Turning the Tide

Aquatic Experience – Chicago is reeling in aquarist enthusiasts to reinvigorate the fishkeeping sector of the pet industry.




Doug Poindexter



We’ve been fascinated with those underwater-dwelling, gill-wearing animals called fish since the times of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians. The Egyptians worshipped them; the ancient Chinese kept them for decorative purposes; and from medieval times through the Victorian Age, people used fish to make table arrangements more attractive—though perhaps not more fragrant

Various technological advances and increased understanding about the biology of fish throughout this extensive history of fishkeeping led to a booming industry by the mid-1960s, at which point automatic filters to cycle water, improved waterproofing in tanks, and commercial fish breeding were all well-established and easily accessible through widespread pet retail stores and distributors.

Today, fishkeeping is a multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry. Fish are the third most popular pet by household in the United States, which boasts the largest market of aquarium enthusiasts. Yet, despite these encouraging numbers, it is now far more common for a child’s first pet to be a dog or cat than a fish—a trend that could put the future of fishkeeping in jeopardy.

In an effort to support, promote and reinvigorate this sector of the pet industry, the World Pet Association (WPA) has created Aquatic Experience – Chicago, the first show in pet industry history to combine everything aquatic under one roof, including saltwater fish, freshwater fish and pond products. As the oldest industry organization promoting growth and development of the companion pet industry and related services, we hope to reel in consumers, retailers and families for our inaugural event, set for November 15-17 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center, in Schaumburg, Ill.

Back in the ‘60s, fishkeeping was one of the most popular hobbies, period—not just among pet owners. Aquatic Experience – Chicago is going to elevate this hobby again. There’s a lot of room for growth within this specific industry, and fishkeeping provides a great introduction to the broader concept of animal keeping.

Attendees at this year’s inaugural show can take part in educational seminars, hear from high-power speakers, enter a Kid’s Aquarium Contest, see the only traveling shark show in the country, and peruse a show floor filled with vibrant displays of exotic fish, product raffles and equipment experts, alongside the industry’s best and trend-setting manufacturers.

The current vendor list for Aquatic Experience – Chicago is indicative of the widespread appeal of fishkeeping, with merchants coming from as far away as Canada and France, as well as from cities across the United States. Along with geographic diversity, the products available at the show will present attendees with state-of-the-art offerings ranging from breed-specific foods and aquarium maintenance kits to hands-free filtration systems, and reference and identification books for every level of fishkeeper.

Naturally, our keynote speaker for the pet industry’s first-ever aquatic super-show is the biggest fish out there: aquatic ecologist Zeb Hogan, host of National Geographic’s hit show Monster Fish, who will share his experiences tracking down some of the biggest fish in the world. Hogan is more than a TV personality; the aquatic conservation biologist has dedicated his life to uncovering and understanding potential threats to endangered freshwater fish and their habitats. In addition to his keynote presentation, Hogan will present two additional talks for those attendees with a fascination for fish. It will be a rare opportunity to hear first-hand about Hogan’s research, discoveries and what the future holds for some of the world’s most incredible aquatic creatures.

Alongside Hogan, many additional experts in the field will be available on-site at Aquatic Experience – Chicago to meet in person and share their enthusiasm for the underwater world. Featured speakers include: Eric Bodrock, owner of All Oddball Aquatics, a tropical fish hatchery and independent online retailer of aquarium hobby equipment; Patrick Donston, owner and operator of Absolutely Fish, a MAC certified facility and wholesale retail store; Heiko Bleher, a conservationist, lecturer and scholar of aquatic habitats, fish and biotope correct aquaria; Oliver Knott, a German aquarium designer, professional live aquascaper and InVitro plant specialist; Bob Fenner, an avid ornamental aquatic enthusiast and author of several books; Oliver Lucanus, a German-born writer, photographer and explorer of South American fish habitats; and René Krüter, a notable pioneer in the fishkeeping and breeding field, specifically Tanganyika cichlids. Topics of their discussions range from aquarium hobby basics to establishing a productive husbandry practice, maintaining healthy fish and more.

Doug Poindexter is president of the World Pet Association. For more information about Aquatic Experience – Chicago, visit www.aquaticexperience.org.

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