I have been working in the aquatic manufacturing industry in China for well over a decade. Long before opening Castle Dawn Aquatics, I managed the productions of many of your favourite aquatics brands of the early 2000s.
A shocking trick of the trade I discovered was a lot of the popular brands in our hobby exploited the ''Made in'' loophole.
For example one of the bigger brands claims their products particularly their filters are made in Europe. In fact, their products are made in China close to 99.9% completion, then sent to Europe to be finished and packaged.
This way the aquatic brand can state their products are made in a European country. This adds value to the product and the brand can demand a higher price.
Things like the ''Made in'' loophole are common practice nowadays, and I hope to expand on it in the future with a blog series on behind the scenes of the aquatic manufacturing world.
Old faithful a common product found throughout Amazon, Wish and eBay alike.
More often than enough, I would see fellow fishkeepers on aquatic groups having unexplained aquarium difficulties. Their water parameters are fine, and they cannot for the life of them figure out what is going wrong in their aquarium.
It does not cross their mind that the cheap aquarium equipment or ornaments they purchased through apps like Wish or even purchased through Amazon and eBay could be causing all the issues.
It is common to see the same product available on multiple sales platforms at different price points. For example, the aquarium bio sponge filter which is a basic with fish breeders and aquarists who keep species who prefer low flows.
The sponge filters may look identical on different sales platforms, but in real life, it could not be further from the truth. The sponge filters on offer are likely to be manufactured to different standards/grades.
So what do I mean by different grades? There is an unavowed system used to grade the manufacturing quality of aquatic products from 1 to 4 and they are as follows:
- All Castle Dawn Aquatics products are manufactured at grade 1. -
The products are manufactured using 100% aquatic safe materials including electricals, and go through rigorous QA and QC procedures.
The products are manufactured using aquatic safe materials including electricals, but the production QA is to a minimum, and QC procedures are skipped to save money and increase profit margins.
-Grade 3 products are commonly found on platforms like Wish, Aliexpress, eBay and at times Amazon.-
The products are manufactured from aquatic safe materials. However, mostly assembled using QC rejected parts, resulting in a subpar product that will not function or has a very short lifespan.
This level of manufacturing is common with factories looking to pull back profits lost from grade1 productions that have high standards and high QC rejection rates. Electrical equipment manufactured at Grade 3 is considered dangerous.
An example of a grade 3 product compared to a grade1 product. The Aquarium ornament on the left is from Amazon (grade 3) and the ornament on the right is from Castle Dawn Aquatics (grade1).
You can immediately tell the Amazon ornament has been manufactured to grade 3 and QC rejected, you can clearly see where the sail was previously broken, glued back together and has become lopsided. In closer inspection, other parts have also been glued, and the paint job is a disaster. The difference between the two is like night and day.
Grade 4 is what we like to call the trading company-grade. If you don’t know what a trading company is, it’s a company that sells a bit of everything. For example, they sell aquatic equipment, also phone cases, or picture frames, basically anything that can make a profit.
In my opinion, they have become a scourge on the aquatic hobby. They have no knowledge or care for fishkeeping hobby and will sell whatever for a quick buck. They will take aquarium products that are popular and manufacture the product themselves, cutting every corner available.
This includes using non-aquatic safe materials to make it as cheap as possible so they can undercut competitors and still make a profit. Like grade 3, grade 4 manufactured electrical equipment is considered dangerous.
This is where one of the unseen dangers arise if you happen to purchase a grade 4 product. For example, if you purchased a sponge filter and it was manufactured at grade 4, it is going to be made using cheap plastics.
The cheap plastics that are commonly used in grade 4 manufacturing contain BPA and DEHP, which can be released into the aquarium by the UV exposure from the lighting system. BPA and DEHP can kill the nitrifying bacteria causing the aquarium to crash, which can result in a complete aquarium wipeout.
Products like resin ornaments that are manufactured at grade 4 are usually made using nasty diluent chemicals to speed up the curing process. These chemicals can remain behind and leak into the water causing the aquarium inhabitants to become stressed and sick.
I remember in 2018, I went to a factory to check the production of our Pleco breeding tubes. We were making them out of high-quality Yixing purple clay which is aquatic safe and fact of the day, it is also used to make teapots.
I was passing by one of their customer’s productions when I noticed them making the same products as me but using white clay. White clay is non-toxic of course, nevertheless, it is significantly cheaper than purple clay.
However, they proceed to drop the ornaments into vats of dye to change the colour of the clay to make them appear as if they were made from purple clay.
I could tell you the dyes were not aquatic safe as the fumes made my eyes water.
Later speaking with the factory owner, they explained they were being made to the customers’ requirements to keep costs down.
A quick look on google I found the seller selling these poorly made pleco tubes on eBay, Amazon and their own dropshipping website. They were of course a trading company (Grade 4) and I am confident whoever used the pleco tubes had serious issues in their aquarium.
This is just one of the many things I have seen over the years that pushed me to open up Castle Dawn Aquatics online. Being based in China we have a strong working background with aquatic manufacturers and in recent years we have developed our own factories.
We are one of a few aquatic companies that have complete control over our own productions and quality. We are able to bring our customers a guaranteed promise that our products are of a high standard, 100% aquatic safe and still priced competitively.
We are aquarists ourselves, our whole team is, from our sales staff to our QC management team in our factories, so we would not manufacture or source a product that we would not use in our own aquariums. Which over the years, has built trust and love for Castle Dawn Aquatics products all over the world.
So, what about Amazon, how do these dangerous aquatic products end up on the platform?
Well, it is due to Amazon's global market program which allows sellers from anywhere to sell directly to the likes of the USA through FBA.
This has created a very merciless price market for aquatic goods, resulting in an increase of grade 3 and grade 4 aquatic product sellers attempting to get a bigger slice of the pie.
Does this mean all cheap aquatic products found on the likes of wish or Amazon could be dangerous to your aquarium?
Of course not. You should not even be put off buying products that are made in China. 98% of our hobbies products are made here, even the leaders in the aquatic industry like Ehiem manufacture in China and those brands that claim they don't do (Shh ... trade secret).
The secret to buying made in China products is to know who you are buying from. Only purchase from reliable sources like ourselves Castle Dawn Aquatics, and other reliable businesses and brands, so you are 100% guaranteed quality and aquatic safe products.
Disclaimer: I hope some of you found this article useful. As always, the articles I write are based on my experiences and knowledge of working in the aquatic industry for well over a decade. This article is not intended to offend, trigger or oppose anyone's personal opinions or experiences.