Thoughts on being FIRST.

“First”.

It’s a powerful word, huh? 

Throughout our lives, we’re taught that it’s good to be “first”: Winning the race, being the first in line, the first one to finish our homework, etc. In the aquarium hobby, however, “first” sometimes carries a little more baggage with it.

When you’re the first hobbyist to keep a challenging fish, or proffer a different way of doing things, you have some serious responsibility- to the animal, the natural environment, and even tougher still- the hobby “establishment”. It’s a heavy weight to shoulder!

Visionaries in our hobby have always suffered the criticisms of those who came before them.

I guess it’s human nature to question the gangly newcomers to our little utopia. If you are pioneering a new technique, keeping an animal previously thought un-keepable, or, worse yet- challenging a long-held hobby “truism”, the fact is, you’re likely to take a beating. Or, at the very least, hear a lot of hushed whispers when you walk into the room.

Sad, huh?

The fact is, somebody has to be the first. Somebody has to dip their toes in the water, trying that new technique, or trying to keep the fish once thought impossible.

Look at a guy like Jack Wattley. He was breeding multiple strains of Discus on a regular basis, when most hobbyists were just happy to keep one alive! He single-handedly unlocked so many mysteries of this fish-and shared his findings-that it made it possible for aquarists worldwide to successfully keep and breed them. 

Remember not too long ago, when Matt Pederson succeeded at spawning and rearing the Ornate Filefish? This was a fish that would pretty much expose your neck to the chopping block for fellow hobbyists if you dared even try to keep one. Matt not only believed that he could keep and breed the fish- he defied the naysayers and actually did it! 

Courage, my friends. And conviction. If you have those traits- and a good idea, go for it!

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a bit of healthy skepticism or peer review. Preaching something that is contrary to conventional wisdom (“You can keep non-photosynthetic corals in a reef system”) is one thing- it challenges us to re-think our previously long-held beliefs. However, advocating an idea that, in most cases, will cause harm to our animals (“There is no problem letting different species of Mauna hybridize and releasing them at random to the LFS for sale.”) is another thing entirely. And proffering advice that’s downright foolhardy {“I think we should teach our toddlers how to hand-feed Piranha! ) will justifiably qualify you for an online assault from the fish-keeping community!

I’m NOT discouraging you from testing a theory or radical new idea. What I AM encouraging is responsible experimentation. Share your data. Force progress. Where would we be if hobbyists continued to believe that the undergravel filter was THE ONLY way to maintain a healthy aquarium, or if we never tried fragging a stony coral? Yikes! 

Radical steps are often necessary for change. 

I leave you with a favorite inspirational quote from Apple co-founder and visionary, the late Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”  

Flying in the face of “conventional wisdom” is a tough, but passable road. 

Take it.


Stay Wet

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

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