We can do better...

I saw a couple of large Jaguar cichlids (Parachromis managuensis) in a 75- gallon tank the other day at the home of a fish geek who was a friend of a friend. The fish looked kind of cramped..They were not able to turn around that easily...it looked really uncomfortable. Like living in a motorhome for an indefinite sentence.

And when I asked what the story was, I was told that the fish were going to go into a 500 gallon South American cichlid tank..."eventually."


I asked how long the aquarist had the fishes, and I was told, "Like a year or so..."

And the 500-gallon tank? When was that happening?

"Maybe in a couple of years..."


If you've been keeping tropical fishes and aquariums long enough, you really learn to ferret out statements that come across more as wishful thinking than definitive plans, right?

That's how this seemed.

I probably won't be asked back in the future, lol.

This is probably the ONE thing that I hate the most that we as fish geeks seem to do, because it's so easy NOT to do.

I mean, maybe it's a sort of "human nature" thing, or an attempt at "willing something into reality by stating it out loud", but it seems to me that there are certain things we say to each other as fish geeks that are sort of built-in "pardons" or justifications for our current (often not-so-prudent) actions. 


Well, think of how many times you've heard variations of that classic fish geek "thing" touched on above:

(Typically stated by the hobbyist who just purchased a young Arowanna or big cichlid or other fish that will reach a huge size, when asked about their long-term plans for the fish that was just added to a 40 breeder):

"Oh, this is just for a while. I'm getting a larger tank in a few months. He's happy in there."

I mean, on the surface, it really seems sincere enough. The hobbyist found that young specimen of the iconic "monster fish" they've been dreaming of for years..You know, the one that will be the "crown jewel"- the star- of the 750-gallon tank that they're going to build "in the future." 

That's the plan.

Now, I understand, a huge tank for your dream monster fish is a considerable investment; one which costs a LOT of money, takes time to build...one which you need to save for. One which you may not even have room for in your current house (I've actually heard this before) but will get "in a year or two" when you "start looking" for the next house...

And you are providing great care for your future "superstars"- With the exception of the fact that they're just...well, crowded...

That doesn't map with your other behaviors/goals/aspirations/values as a fish keeper. Sorry- it just doesn't.  "Storing" a fish in an undersized tank, despite a great filter or good food, does not constitute "great care" IMHO.

Why sugar coat it?

Stuff like this- making a current fish purchasing decision based on circumstances or expectations of things which have not yet happened- is just not logical in my opinion. I can't stand it, actually. It's just not cool. And it's resulted in a lot of fishes living a lot of years in less-than-optimum conditions...even resulted in some deaths. At the very least, some unnecessary discomfort for the fishes in question.

Physical space is really important for larger fishes...

Yeah, this practice of "buying for the future scenario" is not comparable to prudent decisions made to impact potential future issues, like insurance or like something that you do "just in case", with the expectation that some future circumstances validating it as a good decision will just sort of "happen."

It's more of a "I want what I want and I want it NOW!" thing, IMHO.

Don't do that anymore. Please. We can do better.

The other excuses are "He's only 5 inches now- he'll be fine for a couple of years in this tank. They don't grow that fast...." Or, "This tank is really well-equipped and he gets spoiled with all of the good food in there..." Blah, blah, blah.

Lame excuse. Maybe it's also a good idea for you to confine yourself to the living room of your home for the next couple of years. I mean, you have a great couch, Netflix, and all of the frozen pizza you can eat, right? You'll be fine for "a while", huh? Would that work for you?

I know, I'm being "judgmental" or whatever. But it's true. It's one of the very few things I hate that we do. I've done it before myself, so it hits home.

It's a bad practice. And it's really common.

Who am I to judge, right? Well, probably no one...but as someone who has been keeping fish since he was a toddler, and has spent time in the importing/aquaculture side of the hobby, I've heard the argument from armchair environmentalists that the aquarium hobby "rapes and pillages" fishes and disrespects the environment, etc. And you no doubt have, too. So...when I see behaviors which map or track these often unfair assertions by those who would happily see our hobby shut down and attack us with inaccurate "facts" (yeah, check out "For the Fishes" and "Snorkel Bob" in Hawaii, for example), it strikes a reactionary chord in me. We need to do stuff better.

And it's just kind of cruel.

Sure, there are all kinds of thing we do as hobbyists that could fall into the above category, and lots of things that are harder to change. I know I can do better on a lot of stuff, too.  I think why I jump on the "monster fish/undersized tank" thing so aggressively and passionately is that it's one of the easier ones to control, IMHO:

Just don't purchase the jumbo-sized fish until you have the jumbo-sized tank for them to live out their lives in.


We can all do better.

We have to.

Super easy. End of rant. 

Thanks for indulging me!

Stay bold. Stay honest. Stay strong.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquaitcs 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


May 01, 2017

Thanks so much for this post – I think you hit the nail right on the head. This is one of the most frustrating things for me in the hobby. Everybody wants that monster centerpiece fish… but then they leave it in an ugly, bare-bottomed tank that’s barely large enough to turn around. And sure, they might have plans to upgrade “some day”, but most of the time, this seems to be the poor oscar or arowana’s permanent home. Why? Why have an ugly tank with a frustrated fish? Prestige? Bah.

The other frustrating thing that I have come across over and over in researching tank stocking is the “Noah’s Ark” model. “Can I put two mollies and two neons and two cory cats and two barbs and two guppies and a gourami and a plecostomus in my 5 gallon? My parents/spouse/roommate/living situation won’t let me get a bigger tank…” Well, yes, you can… if you want a tank full of miserable fish who all require different environments and will quickly die of stress or conflict. I know that part of this is beginners being excited about the hobby, but I wish that there was more work on the “frontline” at retailers to educate people as to why this is a bad idea. Then again, this is a big box retail industry built on the back of putting goldfish and bettas in unheated, unflitered plastic buckets with a Spongebob Squarepants pineapple…

The encouraging thing is that, buried in all of this garbage, you’ll find the odd person with a really great story about how yes, their white cloud mountain minnows were “fine” in a school of eight, but once they doubled that number the whole school really gained confidence. How they noticed that the recommended minimum group of six kuhli loaches would rarely be seen, but get a dozen together and they’re partying all over the tank! There are hobbyists out there who recognize that the welfare of this fish is in their hands, and want to do their best to give it a long, happy life, even if they are stuck in a glass box.

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