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Where goldfish come from
What seems like a simple question can get awfully complicated, but the answer is Arkansas.
March 21, 2005: 5:26 PM EST

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - "Goodbye, Princess. We love you." Flush.

Thus ended the funeral for the goldfish named Princess, a birthday party favor from the previous day.

"Daddy, where do goldfish come from?" asked my teary daughter.

Hmmm. Where do they come from? The "Made in ..." stamp doesn't really go well on the side of a fish.

From a historic perspective, exotic aquarium fish obviously were imports from far off places. The goldfish, a kind of carp, in fact has its genetic origins in China.

But what was once foreign can become local very easily. The Mercedes you see here in the United States was very likely built in Alabama, not Germany.

So these days, where do goldfish come from? Are they, like so many ordinary things we take for granted these days, made overseas?

Our government's trade figures tell you it's a pretty good shot. Imports of "ornamental fish" (commodity code 0301.10.0000 if you're interested) outweighed exports by $18.6 million in 2004 at a ratio of more than two-to-one.

Great. Looks like we outsource goldfish, too. Sigh.

But not so fast. Figures don't always tell the whole (fish)tail. And commodity code 0301.10.0000 doesn't exactly break out goldfish from angelfish.

So I asked the pet store: Where do goldfish come from?

I got the PR equivalent of a shrug. "We use a variety of (fish) suppliers and try to be as regional as possible," said a spokesman for Petco.

Then I talked to a few fish breeders, people who grow the big goldfish you see in garden center ponds. Did they know where the little ones came from?

"I think someplace in the Midwest. But China's into a lot of things now," said one.

Eventually I found a particularly knowledgeable fish pathologist, who helps breeders keep their stock fit.

"It depends on what kind of goldfish you are talking about," said Dr. Eric Park. "As you move up the totem pole to more complicated fish, you get more foreign competition."

Those bug-eyed, wispy tailed versions with spots and stripes can cost up to $20 a piece in some cases. That's more than enough to offset transportation costs for overseas competitors, especially those in Asia that have lower labor and development costs to begin with.

But as you move down the line to less complicated species -- fish with less mutant-looking qualities -- the margin gets thinner. The standard, run-of-the-mill orange goldfish, called a "comet," goes for about 10 cents.

That was Princess.

"More than likely, it came from Arkansas," said Park. The majority of the country's comets are grown by one particular operation there, Park said, then moved for resale through various distribution centers throughout the country.

(I tried to talk to the owner of the operation, but he never returned my calls. His company recently settled charges of obstruction of justice in a price-fixing case, so I can understand his hesitancy).

So I had an answer for my daughter. Goldfish (at least the plain ones) come from Arkansas.

Did that dry her tears? No. But the Siamese Fighting Fish, heartier and imported, did.

Sorry, Princess.

For more fishy columns, click here.


Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and appears on CNN's "In the Money." He can be emailed at  Top of page


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