8 reasons why fishkeepers are great

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Yes, we really do have lots to be proud of. Nathan Hill explains why.


We fishkeepers have had flack for years from the ‘mainstream’ folks. All too many people regard our hobby as something geeky, as though we should be embarrassed about what we do.

Well, to hell with them. I’m confident that I’ve had more than my fair share of people scoffing at my choice of hobby, and if they want to label me as a nerd then fine. I’ll wear that badge with honour, and wave it around in the faces of people who think they’re better than me.

At the end of the day, we fishkeepers rock. Not literally, maybe, because some of us hate rock. Especially me. But speaking metaphorically, we’ve got lots to be proud about.

1. We know stuff

Hands up if you’ve ever educated a friend or stranger about a fish. I know I certainly have. People come into my house, have a scan over my aquaria, and then remark that it’s something that never interested them.

"But what about the catfish," I’ll say, "that are swimming upside down. Or how about that one at the top?"

They’ll have a peek, and not see anything until I point out the butterfly fish among the lily leaves. "That one there can fly," I’ll tell them, "and it looks both up and down at the same time."

Suddenly they’ll be more curious, even if they don’t want to admit it. They’ve learnt something without even realising it.

How about piranha keepers? Ever had to re-educate anyone about piranhas not being ferocious killers, but they’re actually shy? If you have, then you too have imparted a little bit of knowledge to someone. Teaching is cool, never be ashamed of it.

In fact, all of us, in our own ways, are walking, talking documentaries, with enough trivia and enthusiasm to enrapture the most ardent fishophobes once we get going.

2. Aquascapers (pic above by Mark Evans)

Oh, yes. They might not be to every aquarist’s tastes, but show a non-fishkeeper an Amano or Farmer-esque layout, with luscious greens, fierce, punchy reds, and the aesthetic merits a well laid out tank can bring, and they’ll be drooling.

While they’re still reeling from the shock of the visuals, you can land another mighty blow on them when you tell them some of the prices. £1,500 for that little 60 x 30 x 30cm tank set up? They’ll lap it up. Show them the hardware underneath, the canisters, the regulators, all the shiny things, and you can guarantee they’ll be in awe.

Mark my words, the top end aquascape will soon be the 'must have' accessory for the moneyed and tasteful. Sports cars, mansions, expensive restaurants, swimming pools and aquascapes. These will be the mark of tomorrow’s sophistication.

In the meantime, this unique style is impressing laymen the world over, once they clap eyes on one.

3. We never got suckered into holistic mumbo-jumbo

I get to see a lot of stuff from other aspects of the pet trade, especially all of the farcical stuff. Alternative medicines for dogs, crystal healing for hamsters, reiki treatments for a sore gecko – I witness an awful amount of meaningless tat. I even saw a horoscope for pets recently. No joke.

We aquarists are made of much sterner stuff. We like our science, and we like our science hard. If someone tried to offer us a piece of Tiger’s eye to treat dropsy, we’d either laugh a kidney out, or lamp the protagonist. It’s most certainly not our cup of tea.

From my perspective, what is not cool at all is accepting any old drivel without evidence. I love the way that I can have a peek around aquatics forums and see people debating data regarding bacteria, or medications, or a plethora of other technicalities of the trade, and anyone who inserts something ludicrous is cut down swiftly and brutally.

And just to quickly pre-empt the inevitable feedback I’ll get for some of these comments, I’ll qualify my distaste for ‘alternative’ medicine. It’s called alternative because it doesn’t work. If it worked, then it would have succeeded in double blind trials and been accepted as medicine. The ‘alternative’ caveat wouldn’t be needed, because it would be plain, statistically supported, working medicine. Easy as that.

4. Chris Lukhaup and Heiko Bleher

Come on! I mean, come on! How cool is former rocker Chris (pictured above), who turned his back on a life of gigs, girls and the other trappings of rockstar fame to become an expert on Crayfish instead? He’s hardly your typical nerd, having played to crowds of tens of thousands, and smashing out bass notes at an alarming rate.

And Heiko, the man who has discovered endless fish from all over the globe! He’s met cannibals, been threatened by tribes, cheated death on several occasions, and still found time to raise a family on top of it all. He’s dedicated a life to finding fish for you and I to admire, risking his life again and again.

How cool are these two?

Try to imagine the daily itinerary for either of these chaps. 9am, wake up, leave tent in middle of rain forest. 9:30am, Avoid natives with spears/machine guns/machetes. 10am, into streams with seine net. 10:45am, new species discovered…

In a time when many of us are condemned to jobs we’re not really that hot about, how much of an inspiration is it to think that if we knuckle down, make ourselves experts in a field, and put our hearts into it, we can go and do something similar. I mean, what’s the coolest thing a computer programmer is going to aspire to? Creating some new super software from the confines of an office or lab?

Not for me, I’m going to keep the dream alive that one day I’ll be browsing through tropical forests, with pith helmet and monster mutton chops, before pulling up a net from some hitherto unknown stream and declaring a new species upon the world.

It might not get me the ladies, it might end up giving me malaria or worse, but by jove I’ll have some winning stories to tell when I get back…

5. We keep our fingers on the pulse

Admittedly, this is a more recent development, because aquatics used to be quite behind in the world only a decade or so back.

But now, courtesy of aquatic pioneers (plus some interesting infusions of engineers, the computer mega-savvy, and aquarists) we have some awesome and rather groundbreaking technology that the aquarist of yesteryear would likely soil themselves over if we could send some back through a time-wormhole.

LED’s, filters that plug in to computers, enhanced sensors that will email us and let us know if things have gone wrong in the tank — all of these things keep us at the top of our game.

Unlike some hobbies out there that are frankly stuck in the dark ages, we should be proud to stick up our heads and say that we’re with the times, and what’s more, that’s only going to get better and better.

6. We invest serious amounts of loot into our passion

That might sound like a bold claim, but ultimately the fishkeeping hobby isn’t just the domain of those with ample cash. We’re a hardcore bunch, many of us work white-collar jobs, and we might even be struggling to make ends meet at times.

But despite that, we stick with what we love, and we love to hurl our pennies at it. Pound for pound, we probably hurl a higher proportion of our income into our love than multi millionaires do with theirs.

Think about it. If I had a personal fortune of £20 million and splashed out on a £1m yacht (or painting, or uber-car) then that’s about the same percentage as someone on a more honest £20 thousand a year investing £1,000 into their aquarium. And that’s easily done. In fact, if I look at the combined value of my gear, and then think about what I earn, I suddenly realize that my partner is a lot more forgiving that I give her credit for.

We really are passionate about what we do, unlike some hobbies that are much cheaper, but get dropped a lot sooner…

7. We produce results

Babies! Fry! Offspring! Spawn! We aquarists don’t just take from the world. We give back too.

But it doesn’t end there. We all have valuable information that we add to the huge brainosphere that is the aquatics phenomenon. With every single note of a behaviour pattern, with every breeding success of a previously unbred species, we enhance not just our own knowledge, but the knowledge of our community — and we are a HUGE community.

I love the way that fishkeepers share information with each other. We used to do it (and still do) through clubs, but now the ease of the internet means that we all have our little piece of input to add — most of it constructive.

You might not even realise it, but there are scientists who are keen on watching what you do. I often flit through scientific papers where during the evidence gathering phase, researchers have collated information gained from forums.

How cool is that? You’re helping advance science, and most of you don’t even know it!

8. We are completely unbiased as a hobby

We fishkeepers are not prejudiced at all. As a hobby goes, it is not only accessible, it is ultra accessible. Some hobbies out there have physical demands, but fishkeeping is embraced by disabled individuals as readily as the more able bodied.

We’re not ageist. Want a tank at 69? Fine. Want a tank at six or nine? Fine! You’re never too young or old to take up the hobby (although you’ll need help if you’re really young).

We’re not sexist, unlike some hobbies that are traditionally considered 'blokey' or effeminate. Male or female, everyone is welcome, and there are no disadvantages that befall either sex.

We care not for religion, race, creed or colour. Anyone is welcome to join in, and nobody is excluded.

All we ask is that you’re passionate about fish — how easy a membership criteria!

So there are some of my reasons why we should be proud of who we are. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have a productive hobby with cool characters, and if the rest of the world wants to judge us for that then they’d best check their own house is in order first.

As for me, I’m off to have a practice run down at the local stream with my pith helmet and butterfly net. Fishkeeping may be cool, but it still needs us folks that are going to put sexy back into it…