For nearly 20 years Laguna Koi Ponds has been importing the graceful koi fish from Japan and offering them to the local public.
President and owner Ben Plonski has been keeping fish as a hobby for 42 years. He started when he was 15, cleaning ponds and aquariums from the back of his motorcycle in Palm Springs. Plonski then migrated to Laguna Beach, and turned his hobby into a thriving business. Although it would be possible to farm these fish locally, Plonski stresses the importance of leaving koi raising to the experts.
“Farming koi is a very laborious task and requires many acres of land in order to produce just a few good quality specimens,” Plonski said. “It is better to leave the art and science of koi breeding to the professionals in Japan who have been perfecting their skills for generations.”
More than 2,000 koi make the 22-hour journey from Japan to Laguna Beach each year and making sure this is done safely is a science unto itself. The fish are placed in plastic bags with a few gallons of water and pure oxygen. They are then quarantined for three weeks during which they undergo various blood tests before being given the seal of health and released for sale.
Within the 16 varieties of koi are nearly 100 individual names that are as colorful as the fish themselves. Names like kohaku, beni kumonryu and matsukawabake are used to describe various colors and patterns. They range from $25 to $5,000, but the most popular are in the $50 to $200 range.
“Providing beautiful koi for our customers is just one of our specialties,” Plonski said. “We travel yearly to Japan to hand-pick high quality koi that will attract the eye of our discerning customers.”
Plonski’s team, which includes 10 full-time employees, does much more than just sell koi. The company services and maintains close to 200 privately owned ponds throughout Orange County. They also spend a great deal of time educating buyers on the environmental challenges of koi pond ownership.
“Koi keeping is a commitment,” Plonski said. “It is a very interesting hobby with many facets. The hobbyist must apply science, biology, chemistry, engineering and art to create a beautiful and easy to maintain koi pond.”
There is yet another feature of Plonski’s ponds that makes them right at home in this artist’s mecca. The wide varieties of multicolored koi, as well as a man-made waterfall that feeds into the main, have inspired many a local artist. Paintings of these beautiful fish can be seen gracing many of the area’s art festivals.
Impressive as they may be, the artistic renderings can’t quite capture the elegant movements of these one-of-a-kind fish. Seeing is believing, and since the ponds will be celebrating their 20th anniversary throughout 2009 with various promotions and educational seminars, there’s never been a better time for a visit.
Laguna Koi Ponds are open seven days a week. For more information go to www.LagunaKoi.com.