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How Long Do Fish Live? The Honest Truth You Need To Know About Fish

How long do fish live

Let’s start with my passion for fish

Back to the time when I was still in middle school, I was keen on the idea of keeping a pet at home. At first, I was torn between choosing a puppy or a cat, but one day when I came across an aquarium at my uncle’s house, I fell in love instantly with the beauty of tiny little fish swimming along the tank.

And that made me decide to keep my very first goldfish who unfortunately could not survive to day 10. I was saddened and came to assume that fish could not live long. But after several years spent on studying about fish, I realized that I was wrong to make such an assumption.

So how long do fish live? Despite their seemingly fragile looks, fish in general and pet fish, in particular, can live quite a long life. There are fish whose lives are counted by decades and fish whose lives are counted for months and years only.

If you are a fan of these tiny lovely creatures or thinking about starting an aquarium, you should start with important facts about fish, including their life expectancy. You would be amazed at how old some certain types of fish can get.

To find out the answer to the question “How long do fish live,” I will guide you through different types of fish, their lifespan, and factors that affect their lifespan so that you will hopefully gain a better understanding of the fish species.

How many types of fish are there in the world?

Normally fish is divided into two big groups based on their living environment: the freshwater ones and the saltwater ones. The freshwater ones refer to fish that live in rivers, ponds or other freshwater ecosystems while the saltwater ones refer to fish that live in the ocean.

Different types of fish live to different ‘ages.' Our Earth’s surface is roughly 70% covered by water, and only 1% is composed of freshwater while the rest is the oceanic water. On the contrary, the number of fish species occupying the salt water is much lower than the number of freshwater species.

As a result of their different living environments, freshwater and saltwater fish come with distinctive features that allow their survival and maturity. Freshwater fish are exposed to a constantly changing environment where they must adapt to survive whereas saltwater fish enjoy a more stable environment.

Therefore, freshwater fish are more adaptive and sturdy than their marine fellows. But does their hardiness allow them to live longer than saltwater fish? Which factors contribute to the life expectancy of fish? Keep reading to find out the answers.

What determines the life expectancy of fish?

The life expectancy of wild fish, whether they are freshwater or saltwater fish, is a bit difficult to find out since it can be a great challenge to approach and examine their lives carefully. However, it is agreed that two key factors that affect a fish’s chance of a long life are water conditions and species.

In other words, fish that live in a favorable water condition stand a better chance to live longer than those who live in a polluted area. Likewise, fish species that are born with stronger features are likely to survive better.

It is frequently induced that wild fish that are on the top of the food chain are likely to live longer because there are fewer predators to harm them. There are some wild fish whose only predator are humans.

For instance, sharks, which are dangerous predators in the ocean, normally live for 20 to 30 years while parrotfish, which are at a lower level in the marine food chain, can live up to 7 to 10 years.

But how long do fish live if they are captive? The factors that determine the lifespan of captive fish or pet fish vary greatly from wild fish. Both freshwater and saltwater fish can be kept as pet fish.

Since they do not suffer from the risk of a potential predator, their chances of survival are determined by their distinctive features and living environment. In the next part of the article, we will give you a glimpse into the life expectancy of freshwater and saltwater pet fish.

How long do they live?

When it comes to freshwater pet fish, you can expect their lifespan to last from a few years to around ten years. If properly taken care of, your little buddy can enjoy a lifespan of more than 15 years.

However, the average lifespan for most freshwater fish kept as pets are around 1 to 3 years. The ones with the short lifespan include rainbow fish, swordtails or tiger barbs. Despite not being a pet fish, the fish with the shortest lifespan has been discovered to be the Coral Reef Pygmy Goby, which lives up to 59 days.

On the other side of the spectrum, one of the toughest guys in the freshwater category is the goldfish, who can live up to 15 years or more. If you are looking for a pet fish that lasts for a long time, you won’t go wrong with goldfish. Other types of fish that can live considerably long are bettas, angelfish or neon tetras.

One outstanding type of long-lived fish is none other than koi. These China-originated buddies (Koi originated from China, not Japan as commonly mistaken) normally live for 25-30 years. There was one Koi fish that unbelievably lived to 226 years, which became the oldest koi in the history.

When it comes to saltwater fish, the situation becomes less optimistic because it is more difficult to ensure a favorable water condition for them. If you manage to maintain a healthy diet, an ideal water quality, and other suitable necessities, your saltwater buddies can live for many years.

The average lifespan for saltwater pet fish is around 2-4 years. Such fish as damselfish, squirrelfish or tangs can live around 2 or 3 years maximum. Some other hardy fish such as clownfish or lionfish can live for over ten years depending on their care.


When it comes to a pet, most people know how long their dogs or cats normally live, but little do people know about fish. As you can see, there is no single right answer to the question of “How long do fish live?” Just like other species, it all comes down to genes and environment to determine the lifespan of fish.

However, no matter which type of fish you are into keeping, it’s worth noting that their lifespan largely depends on how you take care of them, whether you are a beginner or an experienced aquarist. We hope that our article has been informative and useful for you.


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