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New folks entering the hobby


Jeff

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I'm a huge supporter of people getting into the hobby. So, I'd like to start a discussion about a valid reason why it's difficult for new people interested to get into the hobby and/or stay in the hobby. I think this can be productive in future recommendations for people who come here. I honestly think it'll give food for thought before some people give advice....maybe? I've read some discussions in other forums. But, let's be real: other forums are nothing compared to this one full of Nerms. Seriously. I've never been in a forum as dedicated and real to the hobby as this one. I digress...

I don't want to write a book for this post, because sometimes a lot can get lost in the shuffle. I prefer a bunch of shorter / quick posts by people, that's a long thread vs. each person's post is a book to read long thread, so I'll get right to my starting point.

Person A wants to get into the hobby. Maybe they try on their own without research / forum(s). Fish die. They find a forum. They're told they have to cycle the tank first. This can be anywhere from 4 - 8 weeks. So, this is kinda the first *oh boy* moment for them, right? It's going to be a month or two before I can even have fish?

We also recommend medicating fish (another hoop to jump through), a quarantine tank another *oh boy* moment...more money (can be cheap, but still more money), more time before they can go into the display tank.

I get it - fish aren't as easy as a dog or cat. But, I think there might be a better way (this is where I need some help from y'all) to help them get into / stay a little while instead of "well, you need this, this, and this.....and then you still need to do this, this, and this....wait for a while, and then you can have fish" mentality. 

Maybe I'm way off here, but there's got to be a better way of helping them. 

Everyone on this forum is super nice. The point of this, is, can't there be a better way of helping people instead of listing off all these things they need / should do, to be successful?

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The best thing I have thought of when I see new folks ask for advice is the variety they get. They think it all applies rather than knowing there are soooo many ways to do things that work but mixing them gets confusing. I think they should find one persons advice in their question that they understand and relate too that sounds like what they are doing and further question that specific person. I’m not new but when I started reading the variety of different ways to do things advice offered to new folks it got weedy for me.  So many things work with the same end result of healthy fish and plants. A list like the lighting schedule or most effective meds would be great. Like low tech fish less start plant start fish food start etc etc 

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Total noob prospective:

I think some of the issues are caused from a “sales” aspect depending on your LFS. I have 2 locations I go to. 1 is close and chain Petco and I got lucky as 2 of the fish team are heavily into their own planted tank. Now this Petco was great. Got my 3 tanks from them with the dollar a gallon sale. Got a 10 for QT and a 20 Long and 40 breeder. Let me come in daily to see fish I researched at home without buying as I was deciding. Now I went to another Petco 20 mins down the rd for a lid they didn’t have at my Petco, it was horrible. Dead fish, no living plants in tank. The 1 employee working knew nothing. 

Then I have a place 30 mins away called That Fish Place where a Licensed Marine Biologist is on staff. Now even they hire some younger sale people that know very little knowledge about the fish. This is a store double the size of a chain store but do a good job. The young kids that don’t know to much will tell you, let me get x,y,z. They are just learning. However I go here once a week just to talk fish with some of the other employees. 
 
Now I gave all of you and Cory and a few other YouTube pages. I’m learning so much daily. When I was a kid they used have Goldfish you got at fairs. I think the ethical treatment of all creatures has changed in the newer generations in just the last 30 years. I mean to some if you kill a fish big deal but if you kill a kitten it’s crazy. To me I currently have lost Cherry Barbs in QT from Ick and I felt like a horrible person. I even buried them in my potted plants outside. 

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I've had a conversation about this with my husband, but fishkeeping has a lot of barriers-to-entry (both with knowledge and investment) in order to be successful. There's an awful lot of gatekeeping within the hobby culture, and not a lot of simple and direct ways to get good, correct, and helpful information about where to begin. And on top of that, the sheer volume of things a newcomer needs to keep in mind can be awfully overwhelming and confusing to tackle.

LFSs and big box stores need to do a better job guiding people towards making good decisions for their tanks and fish.

We as a community need to do a better job starting people out from the ground up and helping them learn by doing. I think this forum is especially good with being kind to newcomers in a way that I don't see in a lot of other corners of the internet.

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On 9/23/2021 at 9:41 AM, Guppysnail said:

The best thing I have thought of when I see new folks ask for advice is the variety they get. They think it all applies rather than knowing there are soooo many ways to do things that work but mixing them gets confusing. I think they should find one persons advice in their question that they understand and relate too that sounds like what they are doing and further question that specific person. I’m not new but when I started reading the variety of different ways to do things advice offered to new folks it got weedy for me.  So many things work with the same end result of healthy fish and plants. A list like the lighting schedule or most effective meds would be great. Like low tech fish less start plant start fish food start etc etc 

Totally agreed! It can be confusing but if you watch or read enough, you start to see the interconnection of accumulation of years of ownership by those you talk to. I remember when we had a tank as a child, there was no fish-less cycling, no bacteria starters, less medicine. I thought I knew when I started up this year but I got schooled quickly! 

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Yes I agree the whole fishless tank cycle can be off putting.  Especially for a new fish keeper.  There are methods of doing a cycle with fish but that includes many many water changes and a process.  But, perhaps there is fun in the chemistry and process of the cycle.  Its also a good habit to get in, clean the room, vacuum the floor and flush the toilet.  I have been thinking about the process I want though getting back into the hobby from a long time being out.  The gathering of information.  the miss information.  The better ways of doing things.  Finding all this information out.  

One of the hardest this is finding a really good local fish store.  I have one near me that have very nice people but not the best fish.  Both health wise and selection wise.  The other one near me has a better selection , kinda, and healthier fish but the people are a little off putting.  

So how to convince people.  Well, the end product that can build up to. Tanking of the process, the time, growing the fish the plants, the changes the tanks goes though.   It's something they don't have to buy everything at one time and collect what they need over time.  So you CAN start with one tank and a few fish.  You can enjoy building that tank up from a couple of fish to a beautiful thriving biotope.  One tank, one fish, one plant, one decoration at a time.  And your first tank can become the quarantine tank over time as we all like to move to larger tanks over time.  When I got back into the hobby I started with a 60 gallon and quickly moved into a 150 gallon.  

A lot of YouTube videos shows beautiful tanks all set up or some beautiful build that looks almost instant.  We need videos showing the slow time builds.  The ones showing the metamorphous most tanks go through over a year as things are adjusted, decorations changed, plants growing and needing tending, fish not only getting added but growing.   I can find a million videos showing someone setting up a tank and it being 100% within a 20 minute video.  But find a time laps video of the life cycle of a tank to reach a mature tank and it doesn't exist.  That cycle, living it, the ups and downs is the true joy of fish keeping.

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On 9/23/2021 at 9:54 AM, ThomasLC said:

A lot of YouTube videos shows beautiful tanks all set up or some beautiful build that looks almost instant.  We need videos showing the slow time builds.  The ones showing the metamorphous most tanks go through over a year as things are adjusted, decorations changed, plants growing and needing tending, fish not only getting added but growing.   I can find a million videos showing someone setting up a tank and it being 100% within a 20 minute video.  But find a time laps video of the life cycle of a tank to reach a mature tank and it doesn't exist.  That cycle, living it, the ups and downs is the true joy of fish keeping.

This is something I thought as well. When I started my journal here I choose to include the good bad and unsightly messes so new folks could see even experienced keeper make messes sometimes have ugly tanks and misfortunes. You have a great idea for a time lapse video from buying the tank through growth and change. If you make one tag me I would watch 😁

On 9/23/2021 at 9:50 AM, Stacy Z said:

Totally agreed! It can be confusing but if you watch or read enough, you start to see the interconnection of accumulation of years of ownership by those you talk to. I remember when we had a tank as a child, there was no fish-less cycling, no bacteria starters, less medicine. I thought I knew when I started up this year but I got schooled quickly! 

I agree. I started as a kid with a yard sale tank air pump creek water and fish I caught. It worked but now you need a nuclear engineering degree to start a tank???

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For the sake of the hobby and the fish, something simple like a few drops of Fritzyme7 Turbostart added to the bag water for every fish sold would be beneficial. At least the new tank (or an older tank for that matter) would have some bacteria that way. A dose of Prime added wouldn't hurt anything either in case the new fish buyer didn't neutralize their chlorine or already had too much ammonia or nitrites/nitrate for the new fish. A larger retail establishment can buy those items in large quantities and the cost per bag could be minimal but improve the chances of the fish living and the buyer being happy. Selling healthy fish that have been quarantined would be nice also.  Maybe adding a floating plant like frogbit or dwarf water lettuce to each bag would be smart also. It's absurdly prolific stuff and cheap for a retailer to grow themselves. "Would you like some frogbit or a dwarf water lettuce with your fish? It's free and can help your fish."

In short, fishkeeping comes down to keeping healthy bacteria in decent water. Do you need to know the ins and outs of the entire nitrogen cycle in detail? Not really. Do you need to run a hundred tests a week to monitor things? Not really. Once people get into the hobby and want to learn more, the information is out there.  But do most people need to know all of that? No. The right store doing things right, could make fishkeeping largely bulletproof for all but the most idiotic hobbyists. Add some bacterial starter to each bag of fish sold along with something like Prime to neutralize any ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates the tank already has, and most hobbyists would get off to an okay start.

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I love animals, but got into aquarium within the last 6-ish months kind of on accident.

The school where I work had quite a few tanks that were pretty neglected, and I started asking around to get permission to do some upgrades. There is so much information out there on setup/care and it is definitely a lot to go through, but between Aquarium Co-Op, Girl Talks Fish, The Turtle Girl, and several other YouTube channels and websites it was easy to compare different ways of raising fish/turtles and get an idea of what the average requirements were for the different species they had at the school. I live in Japan, so having so much information accessable on the internet was incredibly helpful, since even speaking Japanese I don't have the technical vocabulary to really have in-depth discussions with anyone at my LFS.

I think the fact that the fish/turtle/eel/axolotl at school were already there and anything I did was an improvement on the conditions they were in maybe took away some of the pressure of being completely new to aquariums. It has been so rewarding seeing the kids get much more engaged with the animals, and seeing the animals enjoy their improved homes. I definitely still have a lot to learn, but when I move somewhere with more space I am seriously considering getting a tank of my own. 

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There are so many variables why this hobby is hard to get into for some. I would say the breakdown of issues are:

  1. Directions are not universal for all tank setups, all fish, all tank sizes, all filtration methods, all light options, etc. There isn't a universal blanket method works for everything.
  2. Everyone has their own idea of what their dream tank looks like, but what they want doesn't always align with the investment required to get there.
  3. Not everyone has the space required for the tank size required for the species they want to house.
  4. Not everyone has the patience to take things slow, let things mature, and then stock accordingly.
  5. Not everyone has the discipline to keep up with the regular responsibilities of keeping up with an aquarium.
  6. People buy into this hobby with limited research or bad information from a sales driven LFS.
  7. People have expectations and force things with the pipedream that they will work when they clearly wont. 
  8. People these days are after instant gratification and don't understand how this isn't a thing in this hobby.

There are a ton of other variables too. I'm sure this hobby to all of us would be different if we had a mentor from the beginning and listened, or we started as a club member and were educated on what we were getting into before the trip to the LFS happens and money is exchanged for goods and livestock. 

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I haven’t read all the posts yet,  sorry for any redundancy. A playlist of @Cory’s and @Irene’s beginner videos will help anyone starting in the hobby. I re-started my hobby with a very basic skill set, their videos helped my put my learning curve on rocket mode. All the basic questions about cycling, algae control, lighting, substrate and stocking were answered before I bought my first large aquarium. I attribute my mostly trouble free start entirely to their advice. 

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On 9/23/2021 at 11:28 AM, Patrick_G said:

I haven’t read all the posts yet,  sorry for any redundancy. A playlist of @Cory’s and @Irene’s beginner videos will help anyone starting in the hobby. I re-started my hobby with a very basic skill set, their videos helped my put my learning curve on rocket mode. All the basic questions about cycling, algae control, lighting, substrate and stocking were answered before I bought my first large aquarium. I attribute my mostly trouble free start entirely to their advice. 

Looking for a sponge filter that wasn’t fine sank and could attach airstone and the no nonsense videos got me interested in this forum. 😁 being newer to the internet than fish keeping it surprised me how much misinformation or if your not a rocket chemist don’t bother stuff there is on the internet. Almost made me wonder how I kept fish alive so many years…almost 🤣

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On 9/23/2021 at 9:54 AM, ThomasLC said:

 

One of the hardest this is finding a really good local fish store. 

 

Bingo!

I'm honestly not sure what I would've done had I not found my first LFS (a SPECTACULAR mom and pop ONE, mind you) when I started 16 years ago. They were 1.5 miles from my house to boot.

I was dialed into getting an aquarium. Having this ridiculously nice and helpful LFS made it fun and a breeze....knowing I could just hop on by with any question I could come up with. Even when I was having trouble getting my tank cycled; I'd go in, and they'd bounce ideas around, trying to help any way they could.

I liked it so much, that I honestly went in to look sometimes knowing I wasn't going to buy anything. But, I knew I'd also be able to just hang out and talk with the owners. 

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On 9/23/2021 at 8:41 AM, Guppysnail said:

Looking for a sponge filter that wasn’t fine sank and could attach airstone and the no nonsense videos got me interested in this forum. 😁 being newer to the internet than fish keeping it surprised me how much misinformation or if your not a rocket chemist don’t bother stuff there is on the internet. Almost made me wonder how I kept fish alive so many years…almost 🤣

As a kid when I was still learning the science side of animal keeping this gate keeping was readily apparent. Alot of forums I have visited just ended up becoming country clubs on the internet where if you didn't present your stuff as they would, they would ignore you completely or belittle attempts at learning. 

 

There should be a little bit of "gate keeping" I believe, as for some they didn't truly want a fish. Some were attempted as party favors at a wedding or a kids birthday party. Walking people through the logistics of anything can be daunting, yes, but as long as it's given in a digestible manner people can and will light up with passion. The key is not talking down to newbies especially from a scientist's perspective you yourself can feed off their passion and get carried away and lose the person you're trying to lead through this hobby. As much as I enjoy talking biology and chemistry with enfranchised people, nothing ever topped seeing a new customer come back over and over to learn and pick up new pets and talk about their tanks so passionately.

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On 9/23/2021 at 9:48 AM, laritheloud said:

 fishkeeping has a lot of barriers-to-entry (both with knowledge and investment) in order to be successful.

Another great point.

On top of the barriers to entry,  you still have fish bowls, 1.5g aquariums (and other ridiculous sized aquariums) being for sale at stores, and fish given away at fairs and carnivals.

It's definitely a tough road ahead for a first time new person, unfortunately. 

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Just to ruffle feathers here, the problem is we, as in fish keepers that join and participate in a forum, go to local club meetings, actually want to see a time lapse video of the entire process ect… are a minority of a very small market to begin with. So the long scientific videos, the video explaining how to culture infusoria, or one explaining the way to get the last 2% of optimal lighting. And then P.S. or P.Co. Even your LFS hiring a marine biologist or having a full staff of quality fish keepers. No one is watching those videos and no store is cutting their profit margins that much. The majority of people searching for videos want shock value or a quick fix for the one problem their having that day. And stores big box and LFS thrive on the inexperienced or even the experienced impulse buyer. We as in us as in people who join forum for more than to ask 1 question, watch 2-8 hour live streams because I might pick up on 1 tidbit that inspires a whole new setup, ect… are what maybe 3% of a 16% pet owner market.

I started a thread, does this exist/ should this exist , although discouraging this was a lot of the feed back I got in a nutshell.

Disclaimer: all numbers and facts are made up and have no scientific research or data to prove anything I just said. 🥴

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My son and I decided to teach a 5th grade class all about keeping fish, from the bare bones beginning. Our friend is a 5th grade teacher, and let us come every Friday for the last class period. We went from zero to complete NERM with them, made lots of YouTube videos, etc. Now, a couple of years later, parents still ask for tips. They’ve totally gotten hooked.

(1) Yes: many fish from farms just die. Period. End of story. Neons and Guppies are garbage in our region. We started breeding fish to share and sell so they wouldn’t die.

(2) Kids will enjoy fish if they are _made_ to wait. That’s got to come from mature adults who can explain that good things in life are worth waiting for. There are ways to hot-rod a tank cycle, but that costs money. Major investment for new hobbyists.

(3) I think a patient, experienced Fish Store employee should be ready to help new aquarists get off to a great start. One thing I’d do if I ran a store is sell pre-cycled sponge filters from inside a tank at the store for every new aquarium that went out. I’d do a deal — {Pre-cycled sponge + Activated Substrate + FritzZyme 7 and X-gal tank for … X-$} — this way, new aquarists get an excellent head start.

(4) I also think every LFS needs to have media that helps with FAQ, and connects customers to reputable sources for good answers. 

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I would say that fish keeping is like learning how to cook. Cooking can get expensive as you venture out to more exquisite meals and tastes. The only way you get better is with time. Yes you can take a class on how to make the perfect soup, but you can also pay for membership videos on "how to do the perfect scape". Start out small and simple, and eventually you'll be able to rely on your instincts rather than continuously returning to the cook book. A lot of the more experienced hobbyists got their skills from trial an error. Mistakes will, without a doubt, happen. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. Start with some fake plants, slowly move onto some hardy plants, start upgrading, try experimenting. I can't tell you how many times ive killed a new species of plant, because like everyone else here, are still learning everyday. When you feel confident and want to move onto more advanced setups, go ahead and try it. 

"Practice does not makes perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect"

To summarize, you'll never get it right on your first try, but learning from those mistakes will allow yourself to better understand the hobby and care of your tanks. 

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On 9/23/2021 at 11:10 AM, Keeg said:

I would say that fish keeping is like learning how to cook. Cooking can get expensive as you venture out to more exquisite meals and tastes. The only way you get better is with time. Yes you can take a class on how to make the perfect soup, but you can also pay for membership videos on "how to do the perfect scape". Start out small and simple, and eventually you'll be able to rely on your instincts rather than continuously returning to the cook book. A lot of the more experienced hobbyists got their skills from trial an error. Mistakes will, without a doubt, happen. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. Start with some fake plants, slowly move onto some hardy plants, start upgrading, try experimenting. I can't tell you how many times ive killed a new species of plant, because like everyone else here, are still learning everyday. When you feel confident and want to move onto more advanced setups, go ahead and try it. 

"Practice does not makes perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect"

To summarize, you'll never get it right on your first try, but learning from those mistakes will allow yourself to better understand the hobby and care of your tanks. 

Tell that to my drunken lamb! 😋 but that is a great analogy as someone who enjoys cooking.

 

I burnt the stout by cooking it too hot...

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On 9/23/2021 at 11:05 AM, Fish Folk said:

3) I think a patient, experienced Fish Store employee should be ready to help new aquarists get off to a great start. One thing I’d do if I ran a store is sell pre-cycled sponge filters from inside a tank at the store for every new aquarium that went out.

Yes! I totally agree. Cory  has a video of a German big box store where they sell pre cycled media alongside the refrigerated food. 

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This is a great thread, and a great topic of discussion!  I'll restrict my answer to the main issue I've seen on this and other forums.  It's a bit of a riff on @Atitagain's observations.  We just had this happen here on this forum with a beginner question, so the timing seems relevant.  Here is how I see the process going down:

1. Beginner joins forum to get answer to a specific question

2. Multiple replies form people trying to be helpful each with conflicting experience or advice (it comes from a good place)

3. Thread devolves into a discussion about the relative merits of the differing advice (with various levels of courtesy depending on the fourm - this place is pretty good about that though!)

4. The thread becomes more about the discussion between the experienced folks than trying to answer the beginner's original question

5. Beginner feels overwhelmed, and if they reply, they politely say thanks and then bugger off

The thing is, I don't believe any of this is malicious.  It clearly is born out of many people, with many opinions and a range of experience, all wanting to be helpful.  That's a great thing!  But I have watched it time and again become overwhelming to people who are new to the hobby. 

BTW, I don't have any idea how to fix it.  I'm offering no solutions.  Just the observation.  I mean it would be weird to ask people to be less encouraging and helpful to beginners.  And unless a specific dogma is adopted, which can be stifling for its own reasons, you wouldn't want to prevent people from sharing their divergent experiences or ideas.  Plus, those discussions are valuable, and stem naturally from the initial questions.  They also, in my opinion, lead to a lot of the comradery and contentedness on forums like this.  Perhaps we are stuck with this plague of too much help.  I don't know. 

On 9/23/2021 at 1:22 PM, Biotope Biologist said:

Tell that to my drunken lamb!

I've never gotten a sheep drunk.  How often does it drink?  Does it need to be checked in somewhere? 

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On 9/23/2021 at 11:24 AM, OnlyGenusCaps said:

 

I've never gotten a sheep drunk.  How often does it drink?  Does it need to be checked in somewhere? 

Hook it to an I.V. and a stomach pump and it can drink until it's heart's content. Slip the vet a few under the table to look the other way. 

 

I won't argue the moral merits of this venture, but as a person of science I can declare that matter beneath me.

Edited by Biotope Biologist
I hope this joke isn't too dark
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On 9/23/2021 at 11:33 AM, Biotope Biologist said:

Hook it to an I.V and a stomach pump and it can drink until it's heart's content. Slip the vet a few under the table to look the other way. 

 

I won't argue the moral merits of this venture, but as a person of science I can declare that matter beneath me.

Sounds like better treatment than how they make foie gras 😂

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