Origin stories.

I’m often surprised during conversations with some hobbyists who are thoroughly convinced that it’s important and beneficial to the aquarium hobby to have adapted fishes to our captive conditions, even to breed under them, rather than attempting to accommodate their needs by recreating, at least to some extent, the environmental parameters from the habitats from which they come.

In other words, fishes which, for eons have evolved to inhabit soft, acid waters are being “acclimated” to, and even bred under hard, alkaline tap water conditions. We often don't consider their "origin stories" and what they can teach us.

Sure, fishes can accommodate our needs... 

On one hand, I can certainly see how this can be beneficial to the industry. I mean, not everyone wants to invest in RO/DI units and steeping source water in leaves and such just to keep their Neon Tetras happy. More fishes are sold because, well- it's easier to keep them under "tap water" conditions. More fishes=More people=More business.

Yeah, I get that.

The "con" to me is that when we evolve fishes to conditions which work for US, not only might we be affecting the health of the fishes over the long-term (I'm not talking about a few dozen, or even a few hundred generations here), it's my opinion that we find ourselves giving less appreciation and consideration to the wild habitats from which they come. Less attention to these environments, some of which are critically endangered by human activities, means less effort to conserve them. Not out of any malevolent intent, mind you...It's just that, when we don't consider the habitats, we don't think about them as much. "Out of sight, out of mind..."

I am the first guy in favor of captive bred fishes and propagated corals. It's super important and vital to the future of the hobby and to the natural environment. However, I also think understanding where they come from and why they come from specific environmental conditions is equally important- and interesting. The last thing I'd want to see is the sort of cliched' mindset that we apply to food: "Where do those carrots come from? The supermarket!" 

How long will this work before something gives? 

The idea of "repatriating" fishes which come from soft, acidic blackwater habitats from our "tap water" conditions back into the water in which they have evolved, and learning how to manage the overall captive environment is by no means new or revolutionary. Lots of fish keepers have done this for decades. It's just that the hobby has sort of taken a collective mindset of "it's easier/quicker for US" to adapt them to the conditions we can most easily offer them. Just because they can "acclimate" to wildly different conditions than they have evolved to live under doesn't mean that they should.  

I mean, it's not about us. Right? The consistently successful serious breeders have understood this for a long time, and we all should, IMHO. As we’ve demonstrated in our community, it's not at all impossible to provide such conditions as a matter of practice…

Pat yourselves on the back. You're a bit different than the masses. You study the "origin stories" of your fishes. It’s a lesson learned early in the “modern era” of fishkeeping, some 100-odd years back, which has enabled landlocked hobbyists in frigid climates to be able to successfully keep delicate tropical fishes from exotic locales in their living room. It’s what has enabled an entire industry of dedicated professional fish breeders and coral propagators to grow enough fishes and corals to someday meet the demands of the entire market, perhaps making it unnecessary to exclusively harvest from wild habitats. 

It’s what’s enabled even the neophyte hobbyist to be able to enjoy the wonders of the tropical streams, rivers, and oceans in his/her first aquarium. 

We don't have to do this "cold turkey", all at once, forcing radical change on the entire culture and technique of the aquarium world. And responsibly-collected/managed collection of wild fishes not only can continue to help indigenous populations manage their resources and benefit from them without damaging them. And then, we as hobbyists can learn more and more about he environments from which the fishes come from and make it part of our "routine" to replicate them more closely.

Win-win, IMHO.

And it's not about making sure that every stick, leaf, and rock is from the exact place every fish we keep comes from..No. It's about studying, introducing, sharing, and celebrating the wonders of nature. Replicating some of the factors that we can, even if it's a bit different and challenging at first. It's about demonstrating to others how different and amazing  things can be when we adopt a different mindset, learn more about the world, and the needs of our fishes.

Accommodating the organisms we want to keep. NOT the other way around. A valuable lesson that the entire aquarium community could learn from. And it’s just “the way we do stuff” around here. The cost of admission. It's kind of what we like to do.

Stubborn, perhaps. 

However, that's the kind of stubbornness I can get behind!

Stay stubborn. Stay inquisitive. Stay dedicated. Stay excited...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


October 12, 2018

Completely agree with your point of view.
Follow your articles ;)

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