Fishkeeping is an incredibly popular hobby, with roughly 139 million freshwater aquarium fish kept as pets in the US alone.
Most hobbyists start by keeping freshwater fish because they’re generally less expensive than their pricier marine counterparts. But what’s the most you’d pay for a fish? Twenty or thirty dollars, perhaps? How about thousands of dollars?!
What makes some fish so costly to buy is their coloring, fascinating behavior, and rarity, which is often the case with some marine species that have to be wild-caught because they can’t be bred in captivity.
So, prepare to be shocked and possibly horrified as we reveal the 21 most expensive tropical fish in the world!
Top 21 Most Expensive Fish In The World
We start our list by looking at the most expensive freshwater fish in the world. With the notable exception of the Arowana, freshwater fish species tend to be less pricey than their marine counterparts. So, if you’re on a limited budget, freshwater species could be the way to go!
Platinum Arowana – $400,000
At the top of the heap and with the largest price tag is the Platinum Arowana.
There are several varieties of this amazing fish, which are all pretty costly, but the rarest was a snow-white fish that set the record, being valued at a jaw-dropping hefty price of $400,000!
Also, these enormous, ancient-looking fish grow to a massive size, so if you wanted to keep one, you’d need to invest in a huge fish tank. And that’s before you take into account the astronomical cost of the fish’s ongoing care.
Native to Asia, Arowanas are massive, prehistoric-looking fish that have big metallic scales and upward-pointing teeth. Aggressive, carnivorous, and predatory, these imposing creatures are said to represent prosperity, luck, and good health. Although Arowanas come in several colors, including gold, silver, and grey, the platinum color morph is the most desirable and the most expensive.
Zebra Shovelnose Catfish – $500
These unusual catfish are found in the Upper Amazon Basin, and there are also some small populations in Peru and Colombia.
These impressive bottom-dwelling fish can grow to over two feet in length and have a zebra-striped pattern along their entire body. The fish are extremely difficult to breed in captivity, so most of those that you find in the trade are wild-caught in one area in Peru’s Loreto region, specifically in the waters close to Iquitos.
Blue-Eyed Pleco – $600
Plecos are among the most popular aquarium fishes in the hobby. These bottom-dwellers come in many different varieties and range in size from a few inches long to a foot or more. The Blue-Eyed pleco is also known as the Blue Eye Panaque. This pleco makes an incredible show fish that makes an eye-catching addition to a very large tank.
These fish are native to Colombia, specifically the Rio Magdalena, where they inhabit the fast-flowing, clear waters. All Panaques are wood-eaters, and they need a specialized diet to thrive. An adult fish is around 24” long, and the Blue-Eyed pleco is the largest of the plecos. Unfortunately, it’s also the rarest.
Although Blue-Eyed plecos are peaceful and can make a good addition to a large community tank, they create a lot of waste and can be very aggressive toward their own kind.
Golden Alligator Gar – $7,000
There are seven types of gar, five of which are native to the United States.
Once widely distributed worldwide, this prehistoric fish’s relatives lived some 157 million years ago. These days, you can generally find gar in the northern states, down south in Mississippi, and in Texas. Golden gar are also quite often seen in waters around Florida and Georgia.
What makes these fish so desirable and expensive is their gorgeous yellowish-orange coloration. That color morph is caused by a genetic mutation that causes the fish to produce excessive amounts of yellow-orange pigment. However, although they are occasionally seen in the wild, these fish are incredibly rare, and it’s that which makes them so valuable.
These massive fish have mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth, and they do look like alligators. However, despite their ferocious looks, these fish pose no threat to people, preferring to hunt and eat smaller fish. However, the Golden Alligator gar’s eggs are toxic to humans, not that you’d want to make an omelet from them!
Platinum Alligator Gar – $7,000
Platinum Alligator gars are commonly referred to as “living fossils” or “primitive fishes.” These beautiful fish can grow to an enormous adult size, reaching up to 60 inches in length in captivity.
Thanks to a genetic quirk, the Platinum Alligator gar must breathe atmospheric air from time to time to get the amount of oxygen that they need to survive. For that reason, these fish need a super-sized tank with plenty of surface area and a few inches of space at the top so that they can breathe when they want to.
These ancient fish can be found in parts of the southwestern states of the United States, specifically in the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and south to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the river drainages across the southeastern coastal United States.
The Platinum Alligator gar is a carnivorous hunter that feeds on small fish. That said, you can keep these fish in a community, provided that their tank mates are too big to be viewed as a food source. In captivity, these naturally schooling fish can be kept in groups of three to six.
Freshwater Polka Dot Stingray – $1,500
Freshwater Polka Dot stingrays are beautiful creatures that are extremely hard to come by outside of their native Brazil, largely because exporting these animals from there is now illegal. Consequently, the only Freshwater Polka Dot stingrays that are available in the trade are captive-bred, and, since breeding these creatures is not easy, that inflates their price.
The most expensive example of this fish was a mutant individual that had a weird U-shaped head, and its ringed markings had black centers rather than spots. However, despite its rarity and price, the owner had to hand-feed the fish, and it would almost certainly not have survived for long in the wild.
Zebra Pleco – $300
Another species of pleco that can make a stunning addition to any hobbyist’s setup is the rare and beautiful Zebra pleco. These fish were discovered relatively recently in 1990, making an immediate splash in the hobby.
Zebra plecos are native to Brazil, specifically in the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River. Unfortunately, in the Big Bend area of the Xingu, these gorgeous fish are rapidly declining in numbers, largely because of the extreme reduction in the current. Zebra plecos need a strong current to thrive, but when the Belo Monte Dam was constructed in the Xingu, the dramatic reduction in water flow caused the demise of the fish.
The Brazilian government now bans export of the Zebra pleco, so any fish that you see for sale should have been bred in captivity. That said, captive-bred Zebra plecos are used as part of the Brazilian government’s captive fish breeding program to replenish the species’ wild population and are not for sale to the trade.
Black Devil Catfish – $200
Black Devil catfish are also commonly called Crystal-eyed and Wyckii catfish.
These large, aggressive fish are found living in rivers in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. In addition, these bottom-dwelling catfish live in a wide variety of habitats where the current is moderate to fast.
When kept in a home tank, the fish are generally hardy, but they do best in a large aquarium with plenty of oxygen and a decent current. These fish get to reach a size of over 24 inches in the wild, so they need a very large home tank or indoor pond to be happy.
Unfortunately, the Black Devil catfish is aptly named, as they are extremely belligerent and aggressive toward almost all other fish, as well as their own kind, as they mature. So, these impressive show fish are generally kept in isolation by monster fish enthusiasts.
Izumo Nankin Goldfish – $150
Goldfish are universally popular pets, especially with families. There are over 200 varieties of goldfish that are suitable for life in ponds and large home tanks. These hardy fish are quite high-maintenance because of the amount of waste they produce.
Goldfish enthusiasts will pay big bucks for prime examples of specific species, such as the Izumo Nankin goldfish. The Nankin is a rare goldfish breed that was created in Japan.
What makes the fish so expensive is their unusual appearance and the fact that Japanese breeders very rarely export their fish. Many breeders also demand that buyers don’t breed the fish so that the fish’s genetics are not corrupted by breeding with inferior specimens.
In its native Japan, there are many Nankin enthusiasts and special clubs for lovers of this rare breed of goldfish.
Arapaima – $125
The Arapaima is a massive fish that grows up to a whopping ten feet in length and can live for up to 20 years if cared for properly. To keep one of these striking fish, you need a healthy budget and a public aquarium-sized tank of at least 1,000 gallons.
These bony tongue fish are native to the Amazon and parts of South America, where the Arapaima is regarded as an important food fish. The species has been in decline in its native range, largely due to overfishing and loss of habitat. However, the fish has been introduced in a few areas outside of its home range, including parts of South America, where the Arapaima is regarded as an invasive species.
These fish eat smaller fish, invertebrates, seeds, fruits, and even small land mammals that get too close to the shore.
The Arapaima is a labyrinth fish that can breathe atmospheric air at the water surface when the oxygen levels in the water get too low.
Royal Clown Loach – $125
Royal Clown loaches are native to the upper and middle areas of the fast-flowing Yangtze River in China.
These rare fishes are the largest loach species in the world, growing to measure up to 30 inches in length and living for up to 20 years when given the correct care and diet. In the aquarium, these loaches need a fast flow and very well-oxygenated water. Royal Clown loaches are primarily carnivorous, feeding on worms, crustaceans, and small fish. These skilled hunters will also prey on smaller loaches, so you must take extreme care if you decide to buy one of these giants for a large community tank.
Unlike other loaches, this species prefers cooler conditions and should be kept in an unheated tank.
Flowerhorn Cichlid – $200
The Flowerhorn cichlid is a weird yet attractive fish that is entirely man-made. These fish were created in Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand in the late 1990s, quickly gaining popularity in the hobby.
Flowerhorn cichlids can grow up to 16 inches in length, so they need a large tank. The fish are also semi-aggressive and territorial. Unfortunately, many Flowerhorns have been released into the wild by their owners when the fish outgrew their tanks. Consequently, there are now thought to be a few wild populations in Singapore and Malaysia. In fact, the importation of this species is currently banned in Australia.
Discus – $500 per pair
Discus fish are readily available in most good fish stores. These beautiful fish are highly intelligent, and each individual has a distinct personality. Like betta fish, Discus quickly learn to recognize their keepers and can be taught to eat right out of their owner’s hand!
Although exceptionally large and well-bred specimens can command a very high price, you can find cheaper, smaller juveniles that are much more affordable.
For those with cash to burn, you might want to consider spending your dollars on marine fish. Marines are generally much more expensive to buy than freshwater fish simply because many of them live at incredible depths in huge oceans, which makes finding and recovering the fish extremely dangerous and difficult.
Also, breeding these expensive saltwater fish in captivity is nigh on impossible.
Peppermint Angelfish – $30,000
The Peppermint angelfish is an extremely rare marine species that fetches a massive price, especially given that these fish only grow to around three inches in length and only survive for a maximum of 15 years. Their orange body with white stripes is a sight to behold.
What makes these desirable saltwater fish so expensive is their rarity. This beautiful angelfish is only found in certain parts of the eastern central Pacific Ocean, specifically around Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
In the United States, if you want to go and see one of these delightful fish, you’ll need to take a trip to the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii.
Golden Basslet – $8,000
Golden Basslets are incredibly rare marine fish that live at extreme depths in the ocean. In fact, to catch one of these fish and bring it to the surface, you would need to use specialized decompression techniques to allow them to adjust to the lower pressures found at the upper levels of the ocean.
Interestingly, once the Golden Basslet is safely installed in an aquarium, it quickly adapts to life in captivity and can live for up to eight years, and is surprisingly easy to keep.
Masked Angelfish – $20,000
The Masked angelfish is found in the waters surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
These common fish are relatively widespread in the wild. However, commercial fishing of the species is banned, so very few of these beautiful creatures find their way onto the market. Hence the price of one of these beauties, with its white body and stunning black mask, is extremely high.
Bladefin Basslet – $10,000
At just 1.5 inches in length and with a lifespan of just five to eight years, tiny Bladefin fish command a huge price!
So, why the high price? Well, these pretty little basslets live on deepwater reefs at a depth of over 500 feet, making collecting this elusive fish extremely dangerous and challenging. In fact, those who risk their lives to catch a Bladefin basslet do so in a submersible, and that’s why these brilliantly colored saltwater nano fish are so pricey.
Clarion Angelfish – $2,500
If you have around $2,500 to spend on a fish, you’ll certainly get good value for your money with the Clarion angelfish, as these fish can live for up to 40 years!
Vibrantly colored in orange and blue, Clarion angelfish are actually quite readily available to hobbyists from good fish stores and online, thanks to a good supply of captive-bred fish from Bali.
However, these amazing saltwater fish are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and that has inflated the fish’s price. Interestingly, the first batch of these fish sold for $5,000 per fish, setting the record for the most expensive captive-bred fish ever sold.
Wrought Iron Butterflyfish – $2,700
The Wrought Iron butterflyfish is a rarity in the ocean since its scales are almost completely metallic, giving the fish a unique silver-black iron-like appearance.
In nature, these fish generally live in small shoals or mated pairs. However, occasionally hundreds of the fish gather in massive schools, forming a beautiful, shimmering ball. The idea of these mass groupings is to provide the fish with safety in numbers while they graze.
Australian Flathead Perch – $5,000
The Australian Flathead perch is one of the rarest saltwater fish and not a perch at all.
These extremely attractive orange and blue fish are rarely seen, largely because they inhabit the deepwater reefs of Eastern Australia in the waters from northern New South Wales to southern Queensland.
It’s the fish’s rarity that makes it so expensive to buy.
Neptune Grouper – $6,000
The Neptune grouper’s beautiful pink coloration with yellow stripes make it a desirable addition to any very large marine tank.
These fish come from the Western Pacific Ocean, specifically around Australia, French Polynesia, and Fiji. The Neptune grouper inhabits very deep water up to 800 feet down, making it necessary to use a special decompression process to safely collect the fish.
Amazingly, despite fetching up to $6,000 per fish in the trade, you can also find Neptune groupers for sale in a fish market!
As you can see from our list of the 21 most expensive aquarium fish on the planet, if you have money to burn, you can get yourself a real showstopper or a mysterious rarity for your home aquarium fish collection.
Most of the fish featured in this article are so eye-poppingly expensive because they are either incredibly beautiful, extremely rare, or ridiculously difficult to find and collect. However, even if you have a relatively modest budget, with the right choice of fish, some imaginative aquascaping, and good lighting, your aquarium can still be the focal point of the room without breaking the bank!