Thinking of joining a fish show? Here’s what you may expect.

Text, illustrations, and photos by Manuel Yap

When my passion for fishkeeping grew deeper, reading books was not enough. I searched for more in-depth knowledge on fish. One day, as I visited a local pet store, I noticed a small announcement. It was an invitation to attend a fish seminar on cichlids. I said, “Wow, is this true?” I inquired at the number indicated on it and attended my very first seminar.

It was around 1997: yes, you heard it right. It was a memorable seminar since I met new friends and speakers of great knowledge. It was then that I decided to attend every seminar available. It was not easy because mostly only landline numbers are available as a means of communication in those days.

I then joined a newly formed club called SPA (Society of Philippine Aquarists). They conducted seminars and soon started fish shows. I learned a lot from its president, the late Timmy Rodas. He was very generous in sharing ideas and experiences. His partner and former SPA president Butch De Los Santos became a good friend; he still is, today. It was an era where imported flowerhorns were introduced.

Trophies I won from fish competitions; as you can see, Animal Scene always supported such events.

I was invited by Butch who asked if I was interested in displaying my tank. It would be my first time to join such an event. It was a fish competition held in Glorietta Makati in conjunction with the movie screening of the popular “Finding Nemo.”

With my friend and co-hobbyist Henry Sy, we set up a black and white theme marine tank. I was so surprised that so many people took pictures of it. Beside my tank were the flowerhorn tanks of Johnny Filart (also an Animal Scene columnist) who enters his flowerhorns in competitions. I had the chance to meet him, and he became one of my close friends in the hobby. He won numerous awards in that event. During the awarding of the competition, we received a special award. They called it the “Nemo Award.” Animal Scene already supports such events.

I have categorized the evolution of fish shows in the Philippines in three stages:

1990s: Announcements of shows were made through pet shops and word of mouth. Restaurants were the common venues for seminars. Basketball courts inside subdivisions were popular venues for fish competitions. Sometimes, hobbyist with big residential gardens would offer their place for such purposes. Sponsors were all fish related products.

2000s: Fish clubs became accessible via internet forums. Shopping malls started to open their doors to fish events. These created more opportunities for awareness, especially among the mall shoppers, so that they could get a glimpse of the hobby.

Many clubs were created for specific fish species. PALHS became an influential fish group for widening the knowledge of the hobby. It has a good organizational structure and the choice of leadership helps ensure that fish show events are held annually. They also have both pet and non-pet product sponsors, which is healthy for the hobby. Their corporate affiliates make the legitimate sellers place themselves in a fair position. PALHS has successfully connected all other pet hobbyists such as marine, planted tank lovers, and birds, among others. They are presently still active.

2010s: Facebook groups have a great impact on the hobby, making fish groups more accessible to all hobbyists. Everyone, from beginners, advanced keepers, sellers, and buyers all benefitted. Transactions, event announcements, and updates have never been easier. Fish shows now have other pet participants such as reptiles and rodents groups. This makes the pet awareness stronger. But this has also its downsides. Scammers and bashers are also present waiting for prey.

In 2003, I entered my first fish competition. The venue was at Robinson’s Galleria. I research every detail through reading and the advice of valuable friends. I entered cichlids in different categories. I focused not on size alone but in proportions, color, and most of all, deportment.

Four types of cichlids when I entered my first fish competition.

My entries were:

• Golden severum

• Festae

• Firemouth

• Temporales

Cichlids were not popular at that time because in the grooming stage, their colors and deportment were often neglected. People were surprised that island born cichlids can be so beautiful.

Common objectives for organizers of fish show events:

• Sharing knowledge through seminars

• Entering their fish in competitions

• Generating profits for club funds, charity, or personal income.

• Advertising both pet and non-pet related products

• Promoting the club

Most common varieties of fish competing:

• Flowerhorn

• Goldfish

• Discus

• Guppies

• Bettas

• Arowana

A typical bare tank setup.

Basic tank setups used for fish competitions include the following:

• Bare tanks

• Sponge, internal box filters, or overhead filters

• Lights

• Sticker label for winners

Common Issues During Fish Shows:

No clear standard of criteria Some claim they use international rules. Even if we use their own set of rules, I think it is okay so long as we make sure that participants are fully informed of theseJudges – Most commonly invited to serve as judges are pet shop owners, hobbyists actively participating in groups, and senior hobbyists. But being in the industry or hobby does not always mean they are equipped to judge.Participants – Almost all are accepted to get a good number of entries. Organizers sometimes even brag about the sheer number of entries to their competition. But quality and quantity are not the same.

Organizers’ credibility – I was surprised when I attended a fish show. The organizer created his own Facebook group, sold fish, organized his event, assisted those who bought fish from him on how to win, and even announced the winning fishes in his group. There is no rule about this kind of setup but ethics should be a standard.

My tips for those interested in joining the fish competitions:

International farm visits can give us awareness of the global market and potential competition.

• Learn everything about the fish you want to enter in a competition.

• Clarify why you want to join a competition.

• Focus on color, body proportions, and deportment.

• Use your own conditioned water during ingress.

• Ask permission from the organizers in advance if you can use heaters.

• Feed less during competition to minimize ammonia and make your fish more active.

• Do a water change prior to the competition.

• Prepare your tank at home before the egress.

Last year, I attended the 2015 Aquarama. I felt sad because the participants and its liveliness were evidently gone. I suspected this was because of the Internet information era. Trades and information are already done through websites and social media. Aquarama announced a few months earlier that it already transferred its group to China. We can learn a lot from international shows such as professional standards and even farm visits. We have many local hobbyists with mini farms whom we can support and learn from. Are fish shows and clubs important to our hobby? Definitely. It boils down to the vision of the organizers. If we continue to upgrade the standards of our shows, hobbyists will grow in number, and the pet industry as a whole will benefit. We need to do our share by supporting the clubs with a clear vision through joining, encouraging them, and unselfishly sharing our experiences.

Do you have questions or suggestions for column topics for the author? E-mail Manuel Yap at aquarium_zen@yahoo.com. All column materials are based on research, interviews, and personal experiences.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s April 2016 issue.