What’s in an icon? As part of Thailand NOW’s mission to share authentic insights into all things Thai, we’re spotlighting iconic individuals who have not only excelled in their respective areas, but influenced the complex tapestry of Thailand as it exists today and, in doing so, inspire us to be a part of the fabric of Thai society.
In this Icon NOW interview, Thikampon “Pinto” Yoopensuk brings us into the world of breeding plakad or Siamese fighting fish and his hopes for the next generation of breeders.
Thikampon “Pinto” Yoopensuk’s day starts early. At 4:00 a.m., he’s already down by the local ponds, catching daphnia, a kind of crustacean also referred to as water fleas. He explained that if he starts any later, they hide from the bright sun, and his whole farm goes hungry.
“Wild-caught daphnia is high in protein. I only use fresh, wild-caught daphnia. It’s the best fish feed for raising strong and disease-free plakad.”
Plakad (also spelled plakat), more commonly known as Siamese fighting fish or betta fish, was declared Thailand’s national aquatic animal in February 2019, but it has a long history intertwined with the Thai people. Historical documents include royal edicts by King Rama I (1782–1809) regarding the breeding of betta fish.
The plakad’s colorful and iridescent plumage continues to grow in popularity and captivate anyone who sees them. But as captivating as they are, Pinto has always wondered how he could take it further. As a professional Siamese fighting fish breeder, he’s committed to finding out.
“It’s the color and charm of the plakad that drew me to this work,” he explains. “My fascination with this fish has become my passion to create colorful Thai plakad.”
Pinto uses genetic breeding techniques to create new plakad with different colors. His techniques have led to the creation of several “series” of fish that have grown famous among betta enthusiasts, including “Candy,” “Rainbow,” “Multicolor,” and “Avatar.” However, there’s one series that was inspired by the clownfish made famous by Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
“If you ask me which breed I’m the most proud of, it’s got to be the Nemo series. I developed the scales, the colors, and the patterns to copy Nemo, the cartoon fish. It took me almost two years until I succeeded!” he exclaims.
According to Pinto, Thai plakad breeders are second to none when it comes to creating new and colorful plakad. Now, in addition to possessing a great deal of expertise with the species, they rely on new techniques to achieve distinct breeds.
Fellow plakad breeder Nattapong Horrakang said that his approach is to create a balanced ecosystem within the fish tanks, starting with the nitrification process or how waste decomposes in water.
“Through experimentation, I created a biological stratum, cultivating nitrification bacteria and adding aquatic plants,” Nattapong explains. “This fostered an ecosystem in the fish tanks that is more balanced.”
Other breeders, such as Ong-art Visutthitum, focus on specific variants of plakad, such as the Giant Siamese fighting fish, to stand out from the crowd.
“Let’s say that in Thailand, there are 50 plakad farms. If I breed fish with the same colors, then they’ll all look the same. But if I try to be different and breed different colors, then there’s no basis for comparison, and ours will stand out more,” Ong-art reasons.
His sentiments are echoed by Wisit Poompetch, who says, “I don’t have any breeding framework, just pure imagination. I won’t copy anybody else or stagnate; my fish won’t stay still. That’s what I’ll do. That’s my kind of fish.”
Today, betta fish has become an important commercial fish for Thailand, with global exports valued at THB186.09 million (US$5.55 million) in 2018. As it continues to generate income for over 1,000 local businesses, Thailand is quickly gaining recognition in the niche industry, and there has been a growing appetite to learn more.
“Every week, I share my experience and knowledge with those interested on Facebook Live and the ‘Pinto Channel’ on YouTube,” he says. “I do it partly to promote my business, and because I believe it inspires others.”
While Pinto has referred to his plakad as his babies, he is also committed to the next generation of breeders.
“I’d like to pass on my knowledge to a new generation of breeders,” he says. “Their plakad will definitely swim further than mine.”