"Problems?" Or "Requirements?"

Problem (prob*lem): a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

Requirement (re*quire*ment): a thing that is compulsory; a necessary condition.

Few columns that I've written in the last few months have drawn as much interesting response from our readers, and as much thought-provoking discussion as yesterday's piece on killifishes. And that makes me feel good- not only because there is a larger interest and hunger to learn about killies that I even imagined, but there is a big- BIG "perception problem" among retailers, hobby pundits, and even hobbyists about why they aren't more popular and available.

The discussion online and elsewhere has been surprisingly broad and wide-ranging, with both hobbyist and retailers chiming in. And this is really cool- because everyone seems to want the same thing- a broader availability and appeal for a magnificent group of fishes. And of course, many of the same concerns arise when we broach these kinds of topics: Hobbyists find certain fishes difficult to find. Retailers find the same fishes impractical to sell. A seemingly difficult conundrum.

Or, is it?

Lots of hobbyists tend to look at killifish as "problematic"- as if keeping them is fraught with issues that would keep them from ever being able to have a greater hobby appeal. 

I just don't buy into that thinking. I just can't.

Now, I have a "problem" with classifying stuff as "problems" when it comes to our aquarium endeavors. I think we tend to consider the specialized requirements of keeping/breeding/marketing certain fishes as "problems" instead of simply as "requirements." What makes them "problems?" The fact that we can't just place a rare fish from a specialized environment into a glass of tap water and walk away? It's not a "problem" that corals require saltwater, light, and a chemical environment suitable for their long-term care. It's simply a set of requirements that we need to meet if we want to keep them.

Some killies are aggressive? Is that a "problem?" Well, only if you decide that they must be kept in community tanks with docile guppies or whatever. Some killies require brackish water. Is that a "problem?" Only if you don't have a way of mixing and measuring salt concentration. 

If we want to sell rare Apistogramma to a wider market, it's not a "problem." It's a challenge to figure out a way to keep them comfortable and healthy in order to accomplish this, and to communicate this to prospective keepers. If we determine that it is not practical for us to meet the requirements of the fishes in order to keep them/breed them/sell them, well- then it's simply a situation where we cannot meet the requirements in order to accomplish this.

Just because I can't keep African Cichlids with my acid-water-loving tetras doesn't make them a "problem", right?

The word "problem", IMHO, gives us a cushion to fall back on when something want to we do in the hobby requires that certain steps which we are unaware of, uncertain of, unwilling to take, or cannot undertake- present themselves. The challenge is to determine if the requirements are insurmountable for us, or if there is a way we can meet the requirements in a manner that is practical, given our resources.

A great example was the blackwater world we are into here:

I think that the "problem" of blackwater tanks for years was that we saw them as "dirty", dangerous", "non-sustainable" etc. We didn't look at the blackwater environment as one that required that we meet a specific set of parameters. We didn't' look at keeping blackwater aquariums as an endeavor that required an understanding of the processes involved, and developing technique and practices to accomplish our goals. Rather, we as hobbyists saw a foreboding, dark environment which had low pH and all sorts of seemingly contrarian, scary processes.

We made it a "problem."

It took doing things that we hadn't previously done before- researching exactly what it was, what is required to make "blackwater"- and doing some things which were perceived by the majority of hobbyists as unconventional to get there.

But we did. And now, we approach keeping blackwater aquariums not as a "problem" to overcome, but a system which requires us to do specific things in order to do so successfully.

Look, it wasn't like  we were creating warp drive or nuclear fusion. But it is an example- one of many in our hobby, which simply required us to look at what exactly we wanted to accomplish, understand what it was just a bit, and to develop ways to work within the requirements and parameters laid out by nature to do it in our aquariums. It's still a "work in progress", but we're well on the way to making blackwater aquariums far more common in the hobby. 

And not quite so scary!

Let's not make every set of requirements of our fishes "problems." Rather, lets find out ways to meet their needs. 

I think that we can do all sorts of stuff previously though to be unachievable, if we look at it in a more positive way. We've got this.


Stay excited. Stay challenged. Stay fascinated...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


January 14, 2018

Great article. I feel as though many concepts in aquarium keeping started out as “impossible” until someone made it work. There was a time when keeping live corals was impossible. What I love about blackwater and the movement of “natural” aquariums overall is looking at the example nature has set, seeing what works, and figuring out how to make it work for us. That’s why I’m in the hobby, to learn the secrets of how life fits together.

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