Something fishy

koi fish
Photography: Ian Andrews (president, Australian Koi Association)

It was no easy feat becoming a senior registered Japanese koi judge but now Dr Terrence McNeil of The Liverpool Dentist in NSW travels the world judging koi.

“My interest in koi fish started because many years ago, a patient gave me some koi. I placed them in a dam in my front yard but soon discovered that the native birds were eating them. So, I built a koi pond and placed them in there. My fascination grew and I now have 11 ponds with over 400 koi.

“Breeding koi in Australia is quite difficult because carp are a banned species here. Koi can be exported or taken out of the country but it’s illegal to bring koi into Australia. This means that there are no new bloodlines among the breeding stock. The Australian Koi Association has about 230 members despite the fact that koi can only be kept in New South Wales and Western Australia. The other state government fisheries departments have completely banned koi.

“Keeping koi is not for the faint-hearted as it’s quite an expensive hobby. Water and air need to be kept running all the time so if you’ve got a couple of koi ponds, water and electricity bills escalate. They’ll eat most vegetables but I also get special pellet food imported from Japan.

“Sixteen years ago, I began the process to become a junior judge. I gained experience at koi shows around the world and registered with the Japanese governing body, Zen Nippon Airinkai (ZNA). Eventually I graduated as a local certified judge. That allowed me to judge at small local shows.

“Over the next five years, I undertook more exams, travelled to 25 overseas koi shows, did four seminars in Japan, and passed an assessment that qualified me as an assistant certified judge. A further five years of study, shows and examinations, and I eventually became fully certified. Since then I’ve judged 70 international koi shows as a senior registered koi judge.

“Koi fish are judged on a number of parameters—body shape, quality of the skin, health, patterning, finish and a few other characteristics. There are 17 different varieties of koi and each has its own specific set of desirable characteristics. It takes years to develop an eye for judging. It’s also a very serious business. Recently, a champion Japanese koi sold for $2.6 million.

“Like most hobbies, it’s generally what’s associated with the subject that makes it enjoyable. The study, the judging, the travel and all the people I’ve met have been wonderful. My interest in koi has turned out to be a very social thing.” 

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