There are quite a few fancy luxuries that you can purchase for $300,000. But one expensive indulgence that may take some people by surprise is a rare exotic fish called the Asian arowana. This status symbol can reach up to $300,000 – although some young can fetch a more modest $300, and rare white albinos can be $70,000.
But why is this fish so highly prized?
This fish is also known as “dragon fish” and has a sinuous body and large glimmering scales. When mature, these fish can reach 0.6 to 0.9 meters (2 to 3 feet) and have a pair of whiskers on their chin. They are thought to bring good luck and prosperity as they resemble the paper dragons in a Chinese New Year parade.
There have also been tales of the arowana sacrificing their lives to jump out of tanks, just so they can warn owners of dangers and also bad business ventures – so instead of a fish tank, these fish should probably go on Dragons Den.
What is crazy, is that these fish haven't always had such a lofty position and actually come from much humbler beginnings. For centuries, they were hunted from blackwater rivers and the swamps of Southeast Asia as the star of a delicious meal.
This all changed in 1975.
When the wetlands in Southeast Asia began to decline, so did the fish. As such, they were banned from international trade and still cannot be legally brought into the United States, as they are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Emily Voigt, the author of The Dragon Behind the Glass, says that this protection backfired.
“That official stamp of rarity totally backfired,” Voigt tells The Hustle. “And it actually turned the fish into this limited-edition luxury good.”
And now, due to this rarity stamp and perceived luxury commodity, there is a thriving black market which has led to an uptick in violence.
In Singapore, there were once four arowana thefts in a single week, and during one of these thefts, an elderly woman was punched as the robber took her fish away in a bucket. Another incident saw an aquarium owner being stabbed to death and almost beheaded for these prized fish.
Back in 2017, in Los Angeles County Shawn Lee was pulled over by special agents as in between his legs was a white-plastic “Coco” bag that contained eight bags of the sought-after Asian arowanas.
These fish are so prized that some owners are happy to conduct plastic surgery on their fishy companions – with some offering $60 for a chin job and $90 for an eyelift. There are even fish beauty pageants, and the fish are so prized that there are usually armed guards hired to escort them.
In the 1980s, the restrictions were loosened which allowed the trade of farm-bred Arowana, whose parents were captive-born. However, demand is still high and nowadays some of these fish are bred in very highly-secure farms located in Southeast Asia and implanted with traceable microchips. These farms are highly protected and often have security dogs, watchtowers, and nested walls to protect against fishy thieves.