Putting Fish First

Next month's Ornamental Fish Health Symposium will provide professionals from every level of the aquarium trade an opportunity to help improve the level of care provided to ornamental fish.




Richard Oellers


The aquarium industry is beginning to realize that it must improve the overall effort to ensure the health and survivability of fish in their care. Negative press on the poor survival rate of many captive marine fish has led environmental groups and animal-rights groups to put pressure on the aquarium trade. As a result, the industry has suffered from a less-than-stellar reputation.

To some, it may appear that retailers and wholesalers have one goal in mind: making a quick buck by getting fish in and out of their stores before they die. Of course, that impression has, to some extent, been created by a few industry members who are largely driven by greed. However, a lot of it can be chalked up to simple ignorance.

The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) and American Marine life Dealers Association (AMDA) were two groups that worked hard to improve the health of our industry. While they were able to take a few steps in the right direction, infighting and other problems in AMDA and MAC unfortunately led to the demise of both organizations. However, the efforts of these organizations can still be seen today in some sectors of the industry. There are many companies, organizations and people who care. The Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) and Aquarium and Zoo Association (AZA) are just two examples of such organizations that strive to provide healthy aquarium fish standards.

I recently attended a retreat that included scientists from several universities and aquariums. Many attendees left with the goal to create a joint effort to focus the aquarium industry on education, research and socialization. I was pleased to see a dramatic increase of awareness of the need to change the industry and improve communication between higher education, public aquariums and the aquarium industry. August’s Ornamental Fish Health Symposium at University of New England (UNE) provides an opportunity to take another step toward this goal.

The concept of the Ornamental Fish Health Symposium goes back to my days as president of the AMDA in the 1990s. As a cofounder of the association and a professional aquarist, I was always looking for ways to further my skills—and the skills of my staff—in aquarium fish husbandry. Like many aquarium stores, service companies, hobbyists and some wholesalers, we did not have the knowledge or tools to provide fishes the proper health care they deserve.

In 1995, I became an advisor to the aquarium fish program at UNE, which became the first college in the country to offer an aquarium-science degree in 2002. Ten years later, I became an adjunct scientist at the school, and working with Dr. Jeri Fox, I was able to put together the first Ornamental Fish Health Symposium.

Next month, New England Aquarium Services and the UNE will host our third Ornamental Fish Health Symposium to promote a more sustainable aquarium industry. Held at the UNE campus Aug. 9-11, the symposium is designed for aquarists from the trade, public, education and hobby communities.

Our goal is to provide a conference that will offer an advanced-level agenda on aquarium science. This includes training on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of fish diseases, as well as workshops on fish life-support systems and captive-fish breeding. The conference will feature presentations and labs from world-renowned experts like Dr. Ed Noga, Dr. Julie Calvin, Dr. Myron Roth, Dr. Brent Whitaker, Bob Fenner and others.

The UNE Aquarium Science program provides us with a unique opportunity to combine expertise and resources from the industry, public aquariums and the educational community. It enables us to provide labs, workshops and tours previously unavailable to the aquarium industry.

If the learning experience is not enough, the conference will feature a lobster/clam bake, where attendees will enjoy fresh Maine lobster, conversation with presenters and the beautiful scenery of the Maine coast.

By attending the Ornamental Fish Health Symposium, my staff has been able to acquire more information in one weekend than I have been able to provide by sending them to other conferences, seminars and workshops. This experience has improved our success dramatically in the husbandry of marine and fresh water fishes, and the overall health of our aquarium fishes has given New England Aquarium Services a top-notch reputation and has helped us build a trusting relationship with my clients.z


Conference Schedule

Friday, Aug. 9—Friday will be an aquarium-tech day, showcasing workshops on everything from PVC assembly to basic aquarium chiller repair.

Saturday, Aug. 10—Saturday’s agenda will be a combination of fish-health lectures on topics such as the latest breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of ornamental fish diseases and parasites.

Sunday, Aug. 11—Sunday, the conference will hold a workshop in the wet labs and tours of the Marine Science Center at UNE and Aquarium Science Center. Learning the basic skills of using a microscope to find a pathogen or parasite is critical to diagnosing and treating marine fish diseases. In the wet labs, attendees will learn these skills. A well-known fish importer will send us infected fish so that attendees have the opportunity to work with a microscope and diagnose diseases.

For more information, visit neaquatech.org/uneconference.


Richard Oellers is president of New England Aquarium Services, chief aquarist at the Science and Nature Center in Seabrook, N.H., and an adjunct scientist of aquarium science  at the University of New England.              



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