What's the "problem?"

In the aquarium hobby, it seems like we have all sorts of things which crop up, which challenge our skills, theories, and intentions. And these things either discourage hobbyists from working in a certain area- or they entice and encourage the intrepid hobbyist to move forward, boldly forging new skills, learning new lessons- and if we're lucky, new breakthroughs that will benefit other hobbyists.

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 years have drawn as much interesting response from our readers, and as much thought-provoking discussion a  piece we did on killifishes a while back. 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 without providing them with conditions appropriate to their needs? This isn't a "problem"- it's a "requirement." 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, right?

Some fishes are aggressive. Is that a "problem?" Well, only if you decide that they must be kept in community tanks with docile guppies or whatever. Other fishes 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?

Of course it isn't.

The word "problem", IMHO, gives us a sort of "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, botanical-style aquarium  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 as a hobby 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 a hobby saw a foreboding, dark environment which had low pH and all sorts of seemingly contrarian, scary processes.

We made it a "problem."

I mean, sure- there were/are challenges in creating these types of aquariums. They require us to follow certain procedures, create "best practices", and to accept parameters and aesthetics which we likely haven't previously considered as a hobby on a larger scale.

It took us to take on a different mindset.

It took doing things that we hadn't previously done before- researching exactly what it was, what is required to create and successfully maintain botanical-style, blackwater aquariums- 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 botanical-style, blackwater aquariums not as a "problem" to overcome, but an "approach", 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!

Again, this is not some "revelation" I the hobby. However, I think it can spur thinking which helps us bridge the gap between what we have done before and what we'd liek to try in the future.

Let's not label every set of requirements of our fishes or approaches  "problems." Rather, lets find out ways to meet their needs.  Let's take a slightly different mindset and see how far it takes us.

It's worked pretty well over here.

I think that we as a hobby 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.

Yeah, what's the ?problem" here, anyways?

Stay thoughtful. Stay curious. Stay bold. Stay diligent. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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