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Cultural Difference in the Aquarium Hobby

  • Author m5100
  • Creation date
This article will not be a guide or useful tips, but rather something you may not be aware of, find interesting or strange. I’m going to talk about some differences I noticed between the European and American fish keeping hobby.

Starting from the beginning, about two years ago, before getting my first aquarium I did a lot of research and got interested in this hobby immediately. There weren’t many hobbyists in my hometown so my main source was the internet.

Even though English is not my first language, usually I don’t even try to google most topics in my native language. On most topics there is not enough information in my mother-tongue and I always like to rely on multiple sources.

It’s no secret that most of the information on the internet (in English, that is) comes from the USA. This is where things start to get interesting. Not being aware of any differences I’m about to mention, I went to a LFS looking for the water tests. So far so good, right?

I spoke with the LFS owner, being known as an experienced and reliable fish keeper. He breeds most of the fish right in his store and I’m not talking only livebearers. He specializes in African cichlids, but sometimes does goldfish and angelfish as well.

Water tests? Why would you need those? I think we don’t have them, nobody buys those.
His answer really surprised me. How can such an experienced fish keeper not use water tests? Maybe other stores will have water tests…

Turns out, this was not a unique case. In fact, when traveling to a new city, my favorite activity is to visit as many LFS as I can. Same answers everywhere. Of course, some stores have them laying around at the back of dusty shelves, but I realized that buying the tests for all the main parameters would cost half of my set-up! Even simple 5 in 1 test strips, which doesn’t tell much, were clearly overpriced comparing to fish food or equipment.

But I think it would be misleading to think that this kind of fish keeping hobby is more archaic or less advanced. I personally believe it comes down to a different mindset. I do not mean this as critic, but in this case American community seems more consumeristic.

Well, this is also the reason why I sometimes feel a bit out of place in a fishlore forum, even though I love the community. A casual conversation between two European aquarists would be discussing more general conditions and processes rather than exact products. It’s natural to recommend a good brand, but much more attention is paid to its effect, rather than what that product model it is. For example, conversation between local fish keepers may sound like:

-I currently use 300 liter per hour filter pump for my 120 liter tank.
-Oh, your tank has too little flow, you should upgrade to something around 600 liter per hour.

As a comparison, same conversation between American fish keepers to me sounds more like this:
-I currently use a ****** filter for my 30 gallon tank.
-Oh, I don’t think that’s enough for a 30 gallon tank, you should upgrade to ******, that’s a really good model.

Neither of those two examples seems neither better, nor worse. Just different.

Majority of aquarists I know do not use water tests. Once you get used to it, living without them is not as hard as it sounds. An experienced aquarist, who really knows his tank, can pretty closely assume his water parameter changes. Of course, one can never be 100% sure without testing the water, but I know many older generation fish keepers (among them even a couple discus breeders), who had never touched a water test in their life!

Of course, there are exceptions everywhere, especially when talking about Saltwater tanks.
Another important point is the maintenance price. I’m not sure what the situation in the USA is, but here I’d say that the average aquarium upkeep consists of about 75% electricity bills, 15% for food and the remaining 10% for occasional frets, meds, conditioners etc. In fact, many people don’t normally even use conditioners or stabilizers. Since tap water is pretty good where I live, it does not require any advanced treatment before doing a water change. It’s easy to find your tap water parameters in your water plant webpage or simply by talking to local fish keepers. As you all probably know, leaving water buckets overnight with an air stone evaporates chlorine completely. So often using stabilizers to reduce ammonia, nitrates etc. is viewed as wasting money and only eliminating symptoms, instead of a cause. Of course, there are people who regularly use fertilizers, conditioners, stabilizers and other chemistry, but in this context, there are so few of them, I think they can be called exceptions.
But the biggest difference can be a certain DIY-ish culture (which I heard is very popular among russian fish keepers, but I’m not sure). Once chatting with an experienced fish breeder I asked how he prevents fungal infections when manually hatching the angelfish eggs.

-It’s simple – he said. –Just go to your doctor and ask to prescribe erythromycin. Dose it half a pill for the 40 liter. It works like charm.

It seemed crazy even for me at the time. After googling the ingredients of popular anti-fungus medications, though, I found that some of them are actually erythromycin based. But this is one of more extreme examples.

More common example is equipment, especially hood and lighting. This is another conversation I had some time ago, perfectly illustrating widespread opinion:

-I heard you are really good with plants. I was wondering what king of lighting you would recommend for my tank. My current hood has two sockets for T8 lamps….
-Wait. You still use shop-bought aquarium hood? You should make your own hood to fit more lamps under there. It’s pretty easy, just use some….

Not all people do it. I’d say, two types of people prefer DIY projects rather than just buying a product are the ones that are really obsessed with fish tanks or just have too much time on their hands. For some time, I used to be both. It takes quite a bit of research and work, but you also save considerable amount of money and learn something useful on the way.

So talking form the personal experience. My tank still has a default shop-bought hood, but I managed to fit almost the double amount of light inside. I use a freshwater sump with hang on overflow for which I took inspiration form Uarujoey youtube videos. In my aquarium cabinet at the moment I have at least two or three kinds of simple DIY meds for fish. So far, no fish died neither from my medication, nor from any disease. Plus, it’s fun to play fish pharmacist.

On a negative side, I think that this kind of DIY-ish culture is caused by a small market. Low demand means bigger prices of some more advanced products. For something like water tests, it seems the only sensible way to buy them is to ship from abroad. Many fish stores are always on the edge of bankruptcy, so it’s kind of a closed circle (although, I have heard that balancing on the edge of bankruptcy is pretty common among small fish stores in USA as well).

So I think I covered the main points I wanted to mention. Now a small disclaimer: This is my subjective opinion, made form personal observations. There are different people everywhere with different mindsets, attitudes and methods regardless of nationality. This text is not a scientific article based on facts, but rather on personal observations.

Hopefully, it was not completely boring to read. Any form of feedback is welcome :)
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