"Aquariums are awesome, Scott ! I totally want one." Oh, Sh-t! Now what?

I admit it. I tell people not to get aquariums when they ask me about them.

Like, a lot.

I know. I know, I may sound like a straight-up asshole for saying that, but when you look at it objectively, it's a smart move on my part! Well, I think that it is, anyways.

Perhaps you've experienced this kind of scenario:

A group of friends, sitting around your house, enjoying your "fish tank"- when one of them, obviously enamored with the whole concept, asks if you'd "help them out" to "get one going in their home" because it's "so relaxing" or whatever.

Cool, but it starts this instant "thing" in my mind. A weird reaction...

I know what goes on in my head...

An immediate "red alert!" Like, not only am I trying to pour cold water on the idea, I'm actually downplaying the "joys" of having tropical fish in an aquarium. I have to give them a dose of hard reality.

I'm a real f- ing buzzkill.

And, it all happens in like a nano-second.

I'm "evaluating them" (I know, that even sounds totally arrogant) to see if they'd actually be up for the challenges of an aquarium. You know, the equipment, the physical setup, the maintenance, the husbandry issues...dead fishes, algae, etc. Yeah- the realities that you face every day after the initial idea of "getting an aquarium" in your home settles in.

All of the good and bad.

All of it flashes through my head...

Now it sure would be nice if everyone could have an aquarium in their own home...The appreciation for the fishes, for Nature, for the science- the wonder of it all- is something everyone would benefit from. Yet the reality is that not everyone is up for the challenge. Not everyone wants the "hobby" part. Or even the "responsibility for live animals" part.

It's important, IMHO, for us to address this.

Almost always, as soon as I explain the part about an aquarium NOT being like keeping a potted plant in their living room, and make it more of a "dog/cat" kind of commitment, it usually chills a fair percentage of the would be owners right off the bat. When the realization hits that an aquarium is not just a piece of "kinetic art", and that you have to actually invest more than just money into it, that tends to knock about 75% or more (my "guesstimate" from years of experiencing this) of these prospective tank owners out of contention.

A good start, IMHO.

And, it addresses a problem that I believe has been created by the shallowness of popular culture about aquariums.

There seems to be a perception among non-aquarists that aquariums and fishes are sort of a "set up and forget" kind of thing... Like home decor...You buy some stuff, set it up, make a few fish selections, and it takes care of itself, other than you tossing in a few flakes of food now and then. Nothing more to it than that, really.

Thanks a  f- king lot, Instagram.

I'm totally guilty of this. Sharing pics of beautiful tanks....Yeah, guilty. However, Like you, I talk a lot about the other stuff. We have to. 

Otherwise, we're simply perpetuating the shallow perception that most people have about aquariums and tropical fishes.

Be honest with yourself, and you'll realize that IS the perception of "aquarium keeping" among many. Thery see the beautiful aquariums in full glory on line, and want THAT. A finished "art piece."

However, they don't want the "hobby" part of it.

And, that's okay.

That's what aquarium design and service businesses are for. They allow those who love the beauty of aquariums but don't want to engage in the deep learning and work themselves. This is a great compromise.

I think we, as serious aquarium hobbyists,  need to ask questions about the mindset of the prospective aquarium owner who's asking us for input even before we talk about the actual tank or fishes. IMHO, it's the most important thing...

For example...

Lots of people want dogs, but really don't want to deal with the feeding, grooming, etc. They just want to put a bow on them and parade them at the local high-end shopping mall to show them off. The dog is more of a social media "prop" to some of these people than anything else.  A bit sad...I mean, they love their dogs, but...Okay, I sort of get it. Its a cultural shift...(Welcome to my hometown, Los Angeles, BTW) I don't agree with it, but I understand it.

Sort of.

And the same mindset exists in the context of aquariums. They want the flash but not the hobby part.

People enjoy aquariums the way they want to. I learned this taking part in purely artistic aquarium installation projects that were not targeted at aquarium people...

There really is nothing wrong with that.

It's not their "fault" that they don't understand or don't want to understand the ins-and-outs of the hobby. Maybe they do, but they're too busy to commit to the time. Not a dead end. It just means that they should approach aquarium ownership in a different way than you or I should. And we need to point this out to them.

Having a custom aquarium set up and maintained professionally is a great thing for many who fall into this category. People still get exposed to the wonders of Nature, share it with their friends, and enjoy it without having to worry about the "details" of it all.

Experiencing aquariums their own way.

I'm not saying that certain people aren't "worthy" of having an aquarium. Absolutely not. I am merely saying that we as serious aquarium hobbyists owe these people the benefit of a full "reality check" so that they don't get into something that they're not prepared for; something that can cost a lot of money, and most important, the lives of helpless animals.

I mean, despite our enthusiasm for sharing our love of the hobby with others, we all know this...

Again, not everyone who simply wants to experience an aquarium in their home and doesn't want to "learn" the hobby stuff is some kind of idiot or something. That's absurd. What I am getting at is that when we as hobbyists are asked to "consult" the uninitiated and unfamiliar with the joys of having an aquarium, we need to paint the full picture. We need to explain to them that there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with it.

It's our duty. It's our obligation...

Sure, it will definitely slow down the "impulse buyers" and affect some consumer behavior. It'll result in fewer "aquarium starter kits" being given each Christmas...Sure, it could slow the growth of the hobby. It will likely upset a few people, too. No one likes a "roadblock"- but we need to be honest about it. 

If someone doesn't want to learn the most basic aspects of aquarium care, they simply shouldn't do it themselves. Period. Why would you want to encourage this sort of thing?

And if you don't want to be "on call" as their "consultant", "personal aquarium trainer", or whatever the hell you want to call it, you should either recommend a good aquarium design and maintenance service to help them out...or just have your friends over more often to enjoy YOUR aquariums.

Perhaps, you could force feed them some "propaganda" by sharing lots of pics and information about the unfiltered beauty, diversity, challenges, and threats of the wild aquatic habitats from which our fishes hail- and that might inspire them to make the effort to learn more about them...and maybe want to replicate such habitats in their own home...

Or not.

Yeah, a sort of warped form of "tough love", but it's also a form of honesty, and a way to keep the hobby stronger, healthier, and filled with people who not only appreciate the beauty of aquariums, but who also understand the responsibility that goes along with them.

That's not a bad thing. Likely, it's not a popular thing. However, it's the right thing to do to assure the future of the hobby, the industry, and most important, the priceless natural habitats and the fishes which live in them.

Yeah, so the bulk of those who casually ask me about "getting an aquarium" in their home typically end up deciding on the potted plant, home theater system, or sculpture instead.

And I'm perfectly okay with that.

You should be, too.

Until next time...

Stay honest. Stay realistic. Stay helpful. Stay empathetic. Stay dedicated. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

November 18, 2019

Exactly! It really comes down to the owner taking some initiative for taking care of aquairums…I mean, it goes back to the “potted plant” thing, right? In fact, if you look at someone’s plant collection and the plants look all dried out and crappy, it’s a sure bet that they’ll have an aquarium that is similar in appearance, lol..


Joshua E Morgan
Joshua E Morgan

November 18, 2019

Here is a problem I had not even thought about! We do definitely have to be discriminating about who we encourage to get a tank, though…my younger sister has had several tanks, all of which she neglected and left me to care for. It’s really unfair on the fish to be ‘kept’ by a person unwilling to exert at least a little sweat and toil to ensure their continued well being; eventually it will also be unfair on the owner as they get stressed out seeing their tank wither away.

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