Fish Collector

Insider Info

To those not in the game, the hobby of fish collecting may seem rather static. Fish keepers (as they prefer to be called), however, are passionate about their pets and many go overboard in the beginning, buying more tanks and fish than they can easily maintain.

It's not advisable to start too small either. Says collector Richard Brown, "Buy as large a tank as you can comfortably afford and accommodate, because a large tank is a more stable environment than a small one."

And a lot of things can go wrong. Fish keeping is a complicated hobby. Overfeeding, algae and snail plagues, water quality, diseases, and parasites are just some examples. Says Toni-Ann Mistretta of Texas A and M University, "Read, read, read, and get on the Internet and read, read, read before you buy anything."

Probably the most important issue in fish collecting today is ecology. The marine aquarium trade is a $200-million global business, but methods of capturing tropical fish can harm other species and damage coral reefs. The industry is active in coming up with solutions.

Fish collectors must learn to be respectful of their pets' experience. Fish are swiftly removed from their natural habitats and may be traumatized by their new environments in your home.

Most fish keepers consider their fish pets. Says Mistretta, "I feel sick when one dies. Granted, you can't get quite as close to them as with a cat or dog, but you do get attached. My adult discus [a type of fish] all have names -- all 18 of them!"

A humane death for your sick pets is one consideration for hobbyists. Flushing them is a no-no. Many Web sites offer articles that tell you more than you may want to know about putting a fish out of its misery. Chemicals seem to be the way to go.

Many experts advise that keeping the water clean is the most effective way to keep your fish healthy. Says Alan Aprea of the North Jersey Aquarium Society, "My number one single piece of advice would be to tell new hobbyists to do frequent partial water changes on a regular basis. There is no better thing that you can do to benefit the health of your fish."

Aside from all the technical stuff, why do people like to keep fish? Explains Aprea, "I consider the hobby to be relaxing, although you can make it as challenging as you want if you choose to keep or breed difficult species. Finally, fish people are just good people -- those willing to spend that much time and effort in caring for fish are generally the kind of people worth spending time with."

Getting Started

Which fish should you start with? If you guessed goldfish, you'd be wrong. According to some literature, they tend to be full of diseases, bred with abnormalities and, due to different water temperature needs, cannot be housed with tropical fish. More experienced fish collectors do keep them, however.

The hobby can be costly. Says Miecia Burden, president of an aquarium society, "The tank setup can be expensive, anywhere from $100 to $1,000. But if you set it up correctly, the maintenance doesn't take a lot."

After that, the sky's the limit. You can buy many kinds of fish for a few dollars, others for $20 to $50, and specialty fish can cost several hundred dollars.

First, you need to decide which type of tank you will have. It can be freshwater, saltwater, or brackish water (a combination of the two). That will help determine the types of fish.

A freshwater tank is the easiest bet for beginners. Some examples of good first fish are schooling fish, such as white mountain minnows, rainbow fish, and cory catfish. A saltwater tank owner might start with damsels or mollies. Mollies might also start a brackish water tank. But you must do your homework first and talk to your local fish club, shop or breeder.

Says Mistretta, "When starting out, it is really hard to get good advice. Every fish store person has an opinion, but few really know what they are talking about. The best thing to do is find a local breeder. If they are successful enough to get fish to breed, they generally know what they are talking about!"

Joining an aquarium club is a good way to begin networking your way to a knowledge base. Says Aprea, "The primary benefit is the opportunity to meet with other aquarists, many of whom are far more knowledgeable than you are. Secondary are all the events we host."

These include monthly meetings, fish shows and auctions, workshops, field trips, parties and picnics. To find a club in your area, check the Internet. There are fish clubs and societies throughout the world.

Fish collecting is a phenomenally popular hobby and job opportunities abound. You could seek work at your local pet shop, a public aquarium, an aquarium club, or as a breeder. Burden, although she doesn't breed fish for a living, says those that want to "can make a lot of money."

Remember that your goal in collecting fish is not only to keep them alive, but to give them the quality of life that all living creatures deserve.


American Cichlid Association


Diskus Brief International


Fish Link Central
Links to books, software, games, and other fish sites of interest

Fish Information Service (FINS)
Archive of information about aquariums

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