20 questions with Bob Mehen

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PFK news writer, contributor and forum moderator Bob Mehen tells us about his obsession with brown fish, his views on the hobby and all things related.

1. What job title would you give yourself?

Unelected supreme leader of the world, but failing that freelance writer and artist.

2. What do you do day to day that is related to fish?

I help to moderate the PFK forum, write articles for the PFK website and magazine and look after my own fish.

3. How long have you been involved in the hobby?

31 years.

4. What would you say is your specialist subject?

Catfish.

5. How would you describe yourself?

Strikingly good looking, witty and intelligent, but a poor liar...

Fascinated with all things fish is more accurate.

6. How do you think others would describe you?

Worryingly obsessed with brown catfish?

7. Who are your fishkeeping idols?

Dr. David Sands is probably my biggest idol. His books were what first help fire my passion for all things catfish and I'd love to get hold of his "Catfishes of the World" and all its supplements.

8. What's your biggest achievement?

Getting my first article published in PFK ranks up there. It was a long held ambition fulfilled from when I first started reading the magazine in the 1980's, but little things can be big achievements as well. I always get a great sense of achievement breeding any fish and successfully raising fry. I don't do this often but the thrill is always there.

9. What advice do you have for anyone starting out in the hobby?

Be patient and do your research. Most problems newcomers have when starting out have been faced by someone else already and if everyone did some reading and joined a good forum before rushing out and getting tank and fish, then so may of the problems that drive newcomers away from the hobby could be avoided.

10. What advice do you have for anyone who wants your job?

None – it's mine! More seriously, choose something in the hobby you're passionate about and let that passion shine through in your writing.

11. What's your favourite fish?

Impossible to say really, usually whichever species I've just seen that I'd not seen before! If push comes to shove though I have a huge soft spot for the Brochis catfish, Brochis splendens, B. multiradiatus and B. britskii.

12. What would your dream aquarium look like?

Rather like my favourite fish, this is ever changing, but a huge Amazon biotope, filled with catfish and the occasional tetra and cichlid would be nice.

13. What's the most common mistake you see being made in your specialist field?

Catfish being bought or sold to 'clean the tank'. Fish like 'common plecs' being sold to clear a tank of algae, or Corydoras to 'keep the substrate clean' being prime examples. Catfish need feeding and looking after with the same care as all fish, and their hardiness is not a license for neglect. The best aquarium cleaner is the fishkeeper themselves.

14. If you discovered a new creature would you want it named after yourself?

I'm not sure, it depends what it looks like I suppose. A stunning new brown catfish would be tempting unless it's from the genus Vandellia...

15. Are you an aquarist first and foremost or an aquascaper?

Always a aquarist first, after all it's the fish that attracted me to the hobby. The aesthetics of the tank are important to me as well, and I admire the work of aquascapers as an art form but not at the expense of the fish.

16. In-situ or ex-situ conservation?

In an ideal world in-situ, but there is a place for ex-situ and many fish species we keep today are extinct or critically endangered in the wild.

17. If you could re-train in anything other than what you do now, what would it be in?

I've always loved archaeology and palaeontology and while I'm sure most of it involves digging holes in a cold muddy field in the rain and finding nothing, it's still something I'd love to be involved in.

18. Should any fish be banned or licensed?

Another tricky one, but if the legislation was robust enough and well thought through then yes, licensing or banning the keeping of some fish would be a good idea. I think most giant predatory catfish have no place in the home aquarium, and the same could be said of countless other 'tank buster' species both marine and freshwater. Most seem only to be kept for their 'trophy' status and few if any private fishkeepers have the finances or facilities to give these fish the space they need.

19. Is the Internet a help or hindrance to the advice you give?

A bit of both really. There's loads of good advice out there, but you need to filter it from a lot of hearsay, fishkeeping myths and complete untruths. You can always find someone on the Internet to contradict anything anyone says! However the Internet does allow you to support your arguments with solid scientific research if you know where to look and what to trust.

20. Fish club or fish forum?

While I have a soft spot for fish clubs, as a moderator on the PFK forum I have to cast my vote for forums. The good ones provide near instant help, advice and friendship to fishkeepers everywhere.

Check out Bob's tank in the Your Tanks section.

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