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By Neale Monks

Is “advanced fishkeeping” the same thing as “marine fishkeeping”?

It’s easy to assume that once you’ve learned the basics about fishkeeping by keeping a community tank, the logical next step is to set up a marine aquarium. Though comparatively expensive to break into, experienced hobbyists can find the colours and diversity of marine fish and invertebrates hugely rewarding. There really isn’t anything quite like a well stocked, properly maintained marine aquarium.
Or is there? As someone who has lived (and kept fish!) on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems to me that American aquarists are particularly poorly served by their retailers. British aquarium shops routinely stock wild-caught cichlids, oddball fish, and any number of bizarre catfish. But American retailers seem to treat freshwater fish as products for the entry level hobbyist, while concentrating on marine fish for the more advanced hobbyists. The same holds true for plants, with not just the plants themselves but also the equipment they require being much easier to obtain in Europe than in North America.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t American hobbyists keeping oddball freshwater fish or maintaining Dutch- or Amano-style planted aquaria. Obviously there are, and judging by my conversations with these aquarists over the Internet, many of these hobbyists rank amongst the best in the world. But breaking into these branches of the freshwater hobby does seem unnecessarily difficult for the average American hobbyist served by one or two big box, chain store pet product retailers in his or her neighbourhood.

Internet shopping offers some workarounds of course, but if you’re a hobbyist who’s never seen a properly planted aquarium, let alone thought about creating one, why would you go shopping online? If the only African cichlids you’ve seen are dull blue hybrids, why would you go searching for wild-caught or pedigree Aulonocara?

Advanced freshwater fishkeeping can offer a variety of challenges equal to those on the marine side of the hobby, and in many cases at a much lower cost. Whether it’s breeding some unusual livebearer through to creating an Amano-style aquascape, there really is something for everyone, no matter their budget or the size of the aquarium they have at their disposal. But it’s up to aquarium retailers to put these options on display.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in advanced freshwater fishkeeping, but don’t see the fish or equipment you’d like on sale, go talk with your retailer. Most retailers can order in specific livestock for their customers, even if they don’t normally sell that particular species. Do always keep an eye out for oddball fish, and be picky about choosing good quality stock over poor. Ultimately retailers will only stock what they sell, and the more demanding we as consumers become, the better retailers will have to be to service our requirements.

Neale Monks




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