Returning from yet another weekend of fish-geek speaking gig not too long ago, I was reminded of that one truism in aquarium circles: We simply love what it is we do. Not only love it…we’re nuts about it. We live, eat, breath, and sleep “aquariums”, and it’s simply evident to anyone who talks to us.
I realized a bunch of things- about the hobby, the animals, the industry that we’ve created. I learned a lot about the people who work in this amazing hobby sector.
Yeah, I know, I spend a lot of time criticizing various practices and (indirectly) the people who engage in unethical, misleading, and downright criminal behaviors, particularly in the "reef" sector of the hobby, where my other company, Unique Corals, operates. And there are a few, let me tell ya'.
Fortunately, they represent the tiniest smattering- a pitiful few- of the worst of what goes on in this hobby. The problem for me has been that these characters have always gotten the lion's share of the spotlight, especially form external observers not connected to the hobby/business, which draws the wrong kind of scrutiny from ill-informed masses.
Yeah, after spending another weekend with some honest, hard-working, “blue collar” aquatics vendors, I was actually going to take a little shot at the very few people in the coral-selling game that operate in that most ridiculous sector of selling over-hyped, photo-enhanced,“named”, and “designer” stuff at breathtaking prices to people who simply don’t grasp that the same stuff is typically available elsewhere, from down-to-earth vendors at realistic prices. Yeah, it happens a lot in the reef aquarium world, and I see it in some sectors of the FW world, too.
I was going to go off…but I realized that a)these people will ultimately extinct themselves, and b)there are a certain number of hobbyists who simply get joy out of the pursuit of these “high-end” coral microchips from auctions, strange sources, and what I call “high market” vendors. In the freshwater world, you have vendors that come up with absurdly high prices for the same damn fish you can get from another source for half the price...
And that’s okay. It’s not for me to judge. I can criticize if I want, but it serves little purpose, other than reinforcing the awareness to those of you who “get it” already, and maybe to catch a few newbies who have jumped into our little hobby world. (I guess it’s like those billboards that you see for airlines as you arrive at the airport. What service do they perform? I mean, you already bought your ticket and are heading to your flight..Oh, maybe next time, right? I’m digressing here…)
Being an unabashed capitalist, I actually think it’s good that there are people who serve this market space. I mean, someone has to do it. It’s a strange space, where the definitions of “loyalty” and “customer service” are slightly different than the interpretation the majority of us in the industry understand these terms to be. There will always be these kinds of people, and for most of us, they are simply mild entertainment (okay, for SOME of us, they’re mildly irritating..LOL), but they are as entitled to run their businesses as anyone else. I just choose to be amused by them and their followers, but that’s MY personal issue, I suppose. Trying to pass generic, over-priced stuff off as "premium" is laughable in any industry, IMHO.
The majority of the aquarium hobbyists who read my stuff already “get it”, and those that don’t are probably the very people that need the “- - - - - slap” anyways. So I’ll just let it go this time.
Instead, I’d like to focus on something super encouraging: The many, many vendors in the aquarium world who are working every day to acquire, propagate, breed and grow great fishes and corals. Yeah, they're doing it for a living. And yeah, they charge what they feel are appropriate prices for what they sell. And guess what? Each and every one of these guys and gals gives you one additional thing at no extra cost: love.
Love of the fish. Love of the process. Love of the hobby. A certain, indefinable characteristic that the hype-mongering, photoshop-abusing, self-aggrandizing crowd and their misinformed followers don’t get.
In sports, they call it “love of the game.”
This is what compels many of these small, passionate, garage-based vendors to lovingly pack up their fishes, plants, and corals, and drive them off to parts unknown, spending the weekend trying to sell the fruits of their labor to other crazy hobbyists. It’s what compels them to attempt to make a small supplemental living doing something that they love. It’s why these vendors only offer you their best- all the time. They get it. It’s for the good of the fish and corals; the industry, their business and families- and their fellow hobbyists.
For the love of the game.
I’ve been fortunate to speak at shows and club events all over the world for the last decade, and I can tell you that the hobby is filled with these amazing people. Some of them scale up, forming amazing organizations that become "household names" in hobby circles. Some are names only locals in your area will ever know. Others are slowly scaling up their once part-time, garage-based operations as they aspire for something greater. All are amazing people with a love for this hobby that goes beyond anything the E-Bay hyping, auction-mongering crowd and their shilling “fanboys” could ever hope to comprehend.
These people are an active part of the hobby community, and they don’t just see you- the hobbyist- as a wallet to be opened. They see fellow hobbyists who are as in love with this crazy aquarium world as they are. People they want to share their ideas and love with. They’re people who derive enormous enjoyment and satisfaction from the art and science of aquarium keeping. They’ve taken the bold steps to try to make a go of this as a business; to channel their passion into a life’s work. People who’s deep understanding of the rich culture of our hobby transcends all socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. People who see us all as one thing:
So I suppose the point of this whole piece is that you should share your love of the hobby with others, and choose to spend your hard-earned money with vendors- people- who share similar values about the animals, art, and science of aquarium keeping. People who see fish, plants and corals not as just a commodity- but as a little extension of themselves- of their passion, effort, blood, sweat, and tears.
Their love of the game.
Until next time, support those who support the hobby, stoke a kid with some free fish, plants, eggs, or coral frags, share your knowledge, and grow your passion.
And Stay Wet