Breeding Koi

Like most fish, koi reproduce through spawning in which a female lays a vast number of eggs and one or more males fertilize them. Nurturing the resulting offspring (referred to as “fry”) is a tricky and tedious job, usually done only by professionals. Although a koi breeder may carefully select the parents they wish based on their desired characteristics, the resulting fry will nonetheless exhibit a wide range of color and quality.

Koi will produce thousands of offspring from a single spawning. However, unlike cattle, purebred dogs, or more relevantly, goldfish, the large majority of these offspring, even from the best champion-grade koi, will not be acceptable as nishikigoi (they have no interesting colors) or may even be genetically defective. These unacceptable offspring are culled at various stages of development based on the breeder’s expert eye and closely guarded trade techniques. Culled fry are usually destroyed or used as feeder fish (mostly used for feeding arowana due to the belief it will enhance its color), while older culls, within their first year between 3″ to 6″ long (also called “Tosai”), are often sold as lower-grade, pond-quality koi.

The semirandomized result of the koi’s reproductive process has both advantages and disadvantages for the breeder. While it requires diligent oversight to narrow down the favorable result the breeder wants, it also makes possible the development of new varieties of koi within relatively few generations.