The man who brought darkness into the land..and what we can learn from him.

I was in my office the other day, winding my afternoon down, when I fielded a message from a customer...Not all that unusual, as I love talking to fellow hobbyists. It's the best part about working in this industry! However, after a few minutes, it became painfully obvious that the person I was talking to was no hobbyist.

He was a fish killer, plant terminator...a stubborn, impatient, obnoxious, and ungrateful- yeah, I said ungrateful- person who simply had no clue- no desire- to apply even the most basic tenets of aquarium husbandry to any aspect of his practices. To him, the "hobby" was simply acquiring stuff, putting it where he wanted it to achieve some desired "effect", and then expecting some sort of spontaneous miracle to happen. Tropical fish were simply a piece of decor- an accessory for his home. And the fact that they required some basic level of care and compassion was simply lost on him in his quest to achieve the look that he wanted.

Honestly, in all the years I've been involved and active in the aquatic hobby and industry, I've never encountered a more callous, downright despicable person. He was downright ANGRY- He was calling me (as he had other vendors) to get an explanation why he couldn't keep  a combination of fishes alive in his tank. He wanted some Discus in his 60 gallon "show tank"- he wanted to keep 14 of them. Fourteen! 

Fourteen very expensive, very rare wild specimens.

His "understanding" was that botanicals would "create the proper environment for them" and was extremely irritated when I suggested that they could enhance environmental conditions in an aquarium which met the basic needs of the fishes, and that careful monitoring of the environment would be necessary. He dangled "hundreds of dollars of business" in front of me, as if he could "buy my approval" for his absurd aspirations with a few bucks. He wanted something that would make up for an overcrowded, improperly equipped, questionably managed system. Set and forget.

And he wanted my blessings. Someone's blessings. ANYONE'S blessings on this stupid project.

Now, you know from my writings and concepts here at Tannin that we're all about pushing the limits with things, in terms of new concepts, responsible experiments, and unusual executions- but this wasn't any of the above. It was a stubborn, ill-advised, illogical plan. Someone who, if you could label him as a "hobbyist"- certainly had an agenda that he wanted to make work- regardless of consequence. He had such a stubbornness and air of hubris about him that it actually was making me mad. And if you know me, it takes a lot to get me mad...

After me explaining to him my rationale for starting with far fewer fish and carefully monitoring the water chemistry, he abruptly terminated the conversation at about the 15-minute mark. He essentially told me that I and the other people he talked to were "intentionally making something that should be pleasant, untenable..."

I had to laugh through my horror.

"On to the next vendor..." No doubt resonating in his head.

Now, this is just another one of those "Can you believe people?" articles, right?

Well, maybe. But I think that it benefitted me to think through exactly what it was that created this attitude in the first place. And moreover, to understand the awesome responsibility we have as hobbyists to stand up to these kinds of people and attempt to educate them.

I don't know if the guy was a stubborn person, used to getting his way with everything, or if he simply felt that nature's laws didn't apply to him. I've seen this kind of behavior in people before, and quite honestly, it's never found in people who are serious hobbyists. It seems to me that the serious tropical fish enthusiast, although sometimes biased or opinionated, doesn't go out of his/her way to skirt the basic tenants of human fish treatment simply to suit some passing fancy. Serious fish enthusiasts don't "commoditize" life forms, at least this is the impression I get after several decades i the hobby.

It goes without saying that I think we need to consistently impart into our "tribe" the pursuit and understanding of basic aquarium principles, like the nitrogen cycle, environmental stability, and husbandry of the animals in our care. I think that the biggest reason we see people like this guy appear is that they are drawn to the hobby, perhaps like many of us- by the stunning visuals of beautiful aquariums. We saw this a lot on the marine side, where the brightly colored corals and fishes were like a magnet to the uninitiated. Most people, when confronted with the realities of owning and managing a reef tank, understood that education and responsibility came with the territory. However, there were always a few- like this guy- who simply wanted to get to the finished product.

And the industry, of course, has solutions. Aquarium design, installation, and maintenance services. Lots of dedicated people do this for a living. The good ones aren't as obsessed with the dollar signs as they are with doing the right thing, and simply paint the picture that, "You can have most of what you want, but there are tradeoffs..." The best of the best will simply "fire" a client who insists on doing things that are in defiance of nature's laws. Awkward scenarios may play out for these brave professionals, but at least they can sleep at night.

In the end, monsters like this guy start because they don't go beyond the superficial, and don't feel obligated to do anything more than pay for the privilege of owning an aquarium and the animals which reside within. And you could probably make the case that, "Who are WE to judge?" My answer: We- all of us- are the guardians- the "stewards", if you will, of precious life forms, and we owe it to them- to nature- to do the best that we can to take care of the fishes under our care as long as possible. It's not that difficult a concept to grasp for most of us. So, we kind of need to "judge" a bit. And educate, inform, nurture our fellow hobbyists.

Hell, if this guy showed even one gram of compassion and a desire to understand the needs of his animals and the reasons why his plan wouldn't work, he'd have had my respect, and I would have perhaps been able to reach him.


However, there are millions of reasonable people out there. And a bunch of them want to start an aquarium. And some of them may ask you for some advice.Indulge them. Help them. Coddle and nurture them. Appreciate them.

And to you and your family- have a wonderful day.

Stay compassionate. Stay focused. Stay appreciative.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment