Good advice not taken?

This one is dedicated to all of those hobbyists out there who find themselves in a position to give advice to others...Perhaps you might take some comfort in this story.

Like many in the industry, I receive a fair number of emails and calls from other hobbyists, some who just want to "run something by me"- others who have some pretty serious issues with their tanks and need some help.

I've always been a big fan of taking everyone's advice with the proverbial "grain of salt"- in other words, not taking every single thing even your most respected "mentor" tells you as "gospel." Let's face it- there is no single hobbyist who has ALL of the answers to EVERY question, right?

Besides, as the person giving the advice, your ego shouldn't get in the way- but you hope that the person asking at least takes some of it to heart.

So, about a month or so ago, I had a hobbyist, who was good friends with a good customer of mine, contact me about that most classic of problems- algae! She had that gnarly "Black Beard Algae" all over her driftwood and rocks, and was apparently fed up with trying "all sorts of stuff" to get rid of it. (as an advisor, "all sorts of stuff" immediately sends red flag up- along with the fact that the customer who referred her to me was VERY knowledgeable and experienced)

We went through the usual questions about when it started appearing, physical setup, bioload, maintenance practices, water parameters, etc., etc. After just a few minutes, it was painfully obvious that she had an aquarium that was absurdly overstocked, pitifully maintained, and improperly equipped...And worst of all, she seemed like she actually knew this- heard it elsewhere- and simply wanted to keep asking advice from people until she heard what she wanted to hear.

And her tank had an inch infestation as well.


And of course, I "prescribed" the usual course of action: Lower the population of fish to a realistic level, "fallow" the tank while treating the sick fishes in a separate aquarium, manage water quality, upgrade filtration, etc. The usual stuff- the CORRECT stuff. the stuff I know works after a lifetime in the hobby. Good advice, in my opinion.

She wanted to use a liquid algaecide.

I tried to explain to her that algaecide is like the "nuclear option", and that you would only use that in the most grave of circumstances- even then, I'd still recommend other courses of action. Yeah, yeah, yeah- she's heard that all before. Besides, this stuff supposedly worked quickly and effectively.

I admonished her yet again to try a different course of action- explained to her that this was a "band aid" at best- poison at worst- and would not take care of the longer-term issue at hand.(the old, "give a man a plow..." argument, right?)

She didn't want to here any of that. She just wanted my "blessing" to go ahead and employ the algaecide.

I told her that I wouldn't. 

She of course, ended the call with an explanation that she had the stuff already and that she "might as well use it"- blah, blah, blah.

A few days later, I received a call from her "thanking me" for my advice, but that the algaecide did its job- killed all of the algae. Along with a bunch of her fishes...but that didn't seem to phase her. It was "acceptable collateral damage" in her mind...Besides, the rich, which seemed to be running rampant in her tank was gone. I think- actually- I know- that she called to "gloat."

In my mind, I wrote it off. Rationalized that, if something is toxic enough to kill fishes (the stuff she used has chemical constituents which MSDS says are fish poison, despite the manufacturer's allegations that it's safe to use "as directed"- gulp), it could have some impact on parasites as well.

Regardless...The fact that her flaunting of the conventional approaches "worked" for the short term, and the fact that it was easy (for her, not her fishes!), didn't involve waiting, lots of re-tooling of her system, or other labor made even the collateral fish deaths somehow "worth it" to her.

I wanted to speak up. Tell her that she was foolish, stubborn, etc., and that she may have "won the battle and lost the war", but I knew it would fall on deaf ears...

You simply can't win an argument with this kind of personality. About all you can do is point out the foible of their ways- however, when she's staring at an algae-free aquarium (for now), with apparently "healthy" fishes, it's hard to reconcile. And the problem is, there is always that 1 time out of 50 where everything DOES work out okay, despite the absurdity of the hobbyists's course of action. You know- everything somehow cones together to make it work out....

In this case, I know that it was a big loss for the fish, for the hobby, and for the hobbyist herself, who could have dialed down the arrogance for just a minute, and learned something that would pay long-term dividends...and that could be a lesson that she could in turn share with others.

In the end, it was not to be. But I did indeed learn a lesson myself...and that lesson is that you simply cannot "win 'em all." Sometimes, you just have to realize that you did your best, and that it was one of those "no-win" situations.

I had occasion to talk to my customer (the guy who referred "Ms. X' to me) a week or so ago. I asked here how "Ms. X' was doing...

The reply was as tragic as it was predictable:

"Oh, this sucks- she lost ALL of her fishes over a week...ALL of 'em. Broke the tank down. She's taking a break from the hobby."

Did I feel "vindicated" in any way? 

No. Not one bit. In fact, I felt bad that I couldn't make a more persuasive argument.

On the other hand, I though about it and realized that this is one less person in the hobby who would be spreading bad advice to others...You know, perhaps even using the same warning I give before dispensing her potentially disastrous solution: "Don't believe everything everyone tells you..."


I guess that's how the hobby weeds out the "unworthies?"

That may sound arrogant, but it provides a small degree of comfort for a guy like me, when good advice remain untaken, and no lesson is learned asa result.

Something to think about.

Stay helpful. Stay humble.

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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