Don't fear...Don't hate. Just grow.

I sometimes find that my blogs open up or expose an idea or issue that I hadn't really considered before. Other times, they reinvigorate older ideas I've held. Yesterday's piece on sumps in the freshwater aquarium (or general lack thereof, really) was one of those which reignited an ongoing "thesis" that I've had about the state of the freshwater hobby.

Okay, well, let's start it off by me pointing out that this is my opinion...based on personal observations and those of others I know. It's not the last word, or even the first word on the subject. You might find it a bit annoying. Perhaps even insulting a bit. Please don't take it that way. ("Good, Fellman, because who really gives a f---- what YOU think about it, anyways!")

In general, I think we're doing really well, and the "art and science" of maintaining all sorts of rare and unusual fishes, and breeding them, has never been better. The body of knowledge surrounding aquatic plants and their culture is growing rapidly. Aquascaping, although stuck (IMHO) in sort of an endless, "Groundhog Day" type of "loop" of derivations of one style, has progressed over the years (Well, if you can call 14,000 variations of the same idea "progression", of course- sorry snobby 'scape crowd...). Yet, for all of this advancement in the freshwater world, as a group, we seem a bit, well- stuck in our ways, or at least, reluctant to embrace different ways of approaching stuff.


It's not the first time I've seen this, nor the first time I've heard it discussed. While I often rail on my friends in the reef-keeping world for the laughable attitudes of "trend chasing" and hype that seem to be pervasive in that segment, there is one thing that's obvious in reef keeping that isn't in freshwater- an overall desire to embrace "new" without fear. As a reefer, you tend to want to try the latest and greatest stuff to get the edge that you perceive you need to keep your corals and fishes happy and healthy, and if new stuff drops in, you try it with little hesitation. Yes, that's an extreme, too...but it's progressive.

However, the freshwater hobby seems to be in a different sort of mode, if you examine it honestly. We are, in my opinion, willing to try new fishes, plants, inverts, etc. We're willing to look at some new techniques, if they seem to not deviate too far from what "everyone" says is okay. Yeah, it seems that for some reason, when it comes to some stuff, there is a complete lack of desire to deviate from established ways of doing things. It's like we compartmentalize it as "not for us" and that's that.

For example, going back to the sump thing...I can't even begin to tell you how many p.m.'s and emails I received from members of our community who expressed interest in the idea of using one, but were prefaced by stuff like "I had no idea this could be done" or "I always thought it was too complicated", or "It seemed to expensive or impractical.." and my favorite,  "I thought it wasn't for use in freshwater.." Stuff like that.

Where the hell is that coming from? 

I think it's an attitude. A sort of collective mind set. We seldom, if ever, hear it discussed. No authors seem to want to touch it. Okay, I will. There is no real "nice" way to present it. I have a theory, and you may not like it:

The FW world, although progressive in terms of animal and plant husbandry and propagation, is slow and reluctant to adapt to new technology or different approaches to things.  I mean, you are seeing adaptation of some reactors and controllers for "high tech" planted tanks, which is cool. You're seeing fertilization regimens embraced by a lot of these hobbyists. Cool. And you're finally seeing greater employment of advanced LED lighting systems. More (mass-market-available) foods that are comprised of organisms actually found in the natural environments of our fishes are coming into the freshwater market.

Why does it take so long? Why the stubbornness?

Don't agree?

It's glaringly obvious to "outsiders." (there should be no "outsiders", BTW- different topic for a different time!)

I get a lot of good-natured teasing from my fellow reefers that going to freshwater is like some groovy retro trip to the 1970's. Seriously. Look at the sump thing again. I mean, the sump idea has been around since the 1980's in reefkeeping, and some 30 years on, we see just a handful of them in freshwater, even though the benefits and potential breakthroughs that could be achieved by utilizing one are pretty obvious. Yet, we cling to our canisters and outside filters as if there is no better way to do stuff. We come up with a lot of excuses: "Well, most freshwater hobbyists have multiple aquariums..." or "Brine shrimp is more economical than the new preserved flies."  Okay, so a $300 canister system is cheaper than a $300 sump system? Not sure...I'm not attacking canister filters or frozen brine shrimp. Yes, they are great and they work well...but there are other ways to approach it. There can be some new stuff. We just seem so reluctant to give up the way we've always done things...the way everyone does it. The way "everyone" SAYS we should do it. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it..."

Don't like this? Don't believe me?

Look into Tannin's own history. When we first presented our approach to the blackwater/botanical-style system, the amount of pushback was significant. We were called "irresponsible" by many for proffering what they perceived as some reckless, casual foray into a "dangerous" and "unstable" world, with unproven ideas and methods. Stuff that few really played with. Or, some "old timers" told me "this is nothing new" (Which I agreed with), but told me it doesn't work without so much as steeping a catappa leaf. And the idea of seriously elevating blackwater aquariums floundered in obscurity or "novelty sideshow" status for years.

Yeah. Why?

Is it some desire to cling to the gentle ways of a bygone era, following the same well-worn path without some much as questioning why? 

Not sure. But it keeps coming up. I know I sound like a jerk for even discussing it like this, but it's my opinion, supported by numerous observations. Seems like it's almost a...fear. Or at least, a disdain. And I think it's really important that we just look at it and move forward.

Still with me? Good.

I know that many of you might not agree with me here. That's why I prefaced this piece with the disclaimer that it's my opinion.

And don't get me wrong. This rant is not targeted at everyone who keeps a freshwater tank. There is a lot of forward thinking in freshwater, but so much seems to get confined to a few categories, or held tightly in small circles. Not getting through the "noise" of the greater hobby narrative. I mean, look at shrimp fanciers, Rift Lake cichlid people, or Betta breeders. They're doing crazy shit. Why no generalized hobby progression or large-scale acceptance of some different approaches?  

Are we so compartmentalized/specilized/obsessed with our own specialties that we won't look outside the box? I have a hard time swallowing that. If for no other reason, I'd think manufacturers would want to integrate some new things into the mix. Pull over some of the sexy reef stuff and reconfigure/remarket to the freshwater world, who, once they overcome their initial reluctance to change will blow away anything that's previously been done with them in the reef category! Yes, it's great that we have more high-tech versions of the old stuff, but it sure is nice to apply totally new thinking "at scale" to our hobby, right? Besides, the FW world has a lot more buying power!

But it's not just about "stuff."

I think that some big-time freshwater hobby thought leaders need to do more to push progression which incorporates ideas from outside the boxes that we're comfortable in. I mean, look at the talent pool out there in the freshwater world! It's insane. We're breeding fishes that were once thought impossible to even keep alive! We're tissue-culturing and propagating rare plants that were once unobtainable  in the hobby, and shipping them around the world like they're Water Sprite. We have a collective patience that the reef keeping world seems to have only in tiny quantities at best. We can share that. The freshwater world has an amazingly talented group of lifetime, hardcore hobbyists who possess specialty knowledge and experience that is almost mind-boggling. 

Yet we seem close-minded in a lot of ways as a whole, IMHO.

Do we want to change this? I  know that I do.

So, how do we change this? (Assuming any of us want to..) 

We simply look outside of our boxes, peer over our fences, and think about how what's going on in other categories that can help us. You always see me talking about wanting to see more planted tank people get into botanical/blackwater systems because of their extensive knowledge of water chemistry, substrate management, and fertilization, for example. You hear me calling out my nay-saying reefer friends to try a blackwater or brackish tank and apply some of that "testosterone-fueled" thinking to freshwater. Because it works both ways.

We need to "cross-pollinate" a bit. We need to look at what aquarists are doing in other hobby "disciplines" and share and borrow and try out new ideas. And give them some of ours. Some won't work. Others will require lots of modification or adaptation. But the potential for breakthroughs is huge. Can't we all do this? I think so. Or is it just easier to reach for the outside power filter and call it a day?

I hope not.

I'd like to think that this 100+ year-old hobby simply needs a kick in the ass from time to time. We are like a bloated, arthritic giant that needs a wakeup call, a cup of coffee, and a hot shower. Once you wake up this amazing juggernaut and get it firing on all cylinders, the hobby as a whole will grow, with more kids getting into it, and more and more breakthroughs and progress than ever before. 

Again, many of you already get this. For those who don't agree, just contemplate before you trash me.

Don't hate on some new stuff from "the outside." We're all fish geeks, and we can learn from each other, utilize our experience, talent, equipment, techniques...Don't hate on change.

Time to wake up.

Rant over. Don't hate me. Think about it. Dismiss fear. Accept this easy challenge. Blow up the hobby even more. Achieve more great things. Grow.


Stay driven. Stay thoughtful. Stay innovative. Stay motivated.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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