Why Are Yellow Tangs So Expensive? (Here’s the Thing)

Why Are Yellow Tangs So Expensive

Long gone are the days when saltwater aquarists got yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) for about 20 dollars. The hardy, colorful fish is difficult to come by. And when you do, the price tag is nothing worth smiling about. Which raises the question: Why are yellow tangs so expensive?

Yellow tangs are expensive because they are in high demand, yet the supply is low. It might be influenced by the ban restricting large-scale fishing of aquarium fish in Hawaii. Rearing these fish in captivity is labor-intensive and time-consuming, hence the high selling price.

If you’ve been questioning the recent surge in prices of yellow tang, you are not alone. After a couple of research and a few calls to my local LFS, I’ve found the reason behind the high price. Continue reading as we explore the reason yellow tang is currently highly-priced.

Why Are Yellow Tangs So Expensive?

Well, here’s the thing, the demand for yellow tangs is higher than the supply. The situation may be influenced by the ban on commercial aquarium fishing in Hawaii. The marine authority is trying to counter limitations on supply growth. 

Because yellow tang fishing in the ocean has declined dramatically, they are being increasingly bred in captivity. However, according to the Division of Aquatic Resources in Hawaii, there is no active ban on the recreational collection of large yellow tangs from the ocean for food. 

So, if you live within the state, inquire from the relevant local authorities whether you’re permitted to take live mature yellow tangs for your home aquarium. 

As supplies of wild-caught varieties dwindle, more yellow tangs are being reared in captivity and routinely made available for purchase at fish stores and online vendors. But if this is the case, shouldn’t the gap already be filled by tank-bred yellow varieties?  

It is widely speculated that, given the current situation, some breeders and aquatic shops are intentionally going out of stock. They are waiting for the supply & demand to settle out and tend to sell when market prices are highest for maximum gain.

The cost of aquacultured yellow tangs differs among sellers but is generally higher than wild-caught ones. 

The cost differs because:

  • The breeding process is time-consuming. Yellow tangs take longer than most saltwater aquarium fish in the planktonic larvae stage. 
  • The rearing process is labor-intensive. While in this state, they are most vulnerable and require extra care to get them to the juvenile stage.
  • It is expensive. Besides buying adult yellow tangs of reproduction age and coaxing them to lay viable eggs, you must find adequate space and purchase supplies like specialized larval rearing tanks, refined lighting, and nutrition.
  • High freight costs for live fish.

At this rate, can we safely assume that the yellow tang is on its way to making the list of ‘The most expensive saltwater fish in the world’? No one can truly know. But based on the recent trend, such thought isn’t misplaced. 

We can only hope that the economy will become streamlined as productivity increases leading to a drop in price. Until then, aquarists will have to deal with the currently soaring costs.

Average Price of Yellow Tang

The once cheap Hawaiian yellow tang now costs $80 – $500+ at the LFS or online store. 

The price depends on factors like:

  • Availability
  • Size of yellow tang. 
  • Shipping costs 

I can recall a 2-inch yellow tang being sold at $20 some time back. Then all of a sudden, the prices took a speedy upward trajectory. They increased to $25, then $30, then $45, and from that point onwards, the price doubled, then doubled again!

If you’re looking to buy these quintessential saltwater fish to add a dash of yellow to your home aquarium, check out these online sources.

  • SaltWaterFishShop – $79.95 – $155.00
  • Aquarium Fish Sale – $117.49 
  • Pete’s Fish Place – Small: $119.99. Medium: $129.99. Large: $169.99. X-large: $189.99
  • TSM Aquatics – $249.99 for small ones. Medium-sized yellow tangs go for $399.
  • Algae Barn (sourced from BIOTA facilities) – $239. If you buy two: $224. If you buy three: $209
  • LiveAquaria is selling at $499.99
  • Diver’s Den is now $549 (plus shipping) for one mature yellow tang.
  • Blue Zoo Aquatics – Small: $299.99. Medium (1.5″ to 3.5″ ): $399.99. Large: $449.99
  • Aquarium Creations Online – Small: $349.99. Medium: $449.99. Large: $599.99
  • AquaBid – Pricing is driven by demand. Fish is sold via online auctions.

However, before placing an order, inquire from the seller about availability. Most are selling off the last of the wild-caught lot before they stock on aquacultured ones; thus, shortages are rife.

Are Yellow Tangs Endangered?

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies yellow tangs as ‘Least Concern.’ They are not an endangered species. But if wild populations are considered stable, why the ban in Hawaii? 

The thing is, yellow tangs are vital to coral reef ecosystems in tropical waters. They inhabit coral reefs, feeding on algae and macroalgae that would otherwise kill off the corals. Overfishing for aquarium purposes and bleaching due to global warming is a threat to the health of coral reefs. That could be the reason behind the current prohibition.

Whether the ban shall be lifted in the future depends on Hawaii’s marine authorities. In the meantime, we have to adapt to the current situation. Thus, the increase of tank-bred yellow tangs in the market.

Where Can I Buy a Yellow Tang?

Local Fish Store

Check around for aquarium stores that sell tropical fish. Given the current ‘shortage’ of yellow tangs in the market, you may have to visit a few sellers. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll find one selling them at a price within your budget. 

Online Aquatic Shops

If your LFS doesn’t stock yellow tangs, check online for an aquatic shop that does. The internet is awash with vendors from all over the world. The best bet is to find an online seller nearest to you to minimize the shipping distance.

Check online reviews and read testimonials to help you pick a credible online aquarium store. Ask your fellow aquarists for referrals. They will recommend viable sources.

Private Seller

You often hear of someone who has fallen out of the hobby and is selling their entire aquarium. It’s often the cheapest avenue as there’s always room for negotiation. If your bargaining skills are top-notch, you might pay lower than the market price.

However, be aware that you have fewer consumer rights than if you bought it from a shop or organization. If something happens to the yellow tang even a few hours after you buy it, the chances of reclaiming your money or getting a replacement are slim.

The Bottom Line

We are facing a yellow tang shortage which is driving prices higher. Most sellers are currently sold out. 

You may have to wait a couple of weeks after placing an order. But currently, whoever wants that iconic yellow flash in their saltwater aquarium should be willing to part with a few hundred dollars. 


Hawaii Fishing