Fancy Goldfish Affected By Tariffs In The Trade War With China China is considered the motherland of aquarium goldfish, bred over centuries into rare forms. Now tariffs have some U.S. sellers of these goldfish in a tailspin.
NPR logo

The Goldfish Tariff: Fancy Pet Fish Among The Stranger Casualties Of The Trade War

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/768553956/770569002" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Goldfish Tariff: Fancy Pet Fish Among The Stranger Casualties Of The Trade War

The Goldfish Tariff: Fancy Pet Fish Among The Stranger Casualties Of The Trade War

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/768553956/770569002" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have the story of one man affected by the U.S. trade war with China. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports on the man and his goldfish.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: His name is Ken Fischer. It's with a C, but I had to resist my bad jokes about his name being fitting for his job. Fischer sells rare goldfish.

KEN FISCHER: I got into goldfish because goldfish are really more of a man-made specie. And they're also kind of have more of a personality, you might say. Goldfish are really more pet-like.

SELYUKH: Goldfish are a type of carp. You may know them as wriggling, orange fish you might get at a carnival. That's not what Fischer sells. His store is called Dandy Orandas after a type of a fancy goldfish. He sells fish that are top shelf, many for well over $100 apiece.

FISCHER: I am a fan of telescope Ranchu - the fish that says take me to your leader. A Ranchu is normally kind of like a pug face. Telescope means big eyes. It looks kind of like a little alien.

SELYUKH: Last year, the U.S. imported from China, $1.2 million worth of live ornamental freshwater fish, which are mostly goldfish. As President Trump kept expanding tariffs to virtually everything imported from China, the fancy goldfish got caught in this wide net - one of the stranger casualties of the trade war. And on the hook to pay these new tariffs are American importers, like Fischer in Michigan.

FISCHER: My income is literally cut in half by tariffs.

SELYUKH: And the goldfish he's been importing for almost 20 years...

FISCHER: These fish really don't exist much outside of China.

SELYUKH: China is considered the mother land of aquarium goldfish, bred over centuries into forms and colors so varied that some consider it a living art form.

ANDY CATIVO: Some of them they call lionheads. They look like they have manes. The celestial eyes; they have eyes that are pointed straight up.

SELYUKH: I finally got to meet some fancy goldfish in person thanks to Andy Cativo at a store called Congressional Aquarium in Rockville, Md.

CATIVO: These are the bubble eyes, all sorts of funny little (laughter).

SELYUKH: They look so weird.

CATIVO: Yeah.

SELYUKH: He literally looks like he swallowed a bunch of air...

CATIVO: Yeah.

SELYUKH: ...And it's coming out of his cheeks.

CATIVO: Oh, yeah.

SELYUKH: Growing fancy goldfish like these to a good size can take years and it can be labor intensive. Fischer says workers at Chinese farms sort through millions of baby fry with tablespoon-sized nets calling for high quality fish with trained eyes. They sift through acres of ponds over and over.

JOE HIDUKE: It's not something that comes off in an assembly line. So it's not like all of a sudden we can be buying goldfish from a different goldfish factory.

SELYUKH: That's Joe Hiduke from 5D Tropical, a wholesaler based in Florida. His company imports and sells goldfish that you might find in a lot of retail stores, including big chains. And the tariffs are making their math complicated just like Fischer's.

HIDUKE: So our options are either to sell these fish at a loss or not fill the product for the stores.

SELYUKH: This anxiety has been playing out in many businesses around the country. Corporate CEOs and trade groups often bring up the uncertainty of the trade war. But for Fischer, this uncertainty is a matter of livelihood. His store, Dandy Orandas, is a one-man operation. Fischer imports about 6,000 fish a year, which he nurtures in over 100 tanks, tubs and an indoor swimming pool in his home.

FISCHER: Normally, I would get fish at the end of May, but this year with tariffs, I just said screw it. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to play this game. And I'm just going to unplug.

SELYUKH: Late spring, he stopped importing more fish. For a few months, he shut down Dandy Orandas. But it's his income. He needs it to stay afloat.

FISCHER: So I went ahead and bit the bullet and I just paid $10,000 on a $40,000 shipment of fish.

SELYUKH: That's $10,000 just to cover the tariff. Fischer says he can't really raise prices. There is a lot of competition. And for buyers, goldfish are a luxury. So he's spinning his wheels, as he puts it, trying to decide when to cut bait. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.