A Marine Livestock Wholesaler

By Robert Fenner

Reprinted from the September 1997 issue of Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine

If you had the time and money to "do livestock wholesale right," how would you go about it? Design, engineering, construction, water treatment, location, layout, equipment...?

First of all, let's consider the site; where? Definitely near a world class airport and Customs facility; it's imperative to get the livestock in and out expediently - Chicago, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles!

The building - open, roomy, waterproof, and thermal insulation would be a giant plus. If I had the funds I'd buy it outright! and the holding system, acclimation, and bagging stations? Hire the best folks to design, build, and install a state-of-the-art, low to no-maintenance array; one part for invertebrates, the other for fishes.

Reality: The Dream Realized

It seems like a dream, right? Well it is and was fulfilled by Mr. Fred Ong, owner and manager of Underwater World of Los Angeles when he recently moved and totally remodeled his wholesale marine livestock facility. He bought Underwater World in 1987, and has run it since that time. As he explains it, Fred's entry into the trade was serendipitous. On vacation to Los Angeles in 1987, a friend and he visited fish places including Underwater World and talked with the previous owner. How much did Fred like it? Some three months later in August 1987, he bought the place.

Fred knew what he wanted from several lines of insight. Growing up in Indonesia, he developed a strong interest in, and appreciation for, aquatic life. Prior to joining the pet fish industry, he was a civil engineer, with a degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

Personal History

As a boy, Fred Ong had a neighbor who had a huge saltwater tank and, thus, had only a short way to go to witness the tropical marine environment and its riches firsthand. In retrospect, it seems "natural" that Mr. Ong should offer the world the best of his native Indonesian offerings (prior to 1987, most of the marine livestock came out of the Philippine Islands), and Underwater World does just that.

As with all world-class wholesale distributors, Underwater World brings in stock from all tropical seas (Hawaii, Red Sea, Australia, Caribbean, Fiji, Solomon, Africa, Philippine, etc.) But, a central feature of this facility is that a majority of their stock comes from Indonesia's reefs; especially through a collecting station Fred helped develop in Bali in 1988.

The Physical Plant

Much of the credit for this extravaganza must go to Robert Krechter and his brother, Chris, of RK2 Systems. RK2 creates and installs "live holding systems" for the aquatics part of ornamental, aquaculture, theme parks, and zoological endeavors.

Basically, there are two separate systems, fish and invertebrate, with differing specific gravities (1.019 and 1.023) utilizing the best available means to achieve minimal metabolic concentrations.

This is among the lowest maintenance, cleanest, most homeostatic system I've encountered in either private business or public aquariums. To give you an inkling, the foam fractionators (protein skimmers) feature dual automated washdown features of their collectors and contact chambers, which also incorporate low doses of ozone. The one on the fish side is 13' tall and 4' in diameter!

The fluidized bed's pressurized units are serviced with the most efficient low head/high volume pumps that could be found, drawing very little amperage.

Natural seawater is utilized, trucked in by Catalina Water. Due to careful collection, transport, and treatment, Fred asserts that "the real thing" is more economical and preferable over synthetics, and there is tremendous gallonage here (approximately 50,000 gallons total). The bases, or supports, for the mainly brand new tanks and cubicles (or "cubes," smaller units for keeping individual specimens) are made of polyethylene reservoirs filled with transit volume system water and plastic biomedia.

The Owner's Philosophy

This is a very important issue with your writer. "Why are you in the trade and what are you trying to accomplish?"

Fred Ong's business philosophy is straightforward: "Consistently provide the highest quality, healthy livestock at a fair price." Therefore, the initial purchase - along with the enormous improvements in the building including waterproofing throughout, cutting the concrete floors to install plumbing and conduits below grade, the highly sophisticated acclimation and filtration systems detailed by RK2 - all reflect the owner's philosophy towards the highest possible quality.

Industry Trends

Shared insights include a continuing growth of new collection areas and concurrent broader assortment of species. A prime example is the advent of Fiji live rock; a very porous acroporid based product that has more volume, less weight (and thus less cost) with nitrate reduction features.

General marine demand and reefkeeping are definitely on the positive slope of the growth curve. Overall, the marine aquarium hobby will grow: "the technology is there."

Distributors are upgrading to newer, lower maintenance, low energy consumption systems. Witness the conversion from swimming pool filter and pump technology to low head, high flow rate fluid moving and better protein skimmers, fluidized beds, and ozone.

For independent retailers: the next five to ten years, the mass-merchandisers will continue to make inroads into freshwater, but not marine. It's too specialized and needs sophisticated personnel.

Our Thanks...

...to Fred Ong, and our friend in common, Pablo Tepoot (of cichlid farming and book-publishing fame) for suggesting this piece, and RK2 for their encouraging friendship and participation. Retailers and folks looking for fine quality livestock and serious setup help can reach UWW.



1. Consistent Quality and Supply
First, we carefully select and train many of our exclusive overseas suppliers. Once the fish are in our holding facilities, they go through vigorous quality control to assure perfect specimen before they are shipped. Second, having exclusive suppliers means we will always have more fish than most other wholesalers. During winter times, when fish are scarce, it is not unusual for a typical wholesaler to send you only 30% of what you ordered and thus jeopardizing your business.

2. Strong and Healthy Fish
We monitor our fish regularly and use this information to determine what fish to buy from which suppliers (if the species are available from several different suppliers). We strive to bring in only the strongest fish from each supplier.

3. Large Selection
We sell only live stock, specifically saltwater fish, corals and invertebrates. This allows us to concentrate all our resources to get the largest possible selection.

4. Competitive Pricing and Extraordinary Value
Our large volume purchase and strong financial support to our suppliers allow us to negotiate the best prices, which we then pass along to you. Many of our customers have told us that we offer one of the lowest prices anywhere and with the high quality of fish plus generous and consistent sizing, we offer the best value.

5. Superior Packing
We take special care in our packing and we train our crew to pack as tight as possible to reduce your freight cost while making sure that they will last for 48 hours of transit time in case of airline delays. Many of our customers are pleasantly surprised to find very few losses after a long delay.



Dear Marine Fish Retailers:

Are you tired of low quality fish and poor service? Are you tired of transship fish which seem so cheap but ended up costing you more when freight charges and some bad quality fish are taken into account? Are you tired of not making enough profit? If these concern you, then read on.

Underwater World was founded in 1975 for the purpose of providing marine fish retailers with superior service and the widest selection of healthy, top quality saltwater fish, corals and invertebrates at fair prices. Today, we are one of the largest and most reputable marine fish wholesaler in California serving over 600 tropical fish retailers, wholesalers, importers and public aquariums all over the United States and around the world.

With stations around the world, we buy only the highest quality marine specimen directly from the collectors. Our exclusive stations allow us not only to get consistent quality, but the also allow us to offer you one of the best prices anywhere, thus giving you an unbeatable value.

We encourage you to try us and to visit our over 75,000 gallons state of the art solar powered facility here next to the Los Angeles International Airport. Your first shipment would tell you what we mean by quality fish and quality service. And if you keep buying from us you would see, like most of our customers, a marked improvement on your sales, profit and reputation.

Please feel free to call us at 310-670-1502 and ask for one of our sales representatives or email us at sales@uwwe.com

Sincerely yours,

Fred Ong


Underwater World


Copyright by Underwater World