Project Description

August 21, 2020 | Rich Bireley | Fishrooms – Big and Small

Keeping fish in aquaria has been a part of Rich’s live for 50 years.

As a kid, he had a couple of tanks in his room. In high school, a couple became six or eight. Throughout his prolonged college career he usually had at least one aquarium. By the time he had my first house he had converted the two car garage into an entire room for fish. He is married and his wife also kept fish.When they first moved to El Dorado County they converted three bays of a four-car garage to an insulated fish room. In their current home the fish have moved out into an entire building of their own. The building has about 125 tanks holding freshwater tropical fish from all over the world. They have some very small tanks and some very large, if you consider 1,000 gallons large. They also have an 8’ x 24’ x 3’ deep tub with large catfish.

“Being involved in fish has taught me a lot and given me an edge in my college courses. From keeping fish I have learned about water chemistry, ecology, geography, evolution and photography and improved my leadership and speaking skills. I can honestly say that, without the aquarium hobby, I would not be in the career I am — ecotoxicology.”

“Along the way I have also met some really interesting and nice people. On moving to Sacramento, I found there was an aquarium club, the Sacramento Aquarium Society. The first meeting I went to in the early 1980s was in the SMUD auditorium. There was a speaker who knew lots about fish. While I don’t remember who that speaker at my first meeting was, it is likely they showed slides of fish and talked about where they came from, what kind of water conditions they needed, what to feed them and how to get them to reproduce in an aquarium. There was also a formal board who managed the society and organized the meetings. This was my first exposure to a hobby where a person led a meeting and I was really impressed. I was also terrified of speaking in public. I overcame my fears of public speaking and eventually became both the person who led meetings and also the person who gives presentations. As an ecotoxicologist, I am called upon to give presentations and lead meetings and I have the Sacramento Aquarium Society to thank for helping me hone those skills.

When I started giving presentations about my fish, I had to learn to take pictures of fish. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a fish? It is not easy to get a good one, but you need several dozen decent shots to give a talk. I now have thousands of pictures of fish, fish tanks, and other aquarium related items.”

There are researchers all over the world studying fish or using them to study something else. Several have mentioned that knowing how to keep fish in aquaria makes the research easier. Keeping their research subjects happy and healthy is a complication that these researchers just don’t have to worry about.

One last thing to consider as we struggle through four years of drought here in California is the importance of water. It’s important to people, for agriculture, and, obviously for the fish living there. All over the world, larger freshwater fish are in trouble. In places such as Madagascar, all the endemic aquatic fauna is in trouble. Many of these fish were described in the last 25 years and are now on the verge of extinction. How can we learn to value something if we don’t even know it’s there or what it means to the ecosystem? Imagine the thrill of looking into your home fish tank, knowing that the fish you keep are extinct in the wild. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of threatened, endangered, and extinct in the wild fish that are doing okay in aquariums all over the world. Some have barely a toe hold and could easily be lost while others, equally in trouble in their native ecosystem, are common in people’s tanks due to the efforts of fish farms or lots of aquarists. You too could be a part of a community helping to stave off absolute extinction by keeping a species of fish and sharing the fry with like-minded people.

I hope I have convinced you to consider keeping fish and to encourage your children to keep fish. You never know if this hobby will lead them to a career as it did for me but you can be assured that they will learn a lot about themselves and the world and will meet lots of interesting people along the way.