What are the long-term implications of fishkeeping?


We love our hobby. We often hope to keep all that we can as fast as we can. But isn’t it time that we stopped and thought about the long-term implications of that? Su Delve shares her thoughts.

What motivates us to keep a tank? It seems that how we view our fish varies significantly across the hobby, ranging from the treasured long-term pet to a temporary commodity that simply rounds off the latest project — the finishing touch before thoughts turn to the next set-up.

When taking on a new fish — dare I say it even on impulse — we may be dutifully making sure that some cute little catfish will work within our set-ups. But how many consider the lifespan of that small, young fish? Are we prepared for it to be with us two decades later?

Therein lies an issue. Certainly, there are people who set up their tanks with an individual species in mind and are delighted to pander to its every need for the next however many years, day in and day out. Yet for many, the setting up and designing of a tank is a major part of the fun and once everything settles down to regular maintenance it can all become a bit dull. I’m sure there are people who intend to set up a long-term tank but, eventually, their enthusiasm and interest wanes. What then?

On-line forums are filled with the minutiae and excitement of setting up new tanks, seemingly far more than celebrating the fish that will ultimately reside there. Equally, we see frequent posts from people wanting a change: “I’m bored of my cichlids and want to convert my tank to marine. Any advice?”

I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen to all those fish that are no longer wanted. At the furthest end of the spectrum there are even those few that see fish as commodities, to be disposed of down the toilet or released in the local river or lake when no longer required. There are also those who seem hell-bent on keeping their local store going single-handedly as they return every few weeks to restock after their fish have, once again, died.

For most of us, the options are limited to move our current fish on if we want to ring the changes. Local stores may take them in. After all, larger mature fish can command a higher sell-on price but, equally, many shops will be loath to accept a selection of older fish, some of which may be carrying lumps and bumps, and the ever-present risk of disease. If our fish are verging on tank-buster territory, then there’s a whole additional set of problems in rehoming.

We might offer our fish to the online community. This can work a treat, but how can we ensure that the people taking them on are able to care for them properly? They may, themselves, pass those same fish on as they too become bored with their latest set-up. Within the fishkeeping world there seems to be little emphasis on life-time welfare of fish, and this is something we should be prepared to consider more fully.

We may all experience change in what motivates us as our interest develops. It’s also true that fishkeeping is, despite the name, about so much more than just keeping fish; we now know that it’s all about keeping the water and, if we get this right, our fish will thrive. This very complexity — of which the fish are only a small albeit important part — is what makes fishkeeping so varied. Like many, I started with a community tank with a random, if broadly compatible, selection of fish but I started learning of less well-known and more challenging species, which I then aspired to keep.

So, it’s possible that our fish fulfil a variety of roles: they are pets, they are part of a complex and changing system and — especially for those of us that keep our fish in the house — they are beautiful and interactive mobile decorations.

This article was first published in the February 2021 issue of Practical Fishkeeping.