The time has come for me to rethink my fish keeping paradigm. I’ve waited a long time to use that word in a sentence that didn’t have to do with business.
In the past my paradigm has been to acquire fish then, breed, study a short time, photo them and move them out – meaning sell or give them away. Over the years most fry I’ve raised have been given away to "needy" Cichlid keepers. Actually I’ve tried to distribute as many as possible. This “natural turnover” ensured my fish room never wanted for new and interesting fish. Unfortunately this also meant I would never see the fish in all stages of their life. If there is one thing I have learned about Cichlids, they are extremely adaptable and have many more characteristics than we have discovered, to date. They are always showing me something new. For example, Cyphotilapia sp will let clown loaches (Chromobotia macracanthus) act as cleaner fishes like salt water Cleaner Wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus). That’s right, Cyphotilapia sp will lie on their sides and let the loaches “massage or clean” them. When the Cyphotilapia sp have had enough they shudder for a second or two and the clown loach will move on to another fish or hide.
My new paradigm will contain the previous practice of raising fish and breeding but my main focus will be “very long term projects”. Most of you know any Central American Cichlid is a long term project – at least a couple years if you let nature take its course. Some think its okay to jam food into their fish to make them grow faster and faster but I do not. With exception of larger predators after a meal I’ve never seen a fat fish in nature, they are constantly moving and searching for small morsels of food, no one is there throwing handfuls of processed food into the rivers and lakes. I plan to keep fish for longer than the standard two to five years I normally do. The idea is to study them for longer a period of time, leave the fry with the parents and watch them raise the fry to the point of “setting them adrift” or until they can fend for themselves. That is my plan, now if the parents can’t follow my wishes I’ll have to think of another plan. I will start my new endeavor with the following: F1 Crenicichla minuano (Rio Cuarecuin, Uruguay), F1 Herichthys labridens (Media Luna, Mexico), Gnathochromis permaxilaris (Lake Tanganyika), F1 Cichlasoma beani (Rio Panuco, Mexico), and wild Crenicichla sp. “citris” (Rio San Martin, Bolivia), F1 Petenia splendida (Lago Peten, Guatemala), Caquetaia umbrifera (Panama), wild Cryptoheros nanaluteus (Rio Manantee, Panama). I’ve had the pleasure and great fortune since 1998 to see numerous Cichlids in their natural habitat. I can tell you there nothing like it!!! You may think they act the same in your tanks as in nature but they don’t. The tight cramped quarters we provide our fishy friends, especially the larger species I like to keep, are woefully undersized.
I've always "made things work” in the tanks I had on hand – 75 gallons or less. This made for some interesting tank mate combinations and a touch of added stress on the fish and provider of that tank space, namely me. I’ve always felt fish, Cichlids in particular since that’s mainly what I keep, deserved to have a larger place to live and breed. On every trip I’ve ever been on fish have miles of river to do just that. Removing them from that environment and placing them in a four foot long enclosure didn’t seem right. To help guide me I will be using the Responsible Cichlid Keeping guidelines (RCK) developed by Willem Heijns of the Netherlands. Willem’s guidelines take fish size, aggression, speed, and more into account when determining what size tank to use for each Cichlid species. In reality this could be used for any species of fish or even aquatic animals in general. The example he sights is Petenia splendida. They grow to approximately 20” and are fairly fast but relatively non-aggressive (unless you fit in their mouth). The result of the RCK calculation is a tank requirement of at least 10 feet! That is a large tank by any standard!
The main problem here in the United States is tank prices beyond six foot models are usually out of reach of the vast majority of fish keepers let alone those wanting to keep the BIG STUFF. It seems the price jumps dramatically for a tank over six foot so the “standard” big tank seems to be 72” or slightly less – seventy-five gallons being large to some. I’ll have more on this later.
Another aspect of this project is moving toward natural aquascaping in all my tanks in an effort to duplicate the original environment for each fish. Previously I provided clay drain tiles, pots and PVC pipes for breeding and hiding spots but now I’m headed in the direction of o-natural. For example, I’ve recently set up my Cenicichlia minuano in a six foot tank full of boulders and rocks including a “sandy” intermediate zone at one end. Oddly enough they congregate in the sandy zone only retreating to the rocks when they feel nervous – my chocolate Labrador Hershey falls into that category. My fish really intrigue him. I recently moved the Cenicichlia minuano to a 150W so it has taken them some time to get used to the larger surroundings but I can see a difference in their behavior already. This new philosophy will encompass as much of their natural habitat as I can including substrate, debris and water current. I’ll touch more on current later.
My remodeling project will also include a tank large enough to house most fish, except the really large ones. I have reworked my fish room design to include a tank of up to 20 feet long. I’m in the process of determining if it possible in my current work space. You would not believe the logistical and engineering issues that arise in a project like this, especially for someone who has never undertaken such a project like this, again namely me! Although that was the plan it will not come to fruition. Unfortunately the basement floor of my addition, where my fish room lives, was not reinforced properly to handle the great weight of such a large fish tank. To make it happen I would have had to dig new support piers and fill them with concrete after I cut holes into my current basement floor. Too much work and expense I could not justify with a daughter heading off to college next year. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Instead I’ve opted for installing, for starters, four new one hundred-eighty gallon tanks (72” x 24” x 25 5/8”). Three of those will run the length of the 20 foot wall on one side of the room with additional six foot one hundred-fifty gallon tanks below (72” x 20” x 24”). To that I’ll add six more 72” tanks from one hundred gallons to one hundred twenty-five gallons for a total of twelve six foot tanks.
This fish room rework also includes adding new technology. For example, I will probably add the new craze in filtration, Poret Foam or an equivalent, to each of my tanks in some way including all the small tanks that will remain – ten fifteen gallon tanks for fry. I am in the process of working out how I want to proceed with this feature as well.
I’ll post photos soon to document the process or renovation if you will.
In the end my fish room will have approximately 22 tanks, down from 30, 10 of those will be fifteen gallon hospital/fry/photo tanks. The other twelve tanks will be six feet long and at least 100 gallons as I mentioned above.
More to come…