FANS of one of the most fascinating fish species, koi carp, are expected to converge on Saltburn next month.

The attraction will be the oriental ponds filled with fish from Japan in a venture by Mr Tom Barker, aged 44, who has turned a boyhood hobby into a business.

A few weeks ago, he flew 600 koi from Japan to his company's new premises in Prince's Road, Saltburn. The firm makes ponds with Japanese themes, such as garden tea houses.

In that country, breeders vie with each other to produce status symbol kois which can sell for enormous sums.

Mr Barker originally had two big ponds filled with kois and other exotic species in his garden at Brotton.

When these began to attract interest, he decided to move his company, which makes sunbeds and equipment for garden and swimming pools, from Liverton to the former Huntcliff enterprise centre in Saltburn. His stepson, Mr Mark Hodgson, runs the manufacturing side.

Mr Barker went to Japan to arrange deliveries and visited the koi world cup judging at the Tokyo exhibition. All the fish at the Saltburn centre are blood relations of the Japanese grand champion.

Already, he has had to extend the number of ponds, as a large holding pool for a second delivery of 700 is due next week.

"They are such peaceful fish to watch and so friendly they can be stroked and even eat out of your hand," said Mr Barker. "They can grow from 4in to 3ft and have been known to live 70 years. They have become an obsession with fish breeders and collectors.

"I have already taken orders for mine which range from about £15 for the tiddlers to those up to 32ins at considerable sums. But they won't be sold until they are fully quarantined in about two weeks' time.

Word has spread with TV and media coverage since the first D&S Times article earlier this month. "People have been ringing up, even from Belgium and Holland, and they will be coming from all over the country for the official opening on April 14," he said.