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Collecting Fish For Your Aquarium

Jan 4, 2008
In the eyes of the non-diving public, the underwater hunter is a guy who walks out of the water with a spear, a mask, a big wide grin, and a big dead fish. To a degree, the picture is an accurate one: certainly big-game hunting has always been and continues to be an important aspect of the sport.

But in recent months there has been an enormous upsurge of interest in small-game hunting for specimens that are caught and kept, and not killed. Not too long ago only a few of the hundreds of aquarists' clubs in the U. S. had one or two divers as members. Today there are several societies composed entirely of diver-aquarists, and several thousand unaffiliated collectors who have found that the aquarium hobby opens up a big and practically virgin territory in the underwater world.

No one has a better opportunity to see and collect exceptional specimens than the skin or scuba diver. In fact divers whose contact with underwater life has sharpened their interest and observation sometimes know more about the subject than land-locked marine biologists; more than one diver has come up with a new species that's totally unknown to the professionals. Anyone who spends his time exploring down under gets an intimate knowledge of submarine life that translates into a head start in learning the arts of the aquarist.

Divers discover through direct observation what environment various species require, what they eat, how they nest and spawn, what kind of cover they like to live in, and so on.

Still, the diver who wants to maintain his underwater acquisitions in an aquarium has a number of new skills to learn. Killing fish is usually easier than collecting them; and collecting them is often easier than keeping them alive. But the result is worth some effort. As trophies go, a well-kept aquarium stocked with beautiful, thriving fish can't begin to be matched by taxidermy's best.

Where, What and How to Collect

Anywhere there's water there's life, and much of it can be transplanted to the aquarium environment with great success. Actually, the limitations are more often set by preconceptions than by nature. To the average aquarist, the only fish that seem appropriate for life in a glass tank are fresh-water topicals. Period.

The skin-diver is just as likely to think in terms of a few marine species only. Both frames of reference are unnecessarily narrow. Good aquarium fish can be found in most of the coastal areas of the U. S., and even the inland waters contain interesting and beautiful candidates for the home set-up.

There are a few factors to consider before you start bagging tenants for a tank. Most species that swim out in the open do relatively poorly in restricted aquarium surroundings, and should generally be avoided. Choose varieties that swim close to the bottom, in the protective cover of kelp or coral, or in and around submerged objects.

Consider also the fish's size. Really big or even fairly big species are unsuitable, of course, but young examples of medium-sized species are sometimes more appropriate than they may seem: aquarium life has the effect of stunting growth, because fish tend not to outgrow their environment.

The equipment used to collect fish can be as simple as a wide-necked glass jar or a small hand net. Best of the latter is a long-handled butterfly net made of nylon marquisette or mosquito netting, and held still in the water so that it flows out with the current.

When fish swim into it (which they're more likely to do if there's some crushed-shellfish bait nearby), the trap is locked by turning the handle 90 degrees. Another tool is the slurp gun, which consists of a piece of metal or plastic tubing about two feet long and with a 1 1/2-inch bore, with a tire-pump rod and plunger added to provide vacuum and suction.

Many beautiful species of fish can be caught and kept alive using this equipment.
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