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What do Koi Grades Mean?

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This is one of those questions that I get really, really often. In fact, this is a question I get from not just novices, but experienced pond hobbyists and even professionals, though the experts are much more likely to put it as, “What do Koi grades really mean?”

The reason that so many people are unclear on this is one of the uncomfortable truths of our hobby. There simply are no definitive guidelines, rubric, or system for grading koi. Different breeders, suppliers, distributors, and stores use different guidelines and even terminology (for instance, A-AAA or select vs choice or whatever). What to expect from different grades of koi vary wildly from koi supplier to koi supplier. The downside of this system (or lack thereof) is obvious: it’s really hard for someone to choose koi based on grades from an average supplier. There is, however, an upside of this system: when there’s no specific rubric for judging all koi, then the industry is wide open for variation among koi selection, which means greater and easier variety of koi to choose from. More choice is good, right?

Either way you see it, there are really two extremes for how to treat koi grades.

1. Koi grades mean nothing.

If you’re willing to let go of looking at Koi grades, you can really open up what sort of koi you can find. It means that you’ll have to hand-select the koi for your pond, since you can’t trust any Koi distributor to choose your koi for you by their own grading criteria. Hand-selecting your koi isn’t such a bad thing, though. As long as you trust a distributor to only sell healthy koi, you don’t need to worry what other people think about the koi you’re selecting. Just get koi that you think are pretty!

2. Koi grades still mean a lot.

Koi grading isn’t a meaningless process, by any means. It’s an art form that goes back hundreds of years (called Sembetsu in Japanese). Doing it well takes years, even decades, of experience, tremendous eye for detail, and, of course, access to great fish to choose from. This means that it’s not easy to find koi that are graded well, but when you do, it’s a beautiful thing to trust a true expert to find a koi for you that will not only be worth your while now, but will continue to grow into a beautiful creature in the decades that you and the fish might have together.


Finding a breeder who has the talent and experience for Sembetsu isn’t even close to easy. That’s a big part of why we were so hugely excited to start our relationship with Kloubec Koi Farms. They have more than proven their trustworthiness and skill in the industry for years now, so you can be sure that koi that you purchase from us will be true to the grades advertised as Kloubec defines them. As of now, we’re only selling the two highest grades of Koi that Kloubec offers: Choice and Elite. Both of these grades feature vibrant, beautiful colors and patterns on healthy fish, so you can be certain when you buy koi from us that you’re getting fish worthy of your pond and the years that you’ll share with them.

For reference, here are Kloubec’s guides for what the two top grades will mean for your pond:

Choice grade
A vibrant mix of colors and patterns! Your fish pack will be thoughtfully selected by a koi expert to include a well rounded collection of beautiful koi.

Elite Grade
Perfect for the discriminating koi collector! Expect exquisite patterns drenched in color, with top quality body conformation. Each fish pack is carefully assembled by a koi expert to contain a variety of fish that complement each other and will bring your pond to life!


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