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was scanning my hardrive and found some articles that have not seen the light of day...anyway folks can read em here for free....

A Taste of Home
Robert Rice

Aquarists are by their nature fickle beings. They have a tendency to hop from cool fish of the month to the next cool fish of the month all the while remaining just above the conservation fray. Education by publications like FAMA and my good friend FAMA founder Don Dewey have helped to turn the tide. Don was really the first guy to give me a big break in the trade publications with my odd conservation message oh so many years ago. Those education efforts are paying off and thankfully the fish as TV model people used to follow is becoming less and less common and now Aquarist, Naturalist and Conservationist can all be spoken of in the same sentence. As part of that fundamental shift today the serious Aquarist need not look outward for a never ending series of challenges. He/she needs not look high and low for species undocumented and colorful and fascinating. Instead take a moment a look around you (assuming your local regulations allow local species to be collected and kept). Yes a local body of water can hold a variety of species suitable for a tank colorful and generally undocumented. Hey think about it with a dipnet and a bit of luck you could literally be the first one to ever document a breeding of an unusual local fish like a madtom, darter, killifish or shiner.

The opportunities to create and enjoy a local species tank have never been more needed and wanted. We at the Nativefish Conservancy have forums; a free full color newsletter and the entire infrastructure a serious aquarist could want to build a portfolio of breeding success that could be used for conservation related activities worldwide so check us out.

Now on to the local species tank conversation. Even if you don’t have the equipment or space, local schools and public places love to have a local species tank and if you are willing to stock it and keep after it oh boy do they appreciate it. Assuming you have the time, skill and desire how many students, sportsmen and naturalist would appreciate a local species tank in a place where the public could enjoy it? I suspect the number of those interested is large in all markets. Often times equipment is not the issue, passion is. Schools, Libraries and bait shops often have equipment hanging around and no one to put it to good use. These tanks cry for an individual to bring them back to glory, a local species tank is the neglected equipments best chance to see the light of day. Think about it who does not like a fishes of ABC lake display or the fishes of XYZ creek? So do not limit your skill and passion to just a fish room, think a bit broader, think like a conservationist 

I once set up the local library in Gainesville Florida with a local species mix from watermelon pond and it became one of the educational highlights of the place. We had pictures and species descriptions of the fish and many classes visited that Library just to see that 75 gallon tank. The librarians contributed out of their own pockets money to pay for food and maintance supplies. When I moved they presented me with an award which was very generous of them sadly the display tank suffered greatly because no one was willing or able to take on that great public project. Eventually the tank was switched over to a goldfish tank and finally shutdown. That was a sad end to great outreach tool for both local species and the aquarium hobby. If more of us were ready to get involved locally that would not have to happen. So think about acting outside your fish room when doing local species tank.

Let’s take a look of some of the most neglected local species that may come into your dipnet and hopefully your aquarium and make it to hallowed halls of a conservation tool. Of course this species list is just a tip of the iceberg, but it is a good start for anyone wanting to become a local species conservationist. Now I know it sounds intimidating the terms conservationist and public educator but to be honest most of us in the NFC (Native Fish Conservancy) stumbled and bumbled our way from amateur to expert via a passion and perhaps an aquarium or two. We simply realized that oddly enough, few people care about the beautiful fascinating species that live in our backyards and we needed to do something that really mattered. So some of us did and you can too. Use those Aquarium skills to make a difference.

You can not even imagine a talk about local species that are cool, colorful, hard to deal with and beautiful in everyway without discussing the darter species. Darters are a diverse group of fishes in the perch family. Darters are typically less than 3 inches long and have no swim bladders so they perch all over the substraight of a tank. Many darter species have unique personalities. They are very responsive to feed time and general tank disturbances. I feed my darters live black worms and they seem to thrive. Other domesticated darters do well with frozen or flake food. I love darters and can say less that 100 of us out there have successfully spawned, reared to adult American darters. Sure thousands of Aquarist could do it but they have not. They don’t because of availability of fish and a lack of passion for local species. It is way easier to write a two hundred dollar check for the new fish of the month than it is to check with your local state fisheries folks about collecting a darter even though the darters need aquarist love and passion. Here is the funny part about Darters, biologist always say something like we assume that like others in the genus they breed via XYZ…guess what since almost no one breeds them we cant assume anything in darter world, It needs legitimate documentation not assumptions. Any aquarist care to tackle assumptions? Assumptions are parked over next to who cares and you don’t matter lane. So if you do nothing else from this article pick a darter, breed it and please tell us about your results.

Now we move on to the shiners. Shiners are commonly lumped as minnows by all of us. Fascinatingly enough most of even the most common shiners are not that well documented. They include the various members of the dace, shiner and minnow family. I am, to be honest with you, surprised at the few folks who keep even rosey reds (xanthic fathead minnows) as aquarium species they certainly are more attractive than many of the imports offered and very commonly available at bait fish prices. I love the redbelly daces and flagfin shiners. I wish more people worked with them and offered them for sale they are great fishes. They will take flake, frozen and live foods with no problems. Sadly again we have a handful of assumptions as to how to breed and rear the fry but very little true documentations. Feel free to stop me if you have heard this song before. 

The killie fishes of North America also present unique challenges and opportunities and in some cases those challenges turn into careers’. Our friends at conservation fisheries have been breeding the obscure Killies, shiners, madtoms and darters for restocking and have turned it into a career. So it can be done. Most of us will come across species like blackstripe top minnow and Golden topminnow when setting up a local species tank. I also enjoy bluefish killie in many public setups because they are one of the rare blue finned fishes available. All the Killies adapt well to captivity and will take frozen and fresh food with no problem some will take flake food. I guess I should include Heterandria Formosa in the Killies even though this charming fish is a livebearer related to the guppy. I have advocated for a common name change for years now to the pygmy livebearer with limited success. Instead this little gem is still called the least killie. The Killies make great fishes for a public or private fishes of your local waterway and you would be remiss to not place them in your tank if available.

I am kind of torn as to were my most likely to meet in the local waterways list should stop. Certainly the stickle backs, mud minnows and madtoms deserve more space than I just gave them. I would not mind even doing a series on those fishes but to write a 10 -20 page mini series on those fishes would not fit into FAMA’s or my plans. Then that brings me to the super predators like the Bass, Gar, Bowfins etc. They make great single species tanks and are a huge hit at the Bass Pro shops of the world and on the rare occasion I have set up such a tank at a bait shop or school or library. They are great fish full of power and beauty and worthy of the interest of any aquarist. After you keep a gar or Bass an Oscar seems well rather tame.

We just simply do not have the space and time to expose all of the jewels that hide in our local waterways. Let me close by simply saying this if you care about conservation and are an aquarist you simply must learn about your local fishes. Take a collecting/fishing trip. Buy a Petersons field guide to North American Natives or American Aquarium fishes by Bob Goldstein and learn what’s out there. Take a stand, help a school or library or expose your fellow aquarist to the unique aquatic heritage we have been blessed with.

Until next time good like good luck and good fishing,
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