Relax, and enjoy your fish!

By Angel L. Ampil

Fishkeeping is a popular hobby here in the Philippines. Ask any fishkeeper why they passionately pursue it, and they will likely confess that fishkeeping is a source of relaxation that relieves them of the stress of the rigors of daily life. If you are comreading this article, you most probably agree with me, right?

I believe there is no better way to clear your mind of the problems encountered at the office after a long day than to sit comfortably in front of your tank and just enjoy it. Maybe tinker around a bit in the tank to see that everything is in order, feed the fish a little, and settle in your favorite chair. This is peace and calm in your own little kingdom.

For a minority, however, I see blank stares at this article with the question, “What did I get myself into?” running in their minds. Well isn’t this so true. Some hobbyists see fishkeeping as a struggle. Instead of it being a relaxing hobby, it becomes a source of worry and frustrations; for these people, fishkeeping turns them into slaves to the hobby and they no longer enjoy it. I must admit there may be a number of reasons why a hobby can turn out this way. These reasons are valid and are indeed a part of the hobby.

Fishkeeping Knowhow

For newbies, fishkeeping knowhow—or rather, the lack of it—is a realistic source of worry and stress. This of course is a natural thing to feel when you are not in your comfort zone…just like when you are a stranger in a foreign land. You aren’t familiar with a place, its people, and culture, so you simply aren’t too comfortable moving around.

It is understandable that newbies lack the necessary information needed to successfully keep fish. After all they are just starting and do not yet fully understand the basics of successful fishkeeping. However, this should not be a hindrance, and may even be used as motivation to learn information one needs to be successful. One’s willingness to learn should catapult that person to new insights as one does research and asks the right people for guidance and information.

During my time as a newbie, the only information available was from books at the library or the bookstore. I also asked questions of the people in the fish store—and they probably didn’t know a thing about fishkeeping, but they surely knew how excited you were about buying a new fish! So we pretty much learned by experience and not by getting the right information from the right people.

Newbies nowadays have the advantage of quick information right at their fingertips. You may do research and ask fellow hobbyists through your smartphone. Numerous websites, blogs, and articles are a good source of information via the Internet, while fish forums and fish groups offer a rich exchange of experiences from fellow fishkeepers.

Unfortunately, both good and bad information are oftentimes presented to newbie fishkeepers, and this can only confuse them more. There are many occasions when I received text messages, PMs, and calls from newbie hobbyists seeking my opinion on certain issues because they just did not know who or what to believe. Having a mentor is, of course, the best situation for a newbie. Your mentor can ask the opinion of someone who is a successful fishkeeper of your particular fish; your mentor should be able to tell you what to do and explain why or how to do it.

If there is no one to ask, then it is up to the newbie fishkeeper to distinguish BASICScorrect information from what is erroneous. Let common sense be your guide to determine what is true or not. If it doesn’t make sense to a newbie fishkeeper, then most likely it will not make sense to anyone at all.

There are many social groups in the fishkeeping community in the Philippines that fishkeepers subscribe to. Unfortunately, these groups are known for freewheeling information about fishkeeping since anyone is free to post. Comments here are not a “dime a dozen” but rather a “free for all”; so long as you are quick at the keyboard or on your touch screen, then your comment will be published. Some comments in these groups are highly unreliable. We live in a free country and everyone is entitled to express their own opinion. But everyone’s opinion is not necessarily true or correct. Unfortunately, some use social media through fish groups to enhance their personal image and push their own goals; they are not there to share correct information.

It always raises my ire to read a recommendation from someone that ends with the statement, “Let’s wait for what the masters will say.” How can someone share ideas when that person is not confident about their recommendation? Honestly, this only confuses readers. I think it is best to start with the comment “Let’s wait for what the masters will say,” then refrain from adding anything. Obviously, a person who ends his or her recommendation with “Let’s wait for what the masters will say” is really more interested in airtime and “pogi points” and not about addressing the concerns of the newbie fishkeeper.

Comments that make a lot noise and elicit unrelated side comments are viewed a lot and produce many “likes”—but these usually don’t come with a lot of sense. On the other hand, a thread-stopping comment that is viewed and “liked” by many is usually the one that makes a lot of sense. The comment is so clear and correct that no one is feels obliged to add further comments, and the “likes” are an affirmation of the correctness of the comment.

It is understandable that newbie fishkeepers worry a lot and therefore will have to ask a lot of questions. But then they too will have to learn fishkeeping themselves. If they just ask questions so that answers are spoon-fed to them, then this will get them nowhere. The information shared by fellow fishkeepers must be listened to, analyzed, and adapted to real life fishkeeping situations. Otherwise you will never learn. You can’t be a newbie with 10 years of newbie experience!

As the learning curve improves, the more confident the newbie becomes. There shall be less worries and more time to enjoy the hobby.

Maintenance is Hell

When my niece Isabella Ampil was about 7 or 8 years old, she kept bugging her parents for a tank. Her dad agreed but explained the fishkeeping hobby requires serious responsibility. So my niece and I would have chats for her to know what she was getting into.

Of course my expert advice got her so motivated. However, when she told her friends about her plans, things drastically changed. Her peers quickly gave her a reality check about the work she needed to put into the hobby and… Kaboom! She wouldn’t have any of that. After all there are more fun things for a little girl to do than clean messy filters.

I must admit fishkeeping duties are a daily grind and can become a burden for some, taking the fun out of aquarium keeping. After all, to be a successful fishkeeper, you must maintain optimum water quality. This means putting in a lot of time and effort.

While it is important to have optimum water quality, and having a nice clean tank is desirable, remember that there is no such thing as an aquarium that is spotlessly clean. Do not be so obsessive compulsive that you are overly concerned about every single bit of dirt in your tank. After all, you have a filter, so you let your filter work for you. Tank maintenance is a program and it entails periodic cleaning activities scheduled weekly, monthly, and biannually. Maintenance work that you need to do weekly is a 20-30% partial water change, wiping front glass panels, and checking on lights and fixtures. Monthly maintenance work includes cleaning and rinsing mechanical filters and scrubbing algae off the glass panels. Biannual maintenance work requires cleaning the biological section of filters and probably replacing charcoal or other chemical filtration media.

It is true that the harder you work at maintaining your tank, the more will you be rewarded with a beautiful tank. Don’t be such so obsessive compulsive about this as well and develop a schedule that will let you “work smarter” to work less. Be reminded that your sacrifices shall be rewarded, so you might as well have fun doing your chores. So let’s have less of the anxiety and more of the fun.

Relax in Sickness or in Health

Fish getting sick is, of course, a big concern; after all, who would wants their pet to get sick? This will happen, so you better be ready when it does. The first thing to remember when the health of the fish is an issue is to know if it is sick or not. This may sound crazy but if you do not know what symptoms to look for, then you will never know if your fish is sick. So it’s best to do research or ask fellow fishkeepers for their opinion.

Unfortunately, some fishkeepers go over the edge. They take pictures and videos and post the same pictures and videos in all possible fish groups and ask what is wrong with their fish. The thing is, they will get hundreds of different replies—and as a result, they won’t know which answers are right. Worst case scenario: no one replies. Well, actually, this is better for the fish, but worse for their egos…for panicking for no apparent reason at all.

This reminds me of a recent post that appeared in a number of fish groups; I was tagged to solicit a comment. This person posted 3 or 4 pictures of an Arowana with a spot on its head. Reading through the comments, the spot appeared to be a “pimple.” So I asked how many of these “pimples” there were. One…one “pimple”…even in human experience, no one dies of a pimple. It would be different if it were a few or some “pimples” because it could be the onset of an Anchor Worm outbreak. But one “pimple”?

If you can’t be sure if your fish is sick or not, the best guide is your experience. If your fish hasn’t been sick at all, then your experience tells you what a healthy fish looks like. Now look at your fish and observe it keenly. Does it look the same as when it was not sick? Is its behavior the same as when it was not sick? Since you know how it looks like when it is not sick, you can compare the way it looks and behaves at present. If they are the same, then you can be sure it is not sick. But if things are different, then it may be sick.

A fish is sick if, physically, you see something different from the norm, like redness, swelling, lesions, parasites attached to the fish, protruding scales, or tiny white spots. Its behavior also may be different from the norm. It may be lethargic, timid, scratching, or shimmering. All these are observations that are contrary to how a healthy fish looks or behaves.

Take note of these observations and research on what the disease is called. You need to identify the disease to know what medicine to look for. From there, use the medicine and follow directions as indicated. While we have many veterinarians around, we don’t really have a fish doctor in the country. So you will have to take charge.

Death Really Does Us Part

When your fish dies, it is a big-time bummer. Some people get so affected that they even leave fishkeeping altogether. Some share pictures of their dead fish and post about the death in their social media accounts and give eulogies to their fallen fish. Everyone has their own way of reacting when a fish dies. But you know what? The truth of the matter is that at one point, just like all living things, your fish will die. This is a natural process which is indeed part of fishkeeping.

What is important is that death of your fish does not lead you to depression. You have to move on. Like what they always say, “It’s not how many times you fall, but how many time you pick yourself up.” So gather yourself after mourning and take a look at your tank. If it is empty, take three deep breaths and move on.

Take another look. Do you know what you are missing?

No, not your fish that has died; remember, you are moving on. An empty tank means you have to buy a new fish! It doesn’t make sense to have a fish tank without fish, right? So stop mumbling and grumbling. Google up some images of a new and exciting fish to whet your appetite. Hey, fishkeeping is fun; it is relaxing. Go get yourself a new fish and let’s do this all over again! Happy fishkeeping!

For comments, suggestions, and questions, write to Angel Ampil at AngelAmpil@yahoo.com.

This appeared as “Relax and Enjoy the Hobby!” in Animal Scene’s April 2016 issue.