What we've been told...


This is another one of those "rants" that not everyone wants to hear, or say, but it needs to be heard and it needs to be said- so I'll volunteer to be the one to say it.  

I think that the hobby culture loves to collectively vilify certain "players", such as the local fish store (LFS) employee. This is something that has been unfairly going on for at least the last couple of decades. Online hobby culture loves to talk about the ignorant LFS employee who does nothing but "give bad advice" and try to "sell you stuff you don't need."

Grow the f--- up. That's utter bullshit.

It's an absurd stereotype, create- as most stereotypes are- by someone who likely misconstrued advice he/she received from an employee and, perhaps not understanding and/or following the advice as thoroughly as he/she should have, ended up with a bad outcome. And of course, without taking any personal responsibility, his/her failure was absolutely the cause of the LFS employee...That's how dumb stereotypes and aquarium hobby myths start. And of course, upon sharing his/her "side of the story", it became easy to find other losers who were sympathetic to the cause...and it snowballed from there.

The "ignorant LFS employee" thing is so dumb that it barely deserves mention- yet it pops up over and over again. The reality is that most LFS employees are obsessed fish geeks- just like you and I- and their entire motivation is simply to help a fellow hobbyists. Sure, they sell stuff. But that doesn't make their advice any less helpful, authoritative, and "pure" than anyone else's.

And guess what?

These are human beings. Sometimes, they are wrong. Sometimes they DO mis-diagnose stuff. Occasionally, they'll make the wrong call. Just like I do, or any other hobbyist who is trying to help a fellow fish geek. No one knows everything. And we all have a responsibility to consider the merits of any advice we're being given- regardless of who is giving it.

The LFS person has been the convenient "target" for decades...but the reality is that there are plenty of other "perpetrators" more worthy of discussion. 

The biggest "danger" IMHO, is the rise of the online hobby "influencer"- someone who literally can use an online platform to disseminate whatever he/she wants to, with minimal accountability within the hobby. THAT is freaking scary! How come no one blames these people for the bad advice that they often meter out?

I've seen more shitty advice, regurgitated nonsense, and bad "ideas" being proferred online, particularly by YouTubers and "influencers" than just about anywhere else. Some of these people are entirely motivated by sponsorship numbers and pressures to mention product, and every bit of "advice" they give seems to always fit very nicely into the narrative of the brands who pay them.

They're shills.

Not all of them, of course- but a scary number of them. And the shitty content that many of them put out is harming the aquairum hobby way, WAY more than the LFS employee ever did, or could- because the reach of the YouTuber or "influencer" is global.

And, there are no “editors” or “peer reviewers”, so the accuracy and quality of the information being produced today is all over the map. Because someone who fancies themselves a social media “influencer” might produce snazzy, entertaining, sexy videos with cool music and crisp editing, they can easily amass significant followings on their chosen platform rapidly.

The scariest part is that, because the “influencer” may have such a large following for whatever reason, a certain form of trust and implied “authority”  is formed with the audience.

"Scary? Really? Why is that, Fellman?"

Think about it. Think about the idea "authority" in our hobby.

Authority. It's alluring and powerful...

It also requires a lot of responsibility.

A responsibility that some may not understand, or recognize.

The role of "influencer" seems so cool; and it is.  I mean, you can get paid by others to talk about stuff you like!  

However, the fact is, some “influencers” may have little more than the most basic understanding or familiarity with the topic being discussed, and because there is this...familiarity and implied trust created with his/her audience, the uninformed get the impression that this person is an “expert” on whatever topic they disseminate!

Often, it’s the “new” idea or hot, trendy topic that lends itself well to the production of the influencer’s splashy videos, too. In the very worst situations, much of the disseminated "information" is shallow, and of little substance, other thank, "Look at my cool___________ aquarium!" ( insert trendy aquarium type in the blank space). And there is always that pressure to mention their sponsor's products.

We see this lack of substance a lot when it comes to botanical-method aquariums and reef tanks, in particular. Because they both lend themselves to great visuals, both of these hobby specialities are often featured prominently by hobby "influencers."

Recently, I've seen a few of these videos, particularly discussing "blackwater aquariums"or "botanical aquariums", and I wasn't just flat-out disappointed by the lack of useful substance- I was shocked by the obvious, complete lack of understanding of these topics by the alleged "influencers" who produced them.

It's astounding.

And of course, not everyone who is a YouTuber or paid "influencer" is an idiot. Many are fantastic. And, yeah- it's not just limited to our arcane, specialized hobby sectors. It's a problem even when discussing the most mundane and basic of topics within the hobby. There are a fair number of widely-viewed online aquarium personalities  who need to re-think and re-focus a bit, IMHO.

And what about online forums? Are they a "problem?" 

Well, they can be. 

Many are filled with kind, intelligent, super experienced, helpful hobbyists who can render amazing advice. However, they're also populated by an astoundingly large number of clueless morons who yell louder than everyone else, or by otherwise well-intentioned hobbyists who want to help, but have no personal experience in the topic at hand- so they "regurgitate" outdated, incorrect, or unhelpful information! This is why so many advanced hobbyists steer clear of many of the "general" hobby forums. The "noise" is awful. It's hard to watch sometimes. 

I visit some of these forums from time to time, because a) I think I'm a bit of a masochist, and b) I like to know what the pulse of the hobby is at different levels. And often, I'm dumbfounded, by not only the problems that people are having, but how they got themselves into them in the first place. Not to mention, the "advice" being rendered. Recently, I saw a few posts where new hobbyists were having trouble getting their tanks to cycle. Like, one guy allegedly had his tank going for 3 months and had detectible ammonia the whole time! Like, how the actual FUCK does THAT happen?

Well, the "advice" he was given was insane. Like, all over the place. Everything from "continue aggressively siphoning your gravel" to "add_____", and everything in between, including "removing the goldfish and doing a 75% water exchange will help your Neons do better" ( I am NOT shitting you- that was actual advice...). Advice about feeding less... Again, the person asking the question clearly had no freaking clue what the fuck he/she was doing, and the "advice" being rendered was a smattering of everything. And of course, the initial blame went back to. "...the girl at the LFS told me_________."  

Of course, it's the LFS guy's fault. 

Yeah, he probably told you to wait to add fishes. To add some bacterial solution to kick start the nitrogen cycle. To test your water. To feed carefully. Told you not to perform water exchanges during the beginning phases of your aquarium. He DEFINITELY did NOT tell you to buy goldfish for your tropical aquarium...and it goes on and on.

Part of this problem is the noise and volume of "advice" that's out there for hobbyists to consume. It's a firehose. The other part is (sorry!) the almost complete lack of advice to the new hobbyist to take some personal responsibility to do research, move slowly, and deploy patience. Yeah, really. Sorry. That sounds really mean, but it isn't.

You have a responsibility, new guy. That's not a "bad" thing. I don't understand why education, observation, and patience aren't stressed above almost everything when people are just starting out in the aquarium hobby. NEWS FLASH: Watching a flashy YouTube video about "How I set up my Amazon River fantasy tank" isn't the kind of research Im talking about...

Where else can you get this advice?

Well, these things usually ARE proferred by...The LFS employees- who not only care, but actually do have a vested interest in seeing you be successful. The problem is, people often don't listen, in their excitement and haste to get going! And, when we hear advice we don't like, or want to kind of skirt around, our first instinct is to go online and find a match to the narrative that makes us feel better. I think it's human nature- a cultural norm for our times. We see it in home repairs, financial advice, health issues, etc.

It's kind of a problem.

Sounds like I'm being a bit of a jerk about this, I'm sure.

However, it's a cold hard truth. You've got a new aquarium. Let's go! 

And again, it starts with the advice we're given when we begin our aquarium hobby adventure.

Based on what I've observed first hand, much of the advice given to new hobbyists by the LFS is pretty damn good. However, I think the a lot of the so-called "beginner's advice" is discarded or conveniently tucked away as the newbie moves to "more interesting stuff", like choosing the perfect piece of wood, the sexiest canister filter, that amazing Discus variety, or the cool LED light.

We haven't stressed the fundamentals enough, IMHO. We haven't explained adequately to newbies that the hobby requires us to have a basic understanding of biology/ecology- and why this is so.

It's not like collecting pins, ordering a meal kit, or any other things that people like to do nowadays. You need to actually know some shit.

The aquarium hobby is as much a responsibility as it is a pleasurable endeavor. It's a responsibility to be good stewards of the fishes we keep. To understand their needs. To understand WHY we do some of the things we do in the hobby. And sure, to question some of the established "best practices" from time to time- ONCE we have an understanding of the fundamentals. It's not all about acquiring shit, or arriving at the impressive finished product that your friends can ohh and ahh over at breakneck speed. It's about the journey, and understanding how each phase in the life of your tank is fascinating, educational, and beautiful.

We don't stress patience enough. 

As a hobby, we collectively need to "slow our roll" and allow natural processes to function without intervening in every single aspect of our aquariums' existence. Patience is vital to real, lasting, long-term hobby success. End of discussion.

EVERY SINGLE successful hobbyist I know has patience. We need to adhere to Nature's laws governing the establishment of aquatic ecosystems. We can't just "pick and choose" the stuff that we want to apply to our tank. We need to understand that stuff like the nitrogen cycle is as important in that foul-smelling puddle of killifish in East Africa as it is to our expensive home aquarium is in Boston, Toronto, Singapore, or London.

Your aquarium is part of Nature. Not in the "cargo cult" hobby mass-misinterpretation of Amano's words- but in reality and function. Sure, it's a little closed off version- but it exists in Nature. It's governed by the "laws" of Nature, and it will respond based on processes which have been in existence since time began. It's bigger than our ambitions, our expensive filter, or the advice of the million-follower YouTube guy who tells you otherwise.

You can't simply separate yourself from this. Everything applies to you and your tank, too. You want an aquarium? Good. Better make piece with Mother Nature. Learn about Her. Listen to her. Be patient with Her. Because if you don't, you'll receive the ass-kicking that you deserve. And unfortunately, your fishes will pay the ultimate price for it.

Yeah, sounds like a lot of bitter, angry bile I'm tossing out today, right?

It's only that way if you want it to be. 

That wasn't the intention. The intention was to plead with you to open your eyes, think about the advice you were given- or offer to others - and consider what you need to know to be successful in the aquarium hobby. And about what advice you give- and how you'll disseminate it- to others. And to do your part to stop blaming the LFS employee for everything that's problematic with the hobby at the moment. To start preaching responsibility, education, and above all...patience. 

I promise, I'm not going to focus on negative stuff like this very often in "The Tint." It gives me no pleasure doing so. However, as someone who speaks his truth, and has a sizable platform within the aquarium hobby to communicate from, I'd be doing a great disservice if I didn't bring this subject up. It was bothering me a lot lately.

I know that around here, we are repetitive at times, constantly stressing patience, observation, going slowly...because those things work- even though it goes against what's cool and popular at the moment. At the ned of the day, this hobby is about fun and joy. And by just tasking the time to properly educate and prepare ourselves- it can be just that.


And it all starts with what we've been told to do- and what we do with it.

Stay calm. Stay resourceful. Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay thoughtful. Stay honest...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


December 23, 2021

Agree with this 100%.

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