Myth and Magic or Hard Facts?

One of my correspondents has aroused the rage of one or two fishkeeping web surfers by remarking that no-one edits the information on the WWW. Of course it's not altogether true - the inestimable Mark keeps everything together on this site, and there are controllers of one type or another on most of the commercial server systems. Of course it was the corollary of that correspondent's remark, that there was a lot of wrong information on the Web, that raised hackles.

For in the same issue we had two answers in Practical Fishkeeping on the use of sand as a substrate that contradicted each other. Sid's law being what it is we've since had two or three more small snippety pieces on the same subject and each has come up with a slightly different opinion.

I had three or four letters pointing out this original contradiction and casting aspersions on the way I edit the magazine. As you might imagine, this didn't thrill me, but I remain unrepentant.

You see I genuinely believe that there are no pat easy answers to all fishkeeping problems - no, make that MOST fishkeeping problems. In fishkeeping (as in gardening) we are dealing with more than just individual living creatures in a controlled environment. We're dealing with an entire, interlinked set of living systems.

If you doubt this consider the following. Every reasonably mature planted aquarium relies on a complex combination of atoms, electrons, bacteria, chemicals, metals, gases, liquids, light, temperature, air water interface, species of plants and fish, nutritional and dietary requirements, maintenance regime, local tapwater chemistry, quality of stock and plants when purchased, positioning of plants, and intelligence and imagination of the tank owner. A brief consideration will point up dozens more factors, all of which are totally variable and interact with or can be changed by other factors in and around the tank.

There are two main types of magazine - those that aim to instruct and those that entertain. Many of the instructional titles aim to entertain too - PFK does of course - and some (like many of the women's magazines) were set-up to do both. Anyone could be forgiven for coming into a hobby, buying a magazine, and hoping for some a. b. c. instruction, clear and without contradictions. But there are some hobbies where "it works for me" is the main instruction you'll get.

We hope to offer the basics - filtration, some simple water chemistry, as much as possible about "natural" conditions - in the simplest fashion possible. But it's my contention that if you want straightforward facts to live by and you aren't prepared to make mistakes and find out for yourself, you shouldn't delve too deeply into fishkeeping.

Most of our magazine instruction, at all levels, is aimed at keeping fish alive. Recently though I wrote about losing a fish after a number of enforced water changes due to office moves. One reader wrote practically accusing me of murder. But the fact is we all live in the real world, and we all lose fish through less than perfect circumstances in our aquaria. The only perfect aquaria is the fish's natural home (if indeed it still has one).

We have to accept that though the most important thing to all of us is keeping fish alive AND happy, we are all battling with the unknown. We can't answer every question about the fish's overall health - not even an experienced fish vet. could, and we can't expect every fish to live a long and fulfilled existence. What we can do is our best, taking the rough with the smooth and reading and evaluating every other opinion, always thinking "It worked for him, it might work for me - am I going to try it?"

What I'll continue to do is evalute the knowledge of each correspondent as they write for PFK, and on the basis of their personal experience. The best writers on any subject have usually found out for themselves. After a while in journalism you can spot the guy or gal who's got it all from a book. The trouble is that so many pot boiler writers in fishkeeping have perpetuated so many myths for so long that in many cases we're not sure what the truth is ourselves. It's the quest to find out for ourselves that has recently seen me set up a living rock marine set-up. In the past I've bred half a dozen different species just for the experience. My poor pond has had endless trendy solutions, equipment and treatments used on it.

So if you want to sift information in the fishkeeping world, first find out all you can from any and every source, then use your own judgement to try it for yourself. I think it's the only way.

© Steve Windsor. May not be reproduced in part, or whole, without permission.