Norway is a land of serious aquarists, people that love their fish and have a deep knowledge of them. Many names may come to your mind in several areas of aquarium keeping. But in cichlids, there are people like Per Oivind Pettersen, Frode Fjelheim, Arve Solberg, Alan Grindheim and many more. They are maybe not much heard about but those are people with a deep knowledge and love for cichlids. Norwegian cichlid aquarists' flag, however, is Alf Stalsberg, the best known and pioneer of them. As Per Oivind confessed to me without hesitation, "We all know Alf". Alf is a prolific and famous writer, an open person of honest and straight opinions, and a deep knowledge of cichlids. I am happy he agreed on giving me this interview, which I am even more happy to be able to share with you. This interview took place by e-mail to Alf Stalsberg in Larvik, Norway, during April of 1997. Thanks Alf!
Could you tell us a bit about how were you started in fish keeping, and how it was that you specialized in Cichlids?
|Alf Stalsberg in New York, Mar-97. Alf is a frequent guest speaker in many cichlid oriented conventions around the world.|
Well I started up with Guppies in a two liter jar when I was nine years old, and that was forty years ago. After a couple of years with Guppies, I got a small tank, still, with Guppies. Then one of my older sisters bought an 80 liter tank with Swordtails and some Barbs. I maintained this tank too. Then I joined a local Aquarium Club, and I was their first junior member. Then I got my first cichlid, which I swapped for with some Swordtails and Guppies. This was a Firemouth, Thorichthys meeki, (this was in the end of fiftties). This fish redecorated my whole tank, and all my plants became floating plants. Then I promised myself, NEVER cichlids again. But, around 1970 I was visiting a wholesaler in Sweden, and he had some wild imports from West Africa. And he had some lovely Kribensis, Pelvicachromis pulcher. I looked at other fishes too, but my feet kept on walking back to that tank again. Then of course one pair came with me back to Norway, and we all know that the krib spawned and I had a lot of nice Pelvicachromis pulcher. And from that time I have been working with cichlids, along with other fish like Tetras, Gouramis, Livebearers and live aquarium plants. In the beginning of the sixties, Malawian cichlids came in, and at Aquarium conferences they all talked about Malawi. I was not interested in Malawi cichlids and I'm still not interested in Malawi; if you have had one you have had them all. Most of them spawn in the same manner, and the behavior is the same. So I don't know much about Malawi cichlids. They have not grabbed me in the same manner as American or West African cichlids have. The Americans catch me, by the look, by the behavior, by the differences. And Aequidens became my favorites. They have it all. Now, many of my old fish have changed name and genus, but, they are still VERY interesting. I could keep talking about my favorites for hours, but take a look at my homepage and you will see.
When you think about cichlid keeping and Norway, inevitably the name Alf Stalsberg comes to mind. You are a very popular person there and have been around for most of the Norway cichlid keeping history. Could you please tell us about the history of Cichlid keeping in Norway, how it has evolved and what is its present stage?
Well as I said, there were very few cichlids when I was young. When I joined the local Aquarium Club, I heard the old members talking about Blue Acara, Jack Dempsey, Firemouth and Scalare. That was about all. And in my opinion, no one really knew anything about the cichlids. So when I started working with the cichlids again in 1970, there was nothing (nearly nothing) to find out about cichlids, but in 1970 a book came out. The book was CICHLIDS by Robert J. Goldstein, and this was my first book about cichlids. Then a new book came out in 1973 and this was CICHLIDS of the World also by R. T. Goldstein, and in those days this book was good. Later, many books from TFH were not worth much. In 1974 some cichlidiots in Oslo decided to start a Cichlid Club, and in September that year the club was running. But, mainly with Malawi. In Sweden the interest for cichlids was bigger, and again mainly Malawi and Tanganyika, so I felt lost with my interest in American Cichlids. The Nordiska Cichlide Selskap NCS was started in 1967 and is thirty years old this year. They have had a Cichlid Magazine all these years, and this paper is about the best Cichlid Magazine you can get. But, since it's written in Scandinavian language, there are not so many who can read it. But again, the majority of the articles are about Malawi and some Tanganyika so I'm not keeping it any longer. I have been writing articles to the magazine for years about my favorites, and my collecting trips, but they prefer the Malawi/Tanganyika material. So I lost my spirit to write articles to the magazine. But, still I will say, that this magazine is one of the best in the world.
You have extensively travelled to some parts of South America in search of cichlids for your tanks and the Norwegian cichlid hobby. Have you seen many species in your travels that we still don't keep in our tanks regularly or at all, especially Aequidens, one of your specialties?
|Alf Stalsberg collecting cichlids and livebearers in the Rio Papaloapan in México, Apr-97.|
When I started traveling to South America to collect fish, I did so because I'm constantly searching for information about my favorites. To study the fish in their natural evironment was just an extention of my hobby. And guys, to swim in rivers in South America/Central America and recognize fish you are keeping in tanks back home, gets your heart ticking. Oh yes, I have seen and brought back fish that we did not keep in our tanks, or fish not yet described. I was the first in the world to bring back Geophagus pellegrini from Colombia and to spawn it, I was together with friends the first to bring back Caquetaia myersi, and I can mention others too. I brought back a new Aequidens sp. from Rio Atabapo in Colombia from the province Guainia in 1991 and this is still waiting to be described. There is more too, and there is more to be found.
How is the collecting of fishes in countries like Ecuador and Colombia, could you tell us about it?
Well, I'm not sure where to start, I don't think I can tell you about this with few words, I would suggest you take a look at my homepage and look at "Collecting in South America". But, collecting in these countries has been great, and if some of you would like to go there and need information, drop me a line or two and I'll see what I can help you with.
Is the future of cichlids in the wild stable in those countries? To what degree do you appreciate degradation of the environment and over-exploitation of the cichlid fauna?
I would say that the future for the cichlids is stable so far, and the exploitation of cichlids, is in my opinion, is no problem. The problem is the explotation of the land, and destroying/pollution of the water evironment, where the fish live. That's danger for the fish, not collecting fish, because you will never be able to collect all the fish, because of the difficulties in catching the fish. It's not like catching fish in your tank at home, we know that can be rather difficult too. No, the real danger to the fish is pollution.
Could you share with us an history you particularly recall from one of your collecting trips?
Yes there is one history that brings me joy. This was in 1993 in Colombia. I had friends with me, and on our way down to Istmina, out in the Choco Province, I decided to stop by a river that looked promising and to cool down. The sun was burning and it was rather hot. One of my friends had never been on a trip like this, and I'm not sure what he had expected. I told him to come along a little further up in the river to a pond there. I put on my mask and snorkel and went into the water, and my friend did the same. When he was swimming along my side and passed me, a devil ran thru my mind. I took my finger nails and scratched his leg. I don't know what ran thru his head, but his leg was running like hell, and I was thinking about Donald Duck when he was in danger and tried to run away. I thought for a moment that he would be the second person to walk on water. He jumped out of the water and was really mad. I was laughing so I could not stand on my feet. So, he got something he will allways remember and I had a good laugh and still have one when I'm thinking about it. I know this was not very funny to my friend, but I could not help it.
How do you keep and transport your collected fishes?
I use an expanded polyester box, like the one you get fish from an exporter. I use a piece of plywood to make a double bottom in the box, so I can keep fish in two levels. I keep and transport the fish in plastic bags, like the one you carry the fish in from the shop back home. Using this expanded polyester box, I can maintain the right temperature, and the fish will not be boiled from high temperature. Fish kept in dark don't fight so much, and I can keep track of where the fish have been collected by marking the plastic bag with a permanent ink pen (Indian ink). I change water every day or sometimes twice a day. And I keep records from the place where I collect the fish, water temperature, the pH - dH and what kind of fish I had collected and what other fish there were in the biotope.
You are an achieved cichlid keeper and breeder, What has been the species that has given you the most thrill breeding. Could you tell us about it and how it happened?
Well, my friend Jorgen Jorgensen and I were working together with the different Geophagus, and I got some fish from Colombia just called Geophagus. I managed to find out that this was Geophagus daemon. Today known as Satanoperca daemon (Heckel 1840). And as far as we knew, this fish had never been bred. So we did not know how the fish was doing it. We guessed it was a mouthbrooder or delayed mouthbrooder, since it was a Geophagus. The fish were placed in two 500 liter tanks and we changed 50% of the water each week. We fed the fish with raw shrimps, earthworms, daphnia, peas and all kinds of prepare foods. The fish eats a lot, and with sifting the sand after more food, no filter could take all this, so it was necessary to change 50% of the water each week. This kept the fish in good health. When the fish is sifting the sand searching for something to eat, you have to redecorate the bottom in the tank, and one day while doing this, something looking like white eggs were comming up. We start studying the fish more and then one day we saw the fish were digging a pit in the sand about 5x10 cm (2"x 4") and about 4 cm ( 1 3/4") deep. The fish were spawning on the bottom glass and when they were finished they was searching for small stones/pebbles about 10 mm in size and covered the eggs with them. This nest was guarded by the adult fish. But, there were no fry. The fish spawned several times with the same result. We decided to dig up the eggs after next spawning, and try to hatch the eggs artificially. We expected the male to be sterile. We managed to hatch some of the eggs, but many of the fry were crippled, the snouts were rounded, not pointed. So we knew that the eggs were fertilized. Then I tried to find out what kind of water it was where the fish were living in the wild, and found it was black acid water. So we decided to try to lower the water pH to the acid side. When we came down to a pH around 5, everything went like it should, and we suddenly had S. daemon swimming around with fry. In 1991, I collected Satanoperca daemon, Biotodoma wavrini, and different Apistogramma out in Rio Atabapo, Colombia which is one of the tributaries to Rio Orinoco, and in Rio Atabapo the pH was 4.8 -5.0.
What is your present tank setup, and what are the species that you keep and breed at the moment? How do you decorate your tanks?
I have in my rack about 30 tanks of 160 liters each, two of 430 liters, one of 2, 000 liters and a community tank in my living room of 240 liters. The fish I have at the moment include; Aequidens michaeli, A. metae, A. pulcher, A. sp. "Silbersaum" from Peru, A. sp. "Goldsaum" from Ecuador, A. rivulatus, A. patricki, A. coeruleopunctatus, A. tetramerus from Peru, Archocentrus nanoluteus, 'Cichlasoma' cutteri, 'Cichlasoma' panamensis, Archocentrus septemfasciatum, Amphilophus latifrons, Heros notatus, Mesonauta insignis, Amphilophus longimanus, Geophagus pellegrini, Geophagus brasiliensis, Gymnogeophagus gymnogenus, G. labiatus, killifish of Rivulus type. The fish that spawned for the first time in my tanks and in Scandinavia recently was Heros notatus from Guayana; the fry are still hanging. Well Juan Miguel you have seen my tanks during your visit with me in my home. Most of my tanks are decorated with rocks, bogwood, and live plants, but I can keep live plants since most of my fish do not eat plants, except for the Heros notatus and the Mesonauta insignis.
You are a prolific writer Your articles about Cichlids in TFH magazine are known all around the world. What are your plans for future writings? We have also visited your excellent internet home page, do you have any plans for it?
Well I write articles because I like writing about my fish and my experience with them, and to share my experience with people who are interested in what I do, and if they can pick up something they need or can learn something from my articles, then I'm satisfied. But, I don't write articles for TFH anymore, because I don't like their politics. The articles they print are old, and they have not returned my photos. And they use my photos in other books. I know I have signed a contract that says they can use my photos more, but they could at least give me the credit by writing under the photos that this photo was taken by Alf Stalsberg. That is what decent people would do, but not TFH. If you look in "The Most Complete Colored Lexicon of Cichlids", which is not worth the money, and is big, some fish are shown several times, under different names and not one of the names is valid ???? And that goes for a lot of the fish. I have a series of photos of Archocentrus centrachus, series of Caquetaia spectabilis and more photos, but you don't find my name under the photos... no you find a page back in the book where you find the names of the photographers, but no reference to which page your photos are on. About my internet home page, there will of course be more information about my favorites, and I've plans to change the article "Collecting in South America".
Alf, thank you very much for this interview.
With special thanks to Lee Ann Oslen for correcting grammar in this text