View Full Version : February 2016 Member Spotlight - Mark Chen of Discus Origins

02-03-2016, 05:46 PM
It's a pleasure for me to present the February Spotlight on Mark Chen of Discus Origins, one of our Florida sponsors, and one of the best suppliers of wild discus to be found anywhere !

Q - Please tell us all a little about yourself, what makes you tick? What do you do for a living on a full time basis ? Any significant non-discus achievements you want to brag about?

A - My real job was actually a chiropractic physician, but I injured my wrist riding my motorcycle a few years ago and can no longer practice on a full time basis so I went back to medical school and currently just finished up my second year.

Since I graduated undergrad from the University of Florida and still live relatively close to Gainesville, I have to say that cheering for all kinds of Gator sports is a big passion for me and my family. We are season ticket holders for the Football program and enjoy going to all the home football games.

I guess the most current non-discus achievement I can think of is that after going through years of sports medicine training and treating athletes, I was invited to be a volunteer medical provider for the Summer 2016 Olympics in Rio. Now I have to figure out if I can actually take two weeks off school and my family to be working in Brazil. Its a once in a life time opportunity and I will try my best to make it work.

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Q - How did you first get into discus? Where was the first discus you saw, and was it wild caught or farm-raised domestic? How long had you been into fish first ?

A - The first discus I saw was in a display tank at a LFS. The owner of the store was actually very knowledgeable about them and actually had bred domestic varieties. He had some gorgeous Blue Diamonds in a 90 gallon display tank. Back at that time these blue discus were still being sold for hundreds of dollars and me being in high school could only dream about them. I had been keeping some dwarf cichlids and African cichlids prior to trying discus, and had a fish tank ever since I was 7 years old. When I saved up enough money I actually drove down to Ft lauderdale and picked up my own discus from Jack Wattley's house. He was a great guy, we talked for a couple hours and toured his breeding facility which was actually just in his small garage. It was crazy how many tanks full of 1/2-1" discus he had.

Q - How did you eventually get into the business of commercially importing & supplying wild discus ? - tell us about it. How did you first make the contacts you needed & get started with importing ?

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A - I got into importing wild discus after I became disappointed with what was available in the local market and then got ripped off dealing with some online retailers. It became apparent quickly that there was not a lot of suppliers that was knowledgeable in the wilds department or had the right suppliers. Most of the beautiful pictures of wild discus I saw were from Asia or Europe....I thought to myself why aren't they in the US? In my opinion the US market is the way it is because of the availability of cheaper domestically bred discus as the costs of catching a wild fish and having it end up in your fish tank is high. The colors of bright blue and reds can make wilds look drab.

Since I couldn't find any actual high grade wild discus suppliers in the US, I decided that I would try to contact some of the suppliers in Europe and then researched into direct contacts with the actual fishermen in Brazil. It did not take long to figure out there was a lot of import costs associated with a shipment, and just bringing a few fish for myself didn't make sense that it had to be done on a commercial level. So I hoped that there was enough hobbyists who had the same feeling as myself, that preferred the natural look of what a discus looks like from the wild.

I have imported from Aquarium Glaser in Germany, Hudson with H&K, Hugo with Santarem Discus and now with WBSabby Discus. In my opinion WBSabby has the best stock and never disappoints.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1691/24055215309_eb13948992_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/CDFgrx) (https://flic.kr/p/CDFgrx)

Q - What wild strains are you the most pleased with? How about domestics - which do you like best and which do you think need some work? Are you working on anything new and exciting just now? What strains do you like best personally, either wild or domestic ?

A - I can't pick one favorite wild strain, but a deep red Cuipeua, nicely spotted Tefe Green, or a Nhamunda Blue Heckel can't really be beat. Domestics I have to go with the Piwowarski Red Turq because of the striations he was able to develop, for the strains that need work I would like to see someone figure out how to produce Pigeon blood varieties without the peppering. Peppering is never seen in wild strains....wonder how it popped up in domestics.

Only thing exciting is working with my new shipment and planning for the next one before wild season ends.

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Q - What do you feed your discus?

A - As I deal with only wild discus, I always get them to start eating by introducing live blackworms. Once they have a good appetite I slowly cut back on the live and introduce frozen blackworms, bloodworms, and mysis shrimp. I will also use a homemade shrimp mix when I have time to make the batches.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1690/24340561551_f477a3985e_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/D5TJWk) (https://flic.kr/p/D5TJWk)

Q - What is your most exhilarating moment with discus?

A - Spawning heckels years ago when no one was interested in any of the fry lol. Then spawning Cuipeua that everybody wanted fry but I couldn't get the pair to keep spawning after three times.

Q - What is your most frustrating moment with discus?

A - Oh there are many.....most have to do with shipments that come in with damage or DOAs. Very frustrating to know that these fish were swimming in the Amazon River a few weeks earlier and if they would have made it through one more flight they would be safe in my fish tanks.

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Q - Do you have any future plans for discus or other fish species that you would like to share with us?

A - No drastic plans, import wild discus while in season and other South American fish when not in season.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1612/24125009833_b7fac2a9e3_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/CKQYVp) (https://flic.kr/p/CKQYVp)

Q - How do those others in your life feel about discus?

A - My wife is not so much into it, she says it takes too much time from me and stresses me out when I'm dealing with shipments lol. My kids love it, they would spend all day at the warehouse looking at the fish if they could.

Q - Do you have any funny, amusing or interesting discus stories to share with us?

A - Being in this business, its funny to me how cut throat the 'wild discus market' can be. I have received threatening emails, FB messages, etc. from a couple of earlier S.A. wild discus suppliers I previously dealt with, after I ceased business dealings and complained about their bait and switch shipments. At the end of the the day, discus are a hobby and a passion for me.

Q - Do you have any thanks or credit to give for your success with discus? Any mentors or colleagues who you think deserve some applause?

A Jack Wattley for telling me all his cool collecting stories in the Amazon, Dale Jordan for helping me with initial shipments and how to properly quarantine wild discus. Al Sabetta and Pat Husband for their support on the forum.

And I must give a lot of thanks to Hans & Kenny for all the advice and help they provided me with when I was launching my venture.

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Q - What do you see as the future of discus keeping? More or less people? Any cool ideas for strains?

A - I see the hobby in the US hopefully gain a foothold with wild discus. Asia and Europe are way ahead of us in terms of wanting to take the hobby back to its natural form, that is beauty the way it was intended. I think as more and more people keep discus and learn about proper husbandry and how its not some nightmare fish with the right care, more new hobbyists will dive in.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1666/24470316085_c9f16e22bd.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/DhmLrt) (https://flic.kr/p/DhmLrt)

Q - Did you begin your discus enterprise by starting to breed discus ?

A - No, started by importing.

Q - If so, what were the major obstacles involved in setting up as a breeder? Any advice for aspiring breeders?

A - I found breeding takes luck, time, and space. Your best two fish that you want to pair up and spawn will never do it for you, while one day out of the blue you can have several pairs guarding eggs. My advice for aspiring breeders is to find the best quality stock possible, have more tank space than you think you need, and take pride in your work to produce high quality juveniles.

Q - Do you have any pairs currently producing?

A - No, have not had time to tinker with breeding

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Q - Any tips on breeding or raising discus, either wild or domestic ? Tricks or methods you use to encourage pairs to breed?

A - For wilds specifically I find that it is best for a pair to form out of a group first, that strengthens their bond. Let them spawn in a community tank a few times before pulling the pair out. If you pull pairs out too fast they may never breed again for you. Replicating the temperature changes and water softness of the dry and rainy season usually does the trick for wilds.

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Q - How many tanks do you have in operation for your discus business ? And how many other tanks are devoted to other fish strains that you import ?

A - I have approximately 1000 gallons for discus. Another 1000 gallon for other freshwater and 800 gallons for saltwater/reef.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1708/24658365171_9e3d7a6eab_n.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/DyYyT6) (https://flic.kr/p/DyYyT6)
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Q - Tell us about the other species of wild caught fish that you carry & sell. How is that side of your business doing ? Tell us what you feel are the best buys amongst your stocks of other species right now, and anything else you'd like us to know about these stocks.

A - I also import rare and hard to find species of South American fish such as plecos, corydoras, dwarf cichlids, catfish. That side of the business has always been the sustaining profitable part because it covers the whole year vs just a few months like discus. I import directly from Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. I am also a sponsor on Monster Fish Keepers and they really like the bigger fish.

Best buys I would say is we usually carry very nice and colorful plecos, I usually stock 8-10 varieties of plecos and rare corydoras.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1524/24725650226_fab37acb32.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/DEVqof) (https://flic.kr/p/DEVqof)

Q - Tell us more about your relationship with your most current wild supplier(s) - how it got started and started to flourish ?

A - Relationships with international suppliers is sometimes a gamble. Its not like you can just fly to every single country to check out and vet every supplier. Most of the business is done through the internet and by reputation from other people who have done business with them. But it is a closely guarded secret, because no one wants to let their good sources get out to their competition. I can tell you that I have lost thousands of $$ to unscrupulous suppliers who put up a nice website, nice stock lists, answer emails promptly, and as soon as you send them money they disappear. It has taken years of trial and error to end up with my current suppliers.

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Q - What are your near future plans for bringing in more discus for potential sale to SD members and others ? Timing, frequency, etc. ?

A - As wild season is only from November to March, there's really just a window that I can import.

https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1459/23796234583_c9ab3bfd20.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/CfMVuB) [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/130869527@N06/] (https://flic.kr/p/CfMVuB)

Q - When is your next shipment of wilds expected and what strains do you expect it will contain ?

A - I just received my first shipment of wilds, large one of 75 discus. I probably will do one more before end of season for the people who missed out on the first one. Strains will depend on what is pre-ordered, normally what is available will be Cuipeua, Mangal, Nhamunda Blue Heckel, Nhamunda Red, Tefe Green.

02-03-2016, 08:13 PM
Great read. Thanks for sharing.

Altum Nut
02-03-2016, 08:48 PM
I never had a second doubt this spotlight was going to be great. It appears all fell in place for Mark with hard work and the right connections to carry quality stock both wild fresh and salt water. I'm in the market to establish a Wilds only Discus tank in the near future and it looks like I know someone who may help stock it.
Photos are spectacular as usual...thanks to Pat and know Ricardo had his say somewhere...
Paul...a great job again to say the least working with Mark on this spotlight.
One last thing directed to Mark...keep doing what your doing my friend.


02-03-2016, 08:55 PM
Very interesting read and Thanks for sharing.

02-03-2016, 09:03 PM
Wonderfully informative commentary, Mark, about getting into wilds, importing them, the pitfalls, and the achievements of having success with them.

I'd love to visit Florida & see these beautifully colored wilds in the flesh, not to mention the other species of wild fish that you carry, all of which are extremely interesting to me, and I sure wish I could view firsthand.

I have friends here in Canada who would "die for" to see your imported Plecos.

Your spotlight was of much interest to me when I first read it, but even more so the second time around.
Many thanks for sharing this with us.

Discus Origins
02-03-2016, 11:33 PM
Thank you Paul for the nice write up, really appreciate the way you made my normal ho-hum life sound so interesting :)

Boyd Luth
02-04-2016, 08:14 AM
Thanks again, now I have an excuse to stop in Ocala area next trip North. Always enjoy stories on Jack Wattley :-)

Second Hand Pat
02-04-2016, 08:49 AM
Mark, this is a great read and allowed me to get to know you a little better. We have been friends for quite a while now and always thrilled to come visit and see what you have brought in ;) especially with wild discus. :D

02-04-2016, 11:56 AM
Mark, it's truly amazing that you can conduct this time-consuming business at the same time that you are going through medical school! Yikes! I don't know how you do it. I'm always amazed by people who are so energetic (being retired myself, I fully embrace my afternoon naps! LOL), you must be a "type A!" Anyway, your imported fish are beautiful. I wish you all the success you can handle in this business. -Don

02-04-2016, 01:50 PM
Excellent information , it increase my respect and admiration for Mark and his hard work to bring quality stock to us.

02-05-2016, 05:09 PM
Great story! 2800 gallons to maintain. I got rid of all my tanks while going to medical school and still always tired. I was even young way back then!

My hat is off to you for your devotion, and...great fish!


Larry Bugg
02-05-2016, 05:20 PM
Always nice to learn a little more about someone that I admire and respect.

02-06-2016, 12:12 AM
Great read and great pictures!

02-06-2016, 11:47 AM
Thanks Mark for sharing your passion with us.

02-10-2016, 01:12 PM
Very cool Read Guys! Top notch interview Paul! Mark, it was great getting to see abit more about you and your hobby to business transformation! Very Glad to have you hear as a Sponsor at SimplyDiscus. Keep up the great work!!


02-10-2016, 02:42 PM
A very interesting read indeed...always great to learn a little more about some of our great sponsors!!


Keith Perkins
02-17-2016, 04:42 PM
Nice to finally see some of your fish before they get into Pat's tanks. A great read and I certainly know where I'll go when I can't resist the wilds bug any longer.

02-28-2016, 09:19 AM
Great to know more about you! You really have some beautiful fish, including wild discus. It is amazing to hear about the difficulties in the business and even more amazing that you are able to adjust and continue on!
Great spotlight!


Jack L
02-28-2016, 02:53 PM
informative and interesting, TFS