Boolarra fish Farm supplies more than three million goldfish to the pet trade each year.

Story By Martin Auldist

Russell Wucherpfennig is a third-generation farmer. With his wife Miriam, he owns and operates the family’s 120-hectare farm near Boolarra, Vic, in the heart of South Gippsland’s fertile beef and dairy country. But their farm is different. Russell doesn’t produce beef or milk like his neighbours. The product of his farm is proof of the diversity of Australia’s primary industries. Russell farms goldfish.
Make no mistake, though, this is no backyard operation: it is a large-scale and successful farm business. From 24ha of ponds, Russell breeds more than three million goldfish for the Australian aquarium industry each year, distributing them to wholesalers around the nation. Russell breeds all the favourite Australian goldfish: Comets, Shubunkins, Black Moors, Fantails, Red Caps, Orandas and Calicos, as well as axolotls. “We supply around 40 percent of the Australian market,” he says. “Most of the rest of the goldfish that end up in Australian pet shops are imported, mostly from Asia, though there is another smaller breeder in Coffs Harbour and some backyard guys.”
The business was started by Russell’s grandfather, Franz Snr, who immigrated to Victoria from Germany in 1951 as a member of a bricklaying team working on a briquette factory near Morwell. He acquired the original 10ha as part of the settlement once the job had finished. “My grandfather’s hobby was breeding tropical fish in his backyard,” says Russell. “When he got the farm at Boolarra he dug some ponds and started breeding carp. Back then they were a popular table fish and he sold them to farmers for stocking into their dams. Soon after, the government declared carp a noxious species and he had to kill them all. He started breeding goldfish instead.”
Most of the original farm was a tea-tree swamp. “When Grandad turned up and started breeding carp and goldfish the neighbours must have thought he was crazy!” Russell says. “Then when my dad [Franz Jnr] took over he built the business into what it is today. He bought more land to secure the water supply from a local spring and dug more ponds.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #78

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2011