The Asian Arowana

Video and text by John Virata

The Asian arowana  (Scleropages formosus) has been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1975. The fish is bred in Asia, and these fish can be imported into certain countries. The United States has listed the species under the Endangered Species Act and it cannot be kept in the United States.

The Asian arowana in this video was confiscated from an illegal shipment of fish in Hawaii. The Hawaii State Department of Agriculture brought the fish to the Waikiki Aquarium in 2010. The department works with the aquarium and uses it as an aquatic holding facility for ID purposes as well as long term temporary holding and even permanent placement.
The Asian arowana experienced declines in the wild due to habitat loss, and heavy collection of the species for the aquarium trade. There are several color varieties, with the super red and red tailed golden the most rare of the group.

Captive bred Asian arowanas were allowed to be traded in 1989, with the first aquaculture facility established for the breeding of the species opening in Indonesia. A second captive breeding program was started in Singapore.

To ensure that fish that enter the hobby are captive bred, they must include a certificate of authenticity and a birth certificate. Also, an implanted microchip is placed on the fish to identify it. The Asian arowana could be the most regulated fish in the aquarium hobby.

The Asian arowana is also called dragon fish or Asian bony tongue. The Asian arowana is a highly sought after fish in the  aquarium fish trade, with some specimens commanding upward of $8,000 in the Chinese community, where the fish is said to bring good luck and fortune.

This article originally appeared on, which was incorporated into

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