’ll be honest, it is very difficult to find champion level koi and most folks can’t afford it. I’ll start with 3 tiers of koi dealers, the best most are going to be able to afford, a high-tier, then an all in Champion level experience. Let’s start with the 1st level.

Level 1 – Next Day Koi

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Next Day Koi

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Next Day Koi offers WYSIWYG Koi from the best breeders and farms in the country.

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Next Day Koi offers WYSIWYG imported Koi from Japan that will satisfy the wonder and awe many Koi enthusiasts are looking for. You can get lower to mid priced Koi here that are beautiful looking delivered straight to your door. My coupon code also will get you an cool 10% off.

Level 2 – Kloubec Koi

Kloubec Koi represents the next level of Koi FIsh for sale. This seller is a great option when looking for high quality Koi fish over $500. The EBay store will often have adult sized Koi that will show well.

Level 3 – KoiTrips

A World Class Koi Experience!
Koi Trips

Check It Off Your Bucket List!

Visit the top breeders in the world and pick your very know champion level koi. Fly out to Japan for a true VIP experience with Koi Trips!

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Are you looking for the experience of a lifetime? Do you want to go to Japan and hand pick your very own champion level Koi from the top breeders in the world? If so, Tim Waddington and his team at KoiTrips are ready to take you on a the VIP experience of a lifetime. Come to Japan, pick the best quality koi in the world, and Tim’s team will do the rest to get it to your home in perfect condition!

Other FAQS

How much does it cost for a koi fish?

It depends on a number of factors. Usually, the pond quality Koi costs around $50 – $150, depending on the size, color, shape, and variety.

However, there are some show-quality varieties that would cost more than $10,000.

Are koi fish expensive?

Yes, Koi fish are the most prized pet in the world, ranging from $50 to $2.2 million.

Not only they are expensive but very high-maintenance, i.e., they require scheduled feeding, a clean koi pond, and aquatic plants to thrive.

How much do koi fish cost?

Koi fish cost anywhere between $50 to $10,000 and above. Most Koi will fall in the range of $50 – $150

How much is a 20-year-old koi worth?

A healthy 20-year-old Koi would cost around $200 or above, depending on the size and current market value. If you have an adult Koi fish but a healthy one, i.e., it has not developed blemishes, freckles, or spots with a decent body shape. Then congratulations! It is likely worth even more!

Final Thoughts

Now, the answer to, how much are koi fish is too much 😅. But at least, now you know why they are madly prized and what it takes to make a champion Koi. Next time you’re thinking to feed your valuable pet inferior quality food, think twice, as it might affect its growth and color vibrancy.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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