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Underwater World, A Visit With A Marine Livestock Wholesaler  

Bob Fenner  

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; got to get the livestock in and out expediently. Chicago, Miami, New York... Los Angeles!

The building- open, roomy, waterproof and thermal insulation 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:

Seems like a dream right? Well, it is and was fulfilled by Mr. Fred Ong, owner/manager of Underwater World of Los Angeles recently in moving and totally remodeling his marine livestock wholesaler physical plant. He bought UWW in 1987 and has run it since. As he explains it, Fred's entry into the trade was serendipitous. On vacation to L.A. in '87 a friend and he visited fish places including UWW and talked 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 in "upgrading" from several lines of insight. Growing up In Indonesia, he developed a strong interest and appreciation for aquatic life. Prior to joining the pet-fish industry he was a civil engineer, graduated from UC Berkeley.

Personal History:

As a boy, Fred Ong had a neighbor that had a huge saltwater tank; and 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 these times, 1987, most of the marine livestock came out of the Philippine Islands). And UWW does. A central feature of this enterprise is the their primary source, Indo., of fishes and invertebrates. Though as all world-class wholesale distributors, UWW brings in stock from all tropical seas (Hawaii, Red Sea, Australia, Caribbean Fiji, Solomon, Africa, some Philippine, etc.), a majority hails 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 brother Chris of RK2 Systems. RK2 creates and installs "live-holding systems" for the ornamental, aquaculture, theme parks, and zoological endeavors of aquatics. They "did" the almost nuclear power plant neat and clean build-out of UWW.

Very basically, there are two separate systems, fish and invertebrate, with differing specific gravities (@1.020 & 1.023) utilizing the best available means to achieve minimal metabolic concentrations.

This is the amongst the lowest maintenance, cleanest, most homeostatic system I've encountered in private business or public aquariums. To give you an inkling, the foam fractionators (aka protein skimmers) feature dual automated wash down 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 beds et al. 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 the company, 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). Check out the bases to the mainly brand-new tanks and cubicles (or "cubes", smaller units for keeping individual specimens). The sturdy supports 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 do you want to be in the trade, 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 purchase, 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...

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; more volume, less weight/cost, with nitrate reduction features.

General marine demand and reef keeping 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 (PetCo, PetSmart...) will continue to make inroads into freshwater, but not marine. It's too specialized, and needs sophisticated personnel.


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

Underwater World, Wholesale Marine Tropicals. Fred Ong, 5242 W. 104th St. Los Angeles, CA 90045. 310-670-1502, fax 310-568-2052.

RK2 Systems, Inc., 421A So. Andreason Dr. Escondido, CA 92029, 760-746-7400, fax 760-746-7460. Robert G. & Chris Krechter.

Images & Intelligent Caption Material:

1 & 2) The front to Underwater World, LA.

3-6) The man himself (Leonard) Fred Ong!

7, 8) How nice! New modular reservoir mounted acrylic tanks and cubes! And a detail of the tote base filled with "extra" water and bioballs.

9, 10) Now that's a skimmer! the four by thirteen foot dual automated wash down foam fractionator servicing the fish system. This is a feature-filled RK2 unit.

11) No, it's not a nuclear power plant. A shot of four fluidized bed filters.

12, 13) The bagging station with the most important element of any operation, happy, competent staff!

14) One of the more fun jobs in the trade, putting away incoming livestock. Here anemones are being placed in all-plastic tanks lined with special indoor/outdoor carpeting to facilitate moving.

15-17) Close-ups in the invert. system, two of corals and one of anemones.


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