6 Tips and Tricks for Aquarium Conventions, Aquarium Clubs, and Other Aquarium Communities
Read Time: 5 minutes
At this point, the stare aquarium hobbyists get after talking about their tanks with non-fishtank folks has to be universal. “You mean you don't keep your goldfish in a bowl?” “...you spent HOW much on a piece of driftwood?” “Why is there a 125 gallon where the couch used to be?” “No, you can't spend this year's grocery budget on a single fish 'because it would look cool in the living room.'”
We don't need that kind of negative energy around here. One of the best parts of the aquarium hobby gets overlooked a lot: the community. Many hobbyists, especially those who are just starting out, are unaware there are clubs, events, contests, and social media groups dedicated entirely to aquarium enthusiasts all over the world – and they can help take your tank skills to the next level.
There are huge conventions where you can buy fish, aquarium plants, and accessories; listen to speakers and participate in aquarium workshops; and meet a ton of amazing fellow hobbyists. There are also clubs and societies who meet regularly to swap tips and tricks, host auctions, and educate folks on the best aquarium husbandry.
You can also find aquascaping contests and events for kids. It's an incredibly rewarding way to learn about and contribute to the hobby (and it can also be a good way to get non-tank folks interested if you take them with you).
If you've never been to an aquarium event before, don't worry. We have some advice to make you look like a pro.
Scroll down to the bottom for a state-by-state list of ways to connect with other awesome fish tank people.
1. Do Your Research
There are a few categories for research you'll want to do if you're going to an aquarium convention or club meeting. The first and most obvious is researching the event or organization.
- What do you have to do to attend?
- Are there club dues or admission costs?
- Does the organization have specific rules you'll have to follow?
- Is it focused on freshwater or saltwater or both?
- Is it as active as you would like it to be?
- Is this event reputable?
- If it's a convention, what vendors are going to be there?
Usually, vendors and speakers will be listed on the event's website; and you can judge accordingly if it's something you're interested in. If you start looking far enough in advance, you may be able to contact them ahead of time with any questions you might have.
The second type of research is animal related.
- If you want to buy an animal, do you have what you need?
- Do you already have a tank cycled?
- Do you know how to take care of the animal when you get them home?
- Can you recognize a healthy fish or the signs of a reputable breeder?
- How big is this fish going to get – can your current setup handle it?
- Do you know how to safely acclimate a fish to a new environment?
- Are you going to have to quarantine the fish?
- How long does the fish live?
- If you're getting plants, do you have the right tank conditions?
It helps to have an idea before you go what species you're comfortable with. It also helps to recognize it's easy to get starstruck at these events and create a logistical nightmare for yourself when you get home because you didn't plan before you bought (speaking as someone who once bought an impromptu betta at a convention when I didn't have a cycled tank ready for him. He was pretty).
2. Plan Your Transport
Along similar lines to the above research, make sure you know how to transport whatever you buy. Fish will be stressed during travel, so learning how to counter that as much as possible is essential if you want them to make it home to your tank. If you're driving a long distance, you have to pay close attention to temperature and water chemistry differences. Your new fish is in a much smaller space than your tank when it's in the plastic bag, so it will be easier to cause drastic changes that could harm it (For more info on that, check out our other blog post on "Why Bigger is Better for Beginner Aquariums").
Consider starting the car in advance so that you aren't bringing the fish out to a hot or freezing car. Avoid feeding your fish during travel – the fish is stressed and likely won't want to eat anyway, and it can cause an ammonia spike that can kill your fish if he's in the bag too long. Transporting them in an insulated environment like a Styrofoam cooler can help you regulate temperature.
Aquarium plants are a little easier to transport, but there are still some considerations for them. Make sure they are kept wet and are not exposed to extreme temperatures, and be careful of sensitive leaves and stems.
Also, if you're buying a tank or a large accessory, measure it and your vehicle ahead of time. Playing Tetris with a 6-foot-long tank and my car's tiny backseat is an experience I never want to relive. Don't just assume it will fit, even if you have a truck. Just don't.
3. Look around before you buy
When you go to an aquarium event, especially if it's a large one with a lot of vendors, it's easy to get overwhelmed, see something you like, and impulse buy because you're excited. However, at larger conventions especially, there's likely more than one vendor selling the same product, and the prices can vary wildly. A good strategy is to take a quick lap around all the booths first to get an idea of what's there and how prices are trending. Then go back to the vendors you're most interested in. It lets you check out everything the event has to offer and can save you some money.
4. Check your agriculture laws
This is something that trips a lot of people up: you see a fish or plant you really, really want, like a gorgeous Anacharis elodea...only to find out it's illegal to own or ship in your state. There are some aquarium plant and fish species that the USDA heavily regulates due to invasiveness or other concerns, so double check what you're buying is legal - especially if you've crossed state or country borders.
5.Take tons of pictures and get a lot of business cards
This advice is multifaceted. The most obvious advantage to this is capturing the good memories you're making and connecting with other hobbyists.
However, this is also useful if you decide to buy something. In the event you take your animal home and something goes wrong or you have more specific questions, being able to contact the person you bought from is enormously helpful. Reputable breeders have detailed records of the animals they sell and having access to that information can be valuable.
Also, always ask vendors and other attendees if it's okay if you can take photos. They're almost always happy with it, but it's common courtesy to double check.
6. Be prepared with different payment methods
Most vendors take a variety of payment methods (cash, card, Paypal, etc.). However, there are some that only take cash or will only accept cards at a certain amount. Many of the larger conventions have ATM's; but if you're at a smaller meeting, that may not be an option for you. If you're going to an auction, swap meet, or convention, check on payment methods beforehand and prepare accordingly so you don't miss out on buying the fish tank stuff you love. Also, recognize a lot of vendors are willing to negotiate (especially towards the end of the event) Just don't make insulting offers and they might cut prices down a little bit for you.
Check out Dustin's Fishtanks at some of these events:
2018 Aquashella (feat. Dustin running with a siphon)
We'll also be at Aquashella Chicago this year October 8-9!
Here's a list of some aquarium organizations and events near you.
Part of an awesome aquarium group you don't see on this list? Let us know and we can add it. Get together and tank on!
-Pittsburgh Reef Aquarium Expo – Canonsburg
National/Rotating Locations-American Cichlid Association
-Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) – this year, it's in -Milwaukee, Wisconsin
-American Killifish Association (AKA)
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