Q: Several years ago, I bought some inexpensive Japanese koi and they eventually had babies in the pond. There are quite a few. Will they become very valuable as they get larger?
A: There are several things that go into the pricing of koi. In judging how valuable any animal is, there must be some rules. For example, you can go to the pound to buy a puppy. You can also go the pet store and get a more valuable dog, or you can go to a breeder and get one that has a pedigree with a grand champion lineage. The reason each animal is a different price is that someone judged it to be worth a certain price. Just like you would take a dog or horse to a dog show or horse show, there are shows for koi and goldfish.
The fish breeders in Japan start with the best champion fish. Just like anyone else, the breeders do not have an unlimited amount of pond space. So, after the babies start to grow, they need to cull out any fish that will not eventually grow up to be champions (and, therefore, new breeding fish).
Any obvious weakness is noticeable on even a small fish, so the fish is culled out early. The fish are not unhealthy; they just don't match the judging standards. These fish are exported out of Japan. As the fish grow, more judging defects become noticeable and the fish are sold. The larger (and older) the fish gets before being culled, the better the fish will rank in the judging at a show. The very best fish never leave Japan.
The breeders are culling fish to make money. A large, good-quality fish is worth more than either a small good fish or a large low-quality fish.
If your fish were more than 18 inches long when they came from Japan, they could have spent four years growing in nutrient-rich mud-bottom ponds. They often take eight years to grow to that size in our much more sterile plastic-lined ponds. Their color pattern stabilizes after about four years, so larger fish are more likely to stay higher quality.
Koi purchased at a large size have survived many cullings. If yours have won any prizes, then they might be worth breeding in a controlled manner. If your koi were small when purchased and there was a mixed breeding, then you will probably not end up with any valuable koi. You cannot make a koi better than its bloodline. Through good pond care, you can make it the best it can be, or with bad conditions like overcrowding or poor-quality food, you can make it worse.
Q: How are the koi judged at a show?
A: The Associated Koi Clubs of America, or AKCA, has an official training program for certifying judges. Judges are selected for each show, and they have specific rules to follow.
It is more complicated than I have room for here, but a quick summary is that a fish is typically judged based on a possible 100 points. The first 30 points are for the conformation of the body shape, how full-bodied and muscular the fish is. Female fish are thicker than males and get more points in this category, which is why most small imported koi are males.
The next 30 points are for the color; it should be vibrant, uniform and thick, like painted on lacquer. The black should be like charcoal, with no scales visible underneath. The white color on the body and head should be pure like milk.
The next 20 points are for the overall color pattern, which should be artistic but balanced. The AKCA has a poster of the basic color patterns so you can see what a fish should look like.
The first 80 points are easier to understand than the last 20, which are divided into two 10-point groups. The first is for overall quality and elegance, which is subjective at best. The last is for how imposing the fish appears; in other words, do the other fish get out of its way when it swims around? The fish in a show only have to beat the other fish in that show.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.