Here’s my list of things to do that will help make you a more responsible hobbyist. By following these guidelines, you’ll also be doing your part to force all sectors of the aquarium industry to engage in more responsible and environmentally-sound practices.
This is the number one reason for failure! If keeping an aquarium was as easy as filling a container with water and throwing in some fish, everyone would be successful. The truth is, eight out of ten new hobbyists give up within a year. Most of those unfortunates never bothered to read even one book! The most important thing you can do is to educate yourself about the hobby you have chosen.
By learning as much as you can about the fish you keep, you will not only keep them alive longer and happy but you’ll also gain a better understanding of how the ecology of an aquarium works. This will pay off in greater success and fewer lost fish. You’ll also get far more pleasure from your aquarium. Buy books and read them. Buy videos and watch them. Surf the Web. Join fish forums and become a forum moderator. Go to the library. Volunteer at your local public aquarium (most operate with 80% volunteers). Join aquarium clubs or societies. The possibilities and resources for self-education in this hobby are endless.
Ok, you’ve read some books, and gotten some education. Now the question is: What will you do with it? You now know when your aquarium is full, so why are you buying another fish? You know that Undulated Triggerfish probably won’t get along with your Clown Trigger. Why tempt fate? Trying to get lucky?
When this author worked in a large aquarium retail store, I was fortunate that the store I worked in, sold with a conscience. We were trained to ask questions about the aquarium our fish were going into, and to advise against, discourage, or outright refuse bad purchases. Yet no matter how hard we tried to do the right thing, there were always a number of customers who either refused good advice, or lied about their tanks, so we would sell them a fish that was doomed the moment it left the store. You would never guess how many times we heard “I’ll buy it anyway,” or “I know, but I want to try it, it could work.” If it’s a risk, and you take it, you’ll probably fail.
Learn about the aquatic animals you want before you buy!
What is their natural habitat like? What foods do they require? Are they too aggressive or too peaceful? Will they be compatible with the fish I already own? How large do they get and is my aquarium large enough? Does it have a good record for living in aquaria, or is it classified as difficult to keep?
These are all good questions to ask oneself when buying any aquatic animal for an aquarium. Don’t just take the aquarium store’s word for it. They want to sell fish! Read up on what you want to buy before you buy it!
Looking for a source of information on fish that are difficult to keep? Look no further! We have an on-going and growing list.
Find a Good Store and Support Them!
You may buy a lot of your aquarium supplies through mail-order or on the Internet. There are few online and NO mail-order stores that will take the time to learn about your aquarium, discuss problems with you, and help you when you need it most. If they did that, they would have to hire good knowledgeable help, which would increase their cost of doing business. Then their prices would be nearly as high as those in a good retail store. That in fact, is the one reason our prices are sometimes a little higher than other online aquarium suppliers. We do answer questions and provide advice, and that costs money!
If you find a good store that is willing to spend time with you, answer all your questions, and help you out, spend some money in that store! Don’t just buy fish there, as nowadays, fish are lower profit items. Fish sales alone will not keep an aquarium store in business. If all you do is get advice from a store, two things may happen. The store staff may realize you aren’t supporting them and will grow reluctant to help you. If enough customers do this, the store will go out of business. Then where will you go when you need help?
Boycott Bad Stores!
If you have many bad experiences with a store; find a store that is continually giving bad advice; or a store that is so profit-motivated, they just don’t care, don’t shop there! Urge all you know not to shop there either. The aquarium retail business is not a high-profit business, and those that get into the trade just to make money, do not deserve to stay in business. A good store will build a loyal and profitable following by trying their best to sell high quality equipment, healthy livestock, and provide good advice.
Avoid Advice and Livestock from “Super” Department Pet Stores!
We don’t begrudge any business from trying to make money, but when it comes to the sale of live animals, there are moral and ethical issues to consider. People selling animals, and giving advice on their care, should at least have a good working knowledge about the livestock they sell. People like this command high rates of pay, and rightly so. They earned college degrees or devoted many hours of personal study to the animals they love. Most “super” department pet stores are paying minimum wage to the employees that wait on you. That is why their prices are so low. These employees have completed short courses, sponsored by their employers, that barely give them enough knowledge to do their jobs.
We have hundreds of documented cases of bad sales and bad advice from these stores. Sick fish sales, incompatible fish sales, poor filtration sales, bad medication advice, and bad advice on many other issues, are just some of the examples we’ve collected. Each week, through our free email advice program, we get several more to add to our collection.
See or Hear Something Wrong? Speak up!
You’re in an aquarium store and hear a customer or employee say something that is inaccurate. You read something on the Internet that is wrong (even on our web site, we too make mistakes) or inaccurate. Be polite and don’t be loud or crude, but do something! In a store, you might pull the offending person aside and whisper in their ear. On the Internet, let your email do the talking. Doing nothing only serves to perpetuate bad information. One thing to always remember. If you question or correct information, ALWAYS be prepared to quote the source of the corrected information. Personal experience should be portrayed as just that: personal experience, and not known fact.
Made a New Discovery? Let Others Know!
Bred a fish that’s never been bred in captivity? Discovered a new behavior that you’ve never read about? Found a way to improve a piece of aquarium equipment? Document everything in detail, and find a way to get that information to the public. Many aquarium-related web sites will publish your information online, including us. By writing to aquarium magazine editors or aquarium book authors, you may even get your name in print.
If you really think the information is valuable, and want to try to earn some money, write a report and get a copyright. It’s fairly easy to do, but you’ll have to prove the information is unique, and that’s not so easy. Many have obtained copyrights on what they thought was a new discovery, only to get laughed at when they approached an author or publisher. If you give out the information, free-of-charge, there’s no chance of ridicule, and you just might make a big name for yourself in the aquarium industry. That’s how folks like Julian Sprung, Albert Theil, and Marc Weiss got their start.