School Road in Kolathur features rows of aquarium outlets – around a hundred, if you want to be particular about it.

If road names are defining, then School Road in Kolathur is way off the mark. Its most prominent feature is rows of aquarium outlets – around a hundred, if you want to be particular about it. These shops together sell around 400 species of ornamental fish in wholesale rates, ranging from Rs. 3 to Rs. 1.50 lakh. The thriving trade is a logical outcome of a breeding exercise being carried out in huge fish tanks attached to 1/4 of the houses around Kolathur. It all started in a small way in the early 1980s, when a few breeders initiated the trade. Being surrounded by water bodies and rich in groundwater resource, this northern suburb was their first choice. And look, where they have come. Ornamental fish sold in Kolathur have takers around the country and beyond. “Several species are being exported to Sri Lanka and a few other countries,” says J.V. Jayaseelan, in the business for decades.

With Kolathur’s inputs, Chennai rules the domestic market. Only Kolkata and Mumbai come somewhat close to challenging this domination. The breeder-traders of Kolathur have managed to stay ahead of the competition by importing species from abroad as well as developing local ones. “We import a few species from Singapore, the international hub for ornamental fishes, and also from Malaysia,” says Jayaseelan.

With their hold on markets, School Road and Bajanai Koil Street, another stretch in Kolathur that promotes the trade, have hit big-time. But they always have something to offer the sincere hobbyist on a shoestring budget. “One-third of the shops retail ornamental fish,” says Jayaseelan.

The sales figures and the number of shops, and even the bewilderingly beautiful colours and shapes of the fish, can give the impression that all is well with the ornamental fish trade in Kolathur. There are problems, including deterioration of water quality over the years. As a result of this, a few breeders moved to Pooneri and Gummidipoondi and switched to fish culture.

But, the overall picture is still bright. Kolathur keeps going up notches. B. Selvaraj, president of Chennai Aquarium Development and Traders Association, says, “The business grows by 20 per cent. About 500 to 600 people from other parts of the country visit the area daily for the business.”

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