Nathan Hill has been watching fishkeeping videos...
I recently watched a DVD rip of a VHS from the early nineties, complete with tracking wobble and static hiss. It was all about setting up an aquarium, and it was bad, even for then. Undergravel filters I can forgive. Plastic plants with edges so sharp that you could cut tomatoes, I can forgive. Recommending brackish catfish with Angelfish and gouramis I can’t.
It was good nostalgia. I fawned over products I’ve not seen in over two decades. Hell, I watched the whole thing and spotted stuff that I still need. In the 1950s, sporting heroes did things differently. You had few specific cricket, football or tennis players per-se, because all sportsmen did everything. In the 80s and 90s, fishkeepers were similar. Did they keep tropical fish? Yes. Did they keep plants? Yes, usually badly but yes. Did they keep marines? Yes, with awful filters, tufa rock and dead coral skeletons. Goldfish? Yes. Ponds? Yes. Africans? Yes. Oscars? Yes. It was typical to be involved with everything.
Nowadays, after a quick flirt with entry level tanks, it’s increasingly the norm to define oneself as a ‘type’ of fishkeeper. That’s why we have reefkeepers, aquascapers, biotope buffs, Discus hoarders, catfish collectors and Koi gurus. We immerse ourselves in the latest information on our subject of choice.
Yeah, there’s still a background mass of leisure keepers with community tanks, drawing enjoyment on forming harmonious communities of pick ‘n’ mix, and that’s ace — I just tend to class those keepers as ‘specialists in waiting’. One day they’ll find what really excites them, and ride it out to its logical conclusion. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times.
All this specialisation has been facilitated by advances in technology and availability. Looking at that 90s video, there were product shots aplenty, and a lot of it was utter garbage. If I wanted to set up a ‘scape back then, or a reef set-up, I was doomed from the start. New gear made for new opportunities.
R&D is driven by customer desires. Wherever the public starts to show interest, companies will start to find ways to monetise it. People wanted reef tanks and companies made the gear to cater. People wanted plants and along came CO2 regulators and decent fertilisers. I don’t think that trend is over.
I can honestly imagine a time when nudibranch tanks become all the rage. Currently, those delightful slugs are a fantasy, almost all doomed to starvation in aquaria, because of their hyper-niche coral diets. Food is a strong research area. New pastes are tempting formerly unfeedable creatures to gorge. I even watched Harlequin shrimp — obligate starfish feeders — chomping down on manufactured food recently, despite once saying (with more authority than I’ve ever had) that it could never happen.
The aquascaping genre has scope to subdivide, now that the hobby has created a genre of aquarists interested in plant care above all else. I fully anticipate categories of ’scapes based around nothing but carnivorous plants, say. Why not, huh? Culturing of Cyclops is easy, and you can bet other mini freshwater organisms are coming soon. Plus, I can’t help noticing the trend for taking plants above the waterline. The paludarium, or some new variant of it, is going to be big business, just wait and see. Some bright company will spot this, and make luxury designs to accommodate.
Expect a LOT more hybrids. The new wave of cichlid mashups isn’t going to be the last of farmers’ exploits. They’re looking for the next big curiosity seller. There will be a huge audience, because they’re novel, and the mindset that fish are disposable isn’t leaving the main populace any time soon. If the UK changes its stance on genetic modification, I dread to think what new opportunities will open to breeders.
In brighter news, expect affordable big tanks. I can see that running costs are going to be a driving factor for any electrical gear development, and that’s going to push companies to make things as low consumption as possible. Eventually, it’ll become cheap to run massive power filters, heaters and lights again, meaning people will get those 2m+ tanks in the living room.
I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so I might never find out. Still, it’s exciting to live through the hobby’s Cambrian explosion, watching new species of fishkeeper turning up all over in real time. I just hope that in 20 years I can look back at a 2017 YouTube video of myself in a shop, and snort derisively at how terrible all the products are, and just how little we all knew ‘back then’.