Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome - with Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill ex­plains why we fish­keep­ers are all he­roes.

Iam prop­erly jeal­ous of you lot. I look around, and what I see is a med­ley of awe­some tanks. At all lev­els.

When I started this hobby, my tanks were ab­so­lute garbage. Some would ar­gue they still are. Com­pared to what else I’m see­ing these days, I’d not fight my cor­ner very hard. You folks should be very im­pressed with where you’ve brought the hobby.

In­ter­pre­ta­tion of na­ture

This month I had to write the obit­u­ary of an early pioneer and hero of mine, from a time when fishkeeping was viewed very dif­fer­ently. Vis­it­ing his early works, the kind of tanks he cham­pi­oned then were a world away from the con­certed ef­forts of to­day. But you could still sense the same ur­gent strand run­ning through them. An in­ter­pre­ta­tion of na­ture, clumsy and in­ac­cu­rate, but sin­cere and heart­felt.

I no­tice that not only has tech­nol­ogy moved on since those early times, but the trans­la­tion — the way we ex­press na­ture — has shifted.

That’s not to say that those first, great fish­keep­ers were ‘back­wards’ in any sense. I look at the in­no­va­tions of the day, fifty-plus years ago, and re­alise that some look as cut­ting edge now as they did then. Then I chuckle at the thought that some of these ideas are be­ing passed off by a new wave of aquar­ists as though dis­cov­ered for the first time — ideas con­ceived long be­fore they were even born. It would ap­pear, as one as­tute gen­tle­man put it, that “Fish­keep­ers are like some spi­ders — the young feed from pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions then just de­part thank­lessly af­ter­ward.”

Re­mem­ber­ing our hobby ori­gins is

Imag­ine a time when fil­tra­tion wasn’t un­der­stood, when oxy­gena­tion was seen as the only es­sen­tial fac­tor in keep­ing fish, and when heat­ing wa­ter in­volved paraf­fin lamps un­der slate based aquaria...

im­por­tant. Lots of great men and women car­ried out great works to get us where we are. In­ven­tors cre­ated heaters that worked un­der­wa­ter, in­stantly paving the way for thou­sands of ex­tra avail­able fish. Imag­ine a time when fil­tra­tion wasn’t un­der­stood, when it was con­sid­ered that oxy­gena­tion was the only es­sen­tial fac­tor in keep­ing aquatic life. Imag­ine when heat­ing wa­ter in­volved paraf­fin lamps un­der slate based aquaria. These were the work­ing con­di­tions of our for­bear­ers. They took the rawest el­e­ments of fishkeeping — wa­ter, a view­ing box, gravel and plants, and made it in to some­thing huge. To them, we owe a debt of grat­i­tude, and most of us don’t even know who they are.

If they were alive to see what fishkeeping has now be­come, they would be be­yond star­tled. Im­mac­u­late reefs re­ly­ing on noth­ing more than rocks and bub­bles (think about it — what is a pro­tein skim­mer at the end of the day?) with corals more colour­ful than those found in the wild. Rolling Iwagumi (I’m guess­ing the plu­ral of Iwagumi is still Iwagumi — write in if I’m wrong) with car­pets of pearling leaves to ri­val any lawns. And the biotopes. The end­less biotopes. I love how I can use Google Earth to para­chute down on to any spot on the planet and then repli­cate it. Back then, they had to ar­range a month­long ex­pe­di­tion with fund­ing, visas, an­gry na­tives, wild an­i­mals and malaria just to find out if there was a river some­where. Now that’s pas­sion.

The hobby is what you make it

It is good to see, then, that for the best part this legacy is not wasted. I’ll con­cede, there are fish­keep­ers who don’t em­brace the au­then­tic side of the hobby. Per­haps the nos­tal­gic cliché of chopped rain­bow gravel and a lu­mi­nous sign declar­ing that their aquarium is a ‘no fish­ing’ zone is alive and well. I’ve seen some. The hobby is what you make of it. The thing is, the fish in these tanks come across as happy, and that’s fine by me.

In fact, scrub that. The fish look great. I might sneer and jeer at the taste in decor, but the fish look bet­ter than any­thing I started with. Education has been an an­ti­dote to the old er­rors of new tank syn­drome — even some non-fish­keep­ers now seem to know that you can’t just sling fish in a tank from the off.

Fishkeeping hero

As a col­lec­tive, give your­selves a huge pat on the back. You might not think you’ve done any­thing to war­rant it, but you have. You’ve lis­tened. You’ve read up on the sub­ject. I know that for a fact — if you weren’t read­ing about fish, you wouldn’t be look­ing at my child­ish scrawl, right now. If you’ve ever put off buy­ing a pur­chase be­cause you hadn’t re­searched it, if you’ve ten­ta­tively dipped your first test strip into your tank and bam­boo­zled your­self with colour charts, or if you’ve gin­gerly net­ted out the last Guppy fry into a breed­ing trap, then you are a fishkeeping hero, and a part of a much wider, older legacy than you might imag­ine.

So well done for that, and keep up the good work. I LOVE see­ing what you ladies and gen­tle­men out there do. Nathan Hill is Prac­ti­cal Fishkeeping’s fea­tures editor, pho­tog­ra­pher, videog­ra­pher, freestyle and slalom skater, am­a­teur trip-hop/lo-fi pro­ducer and biotope fan who has just planned out a truly in­sane project.

If only those early fish­keep­ers could see how far we’ve come...

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