Work­ing in aquat­ics can be re­ward­ing but chal­leng­ing. Here are some point­ers to set you off in the right di­rec­tion.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - CONTENTS - JONNY ARCHER Jonny has 21 years of fish ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing re­tail and an aqua­cul­ture de­gree.

From work­ing in aquat­ics re­tail to teach­ing, con­ser­va­tion and more, here’s how to start get­ting paid for your pas­sion.

WHAT IS bet­ter than fish­keep­ing as a hobby? Get­ting paid to do it, of course! Get­ting a job in an aquat­ics store is ac­ces­si­ble to nearly ev­ery­one, and the only pre­req­ui­site is en­thu­si­asm – most shop man­agers hire staff based on this above all else.

Be­fore you send off your CV and cov­er­ing let­ter though, you should know a lit­tle of what the job re­quires, what you’re go­ing to be ex­pected to do, and what you could pos­si­bly gain from this ca­reer path.

GET­TING THE JOB Ba­sic knowl­edge

While en­thu­si­asm will get your foot in the door, a strong knowl­edge of wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters, fil­ter clean­ing, ba­sic fish com­pat­i­bil­ity and es­pe­cially the ni­tro­gen cy­cle will make you a strong can­di­date. Ev­ery­thing else can be taught on the job and picked up as you go along.

Numer­acy skills are es­sen­tial (you’ll be work­ing out things like wa­ter vol­umes and pond liner sizes), but be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate clearly may be most im­por­tant of all.

Ar­eas of in­ter­est

If there are sev­eral can­di­dates for the job, then hav­ing an area of in­ter­est such as marines, rift val­ley ci­ch­lids, or aquas­cap­ing can give you a com­pet­i­tive edge. Make sure your ex­pe­ri­ence in your spe­cific area comes through on your cov­er­ing let­ter and in your in­ter­view.

Most shops are gen­er­alised, but they might need some­one with your spe­cific knowl­edge to cover a gap in what they of­fer. Ex­press­ing your area of in­ter­est will never go against you.

KEEP­ING THE JOB Get scrub­bing

Cus­tomers will base their first opin­ions of the shop on how tidy and clean it is. Once cus­tomers are served and fish are fed, pick up an al­gae scrub­ber, gravel cleaner, brush, duster or vac­uum and get clean­ing. When cus­tomers walk into

the shop and the tanks are dirty, that sug­gests staff don’t have the time – or worse, the de­sire – to look after tanks and live­stock. While not al­ways the case, the gen­eral trend is that ti­dier the shop is, the health­ier the live­stock. Not only that, but your boss will love you for it!

Cus­tomers or fishes’ needs?

At some point – pos­si­bly on your very first day – you’ll get a cus­tomer who wants to keep a fish in an aquar­ium it’s not suit­able for. While there’s no ‘right’ way to ad­dress this is­sue, po­litely ed­u­cat­ing the cus­tomer nor­mally changes their mind.

In some cases, you may be obliged to refuse a sale. If a cus­tomer is de­lib­er­ately try­ing to buy a fish for which they have en­tirely the wrong set-up (for ex­am­ple, some­one with a fresh­wa­ter tank may try to buy marine fish and refuse to take no for an an­swer), they need to be told clearly of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions – that they will be vi­o­lat­ing the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act 2006 by will­fully plac­ing an an­i­mal into a sit­u­a­tion that will harm it, as well as im­me­di­ately void­ing any kind of war­ranty by buy­ing an item to use out­side its des­ig­nated pur­pose. If they are be­yond rea­son­ing on this point, al­ways work the trans­ac­tion up the line of au­thor­ity – in this case, to the man­ager, who will be in a po­si­tion to ex­plain the store’s poli­cies.

Don’t as­sume any­thing

Of­ten, you’ll get a cus­tomer who will walk in and ask for some­thing like a Clown­fish and won’t ask for a shred of ad­vice – there may be hardly any talk­ing at all. In cases where there’s lit­tle or no in­ter­ac­tion, be wary. There’s a chance this per­son has watched ‘Find­ing Nemo’ a few days be­fore, bought a bowl, filled it with tap­wa­ter, and is hop­ing to drop in a Clown­fish and hope for the best. Fish­keep­ing is a sur­pris­ingly knowl­edge de­pen­dent hobby and some­times cus­tomers sim­ply don’t know what they don’t know.

If you find your­self in this sit­u­a­tion – as you in­vari­ably will – broad ‘small talk’ about the cus­tomer’s aquar­ium will come across as chatty and less like an in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Open with ev­ery­day ques­tions like, “How long has the tank been set up for?”. Ask what tank mates the fish will go in with, what the wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters in the tank are – ques­tions that even a slightly ex­pe­ri­enced aquar­ist will un­der­stand. This way you can spot any po­ten­tial prob­lems early.

In a nut­shell, don’t just as­sume the per­son you’re serv­ing is en­tirely com­pe­tent, be­cause of­ten they aren’t (which is why aquatic stores need so many sales ad­vi­sors!). As a re­tailer, you need to be con­stantly on your guard for mis­takes peo­ple are mak­ing in their pur­chases.

Be hum­ble

The main­stay of the job is serv­ing cus­tomers and giv­ing ad­vice. But like most hob­by­ists around the coun­try, you can prob­a­bly think back to a time you over­heard a sales as­sis­tant giv­ing out the wrong ad­vice. It hap­pens a lot.

Usu­ally, this oc­curs ei­ther be­cause the shop as­sis­tant gen­uinely thinks they are right, or is too ner­vous to say, “Sorry, I don’t know, but I’ll go and find out for you.” It’s al­ways bet­ter to ad­mit that you don’t know some­thing and seek out the right an­swer, than to wing it. In a worstcase sce­nario, if a cus­tomer fol­lows your ad­vice and sub­se­quently kills their fish, you could find your­self li­able for their losses. Never wing it.

Work­ing week­ends

Week­ends and bank hol­i­days are the busiest times for aquat­ics stores, and that’s when they’ll need all hands on deck. if you’re pre­cious about those days off, this job won’t be for you.

As you work up the ranks, you’ll be ex­pected to come in on christ­mas day and box­ing day too, be­cause those fish still need look­ing after.

WHAT’S in it for you? Knowl­edge

by the sheer power of im­mer­sion, you’ll be­come a more knowl­edge­able fish­keeper. you’ll see hun­dreds of species of fish, shrimp, plants and corals and you’ll be re­quired to learn about each one and ad­vise peo­ple on them. As your knowl­edge ac­crues, you’ll find your­self more and more valu­able to the com­pany.

In­ter­per­sonal skills

When i started my ca­reer, i was shy and ter­ri­ble at pub­lic speak­ing. now, after talk­ing to thou­sands of to­tal strangers for 11 years, i’m a much more con­fi­dent per­son and can com­fort­ably speak pub­licly.


Once you’ve spent some time in re­tail, fa­mil­iarised your­self with dif­fer­ent species, and pos­si­bly found your own niche of ex­per­tise, you can look at tran­si­tion­ing to a dif­fer­ent role in the in­dus­try.

Per­haps you have a gift for breed­ing – there’s a pos­si­ble ca­reer in con­ser­va­tion. Maybe you can con­vey in­for­ma­tion so well that there’s a ca­reer for you in writ­ing, blog­ging or videos. A wealth of jobs are avail­able to you once you’ve served your time in the field.


Aquat­ics re­tail is a thank­less task in many ways and, un­for­tu­nately, one of those ways is mon­e­tar­ily. Jobs start at the na­tional min­i­mum wage (£15,269 at time of writ­ing) mov­ing up to a typ­i­cal £18,500-£22,000 for a man­age­rial po­si­tion.

To off­set this, many aquat­ics stores have a gen­er­ous dis­count pol­icy for the staff, mean­ing that while you might not be tak­ing home ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ money, you can be a whole lot closer to that dream tank you’ve al­ways wanted!

Other JOBS TO con­sider Tank in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance

if you have ex­pe­ri­ence in set­ting up aquar­i­ums, are fa­mil­iar with plumb­ing, have aquas­cap­ing skills and have a clean driv­ing li­cence, then tank in­stal­la­tions and main­te­nance could be for you.

Work might be spo­radic if you go in­de­pen­dent, but salaries at the high-level in­stal­la­tion com­pa­nies start around £20K.


Once you’re a trea­sure trove of fish­keep­ing knowl­edge, why not teach it?

Col­leges of­fer salaries in the re­gion of £17K up­wards for qual­i­fied staff to look after their fish houses and teach stu­dents all about aquar­ium care. Ad­di­tional teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions may be re­quired, though you may get these as part of the job.

Fish farm­ing/breed­ing

You’ll not be do­ing much breed­ing of or­na­men­tal fish in the UK, al­though in­creas­ing num­bers of com­pa­nies are start­ing to cul­ture marine fish on our lo­cal shores.

If you’re pre­pared to travel, and if you have skills, then a fu­ture in ei­ther the Far East or East­ern Europe could await you.

Pub­lic aquar­ist/zookeeper

If you’re qual­i­fied to de­gree level in some­thing like Marine bi­ol­ogy, then you might want to look at a pub­lic aquar­ium job.

The hours are usu­ally long, the pay is usu­ally min­i­mal – you’ll find folks with up­per class honours de­grees work­ing for min­i­mum wage, and many more work­ing just as vol­un­teers! – and the com­pe­ti­tion is fierce, but there is no bet­ter plat­form to the world of con­ser­va­tion and sci­en­tific re­search.


De­spite be­ing told that books no longer sell, the UK sold a record break­ing £5.7 bil­lion of them in 2017. Fish books are a tough pitch, ad­mit­tedly, but spe­cial­ist ti­tles are still sought. Magazines are alive and well, as are blogs, and peo­ple who have a gift for writ­ing and a knowl­edge of fish will al­ways find some­one will­ing to pub­lish their work. Most roles in this area are free­lance, and prob­a­bly shouldn’t be re­lied upon for full-time in­come.

Fish vet

You’ll need to choose this ca­reer path early in life and you’ll face a min­i­mum of five years of spe­cial­ist train­ing to be a vet.

You’ll then have to put in ad­di­tional work to gain the ex­per­tise to be a fish vet, but at that point you will be one of a very se­lect few. Ex­pect to start on around £25K, but as you work up to part­ner­ship level, you can ex­pect a salary of £70K or more.

Now that’s what we call be­ing im­mersed in your work.

Tidy shops nail good first im­pres­sions. in­set: Be pre­pared to hear the name ‘nemo’ more times than your own.

Be­ing a spe­cial­ist in some­thing like African ci­ch­lids may help your prospects.

ABOVE: Main­tain­ing pri­vate aquaria and ponds is one op­tion to con­sider.

Fish farm­ing or whole­sale may re­quire re­lo­ca­tion.

Show off your spe­cial­ism and stand out from the crowd.

Fish vets are fi­nan­cially well re­warded.

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