Pisciculturist Kaya Natarajan talks about his passion for breeding exotic fish species

“My Oscar Cichlid is sick, it needs immediate attention,” says Kaya Natarajan, whose love for his fishes is beyond description.

He feels the fish might have contracted internal parasites. “Look how it struggles to move. Its stomach is also bloated and it refuses to eat. It needs immediate medical attention,” he says.

Kaya mixes a few drops of medicine with food and throws it into the concrete fish tank, which he calls a ‘pondarium’. “It will be okay in two days. This Oscar Cichlid is a carnivore and feeds on insects and fish in the wild. I feed them grasshoppers,” he says. He has five of this type, all measuring around 12 inches.

“As there are no vets available locally to treat them, they have to be regularly checked for any signs of sickness,” says Kaya. “Most medicines are available at some select local fish stores. I use doxy with lactic acid bacillus mixed to their food to cure them of any internal parasites. First and foremost, you have to regularly clean the water and maintain the water temperature to keep the diseases away,” he advises.

He first became interested in fish as a child, when his mother gave him a fish tank. Though breeding fish is a costly hobby, he dedicates time and money to maintain the pondarium in his house.

Even when he went abroad to London for his degree in International Business, Kaya never lost interest in his hobby. In fact, he used the visit to gather information about different fish species and breeding techniques. “The international exposure helped me to learn more about fish culture,” he says.

His collection includes Silver Arowana, Red Tail Catfish, Jaguar Cichlid, Red Devil Cichlid, Tiger Shovelnose Catfish and Silver Dollar. All are tropical South American fish.

“The Red Tail Catfish of this size is rare in India,” says Kaya. “It is a carnivore and grows up to five feet in the wild. But in captivity it grows up to four feet. My fish is about 26 inches long. It eats anything that fits in its mouth. I feed them fillets of tilapia (small freshwater fish) and occasionally sea food,” he explains.

He also brushes aside the claims that Arowanas are ‘Vaasthu’ fish, bringing good fortune to the home. He feels that gullible buyers fall prey to such marketing tactics. “This species is sold at higher price,” he says. “There are buyers who are ready to pay any amount for this fish.”

“Pacu is sold as piranha to unwary customers all over the world,” he says. Kaya had two Pacus but had to give them away as they were too boisterous. “They gobble up food meant for other species. They are naturally vegetarians. I feed them carrots, almonds and beans.”

He updates his knowledge on breeding fish by browsing the internet. He is also a member in numerous forums and regularly posts his experience in the pond build thread on the website Indian aquarium hobbyist.com. Another website of interest is www.monsterfishkeepers.com.

Kaya feeds his fish early in the morning. He regularly cleans the tank and even prays for the welfare of the fish. He wants to pass on the knowledge he has gathered over the years. He guides youngsters who wish to develop an aquarium on their own. “You just start with a fish tank. Once you develop interest in it, you will never lose sight of it.”

PONDARIUM:

The total volume of Kaya’s pondarium is 10,000 litres. It measures 10 feet by 10 feet with a depth of 4 feet. The water is filtered through two biofilter canisters that can handle up to 15,000 litres per hour and two pumps move about 14,000 litres per hour into the canisters. Air pumps and heater are all stowed away in the sump behind the tank. The filtration turns over the water nearly three times in an hour.

KAYA’s COLLECTION:

Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) is a carnivore and feeds on insects and small fish in the wild. Kaya has three Silver Arowanas measuring 25 to 28 inches. He feeds them fillets of tilapia and sea food.

Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis) is a carnivore and feeds on insects and fish in the wild. Kaya has two individuals measuring 12 inches and he feeds them grasshoppers.

Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus) is a carnivore. It feeds on insects and fish in the wild. Kaya has a pair of individuals and they have spawned a few times. The first lot of offspring numbered close to 300. They are about 10 inches long.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish (Pseudoplatystoma tigrinum) is a carnivore. It grows up to four feet in the wild. Kaya feeds the fish with fillets of tilapia and sea food occasionally.

Silver Dollar (Metyniss argentus) is a peaceful herbivore found on the shoal. Kaya has seven of them.