Photography and article by Jonathan Hale
RM: How many years in the hobby do you have, first as a hobbyist, then as a professional.
JE: I’ve been a hobbyist for about 11 years, and actually in the business for 5.
RM: Where does your sexy accent come from?
JE: It’s a rather horribly twisted English accent. But if you’d like to take me out, Jonathan, I’m game.
RM: Who in your family influenced your fish hobby, and when did you get your first tank?
JE: Actually my wife, Marisol, was the one who got me my first 30 gallon fish tank. Little did she know…
My biggest influence came from spending much of my youth in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. I would spend hours snorkeling, catching fish and octopus, getting stung by anemones, and getting unbelievably sunburnt!
RM: Was Marisol supportive of the store idea?
JE: Yes she was less scared of the idea than I was, but she generally supports anything I want to do.
RM: What aquarium jobs did you have before opening your own shop?
JE: I worked in several stores and then started an Aquarium Maintenance company. The shop was an obvious extension of doing maintenance.
RM: Has opening the store been everything you expected?
JE: Yes and No. More work than I ever expected, but also more satisfying too. It was also a lot more challenging to open than I ever thought possible. It is definitely not a case of throwing a few tanks together and selling fish.
RM: What’s the best and worst thing so far about having your own store?
JE: It’s a really fun business to be involved in. But it has its headaches. Dealing with livestock can be very frustrating and rewarding at the same time.
RM: What do you think of the reef industry now as opposed to ten years ago, and what do you see is in store in the future?
JE: I think it’s come a very long way in terms of husbandry. The internet has helped a lot, in allowing people to share ideas and knowledge. It’s funny, but it has also hurt a lot. There are too many self appointed forum gurus that spread a lot of myth-information, which can be very problematic, especially for someone that is new to the hobby. It’s reassuring the hobby is leaning more and more to the eco-friendly side.
RM: Do you think there needs to be more regulation in the collecting of fish and corals from the wild?
JE: I really believe this is a sustainable industry. Especially with all the new maricultured corals becoming available. I think hobbyists are in a very powerful position to help sensible and sustainable collection, by supporting the mariculture efforts, as well as buying livestock that is within their husbandry abilities.
RM: What do you think of the efforts of the MAC certification program?
JE: It was a bona fide effort that unfortunately fell flat on its face. In retrospect, I don’t think it will ever really work, unless import regulations change to the point where only MAC certified livestock is allowed to be imported.
RM: Do you have a list of animals that you will not import due to there poor survival rate in captivity?
JE: Not a list, as such, but I won’t import any obligate corallivores, nor anything that has an exceptionally bad reputation for survival in captivity. I also try to limit animals that can elicit an impulse buy.
RM: How do you view the new crop of grass roots reefers growing their coral in small amounts and selling them online?
JE: One of the interesting results has been the creation of “collector corals”. People are willing to pay an arm and a leg for a 1 inch piece of these named corals. It somewhat baffles me, especially when it come to prices being paid, but I do understand the whole concept of collecting different species or color variants.It’s an obvious offshoot of the Internet Forum explosion. Some people do it to help pay for their hobby, others see it as an opportunity to gouge. Ultimately it’s down to supply and demand. Simple, basic economics!
RM: So you have a freshwater tank at home, what’s up with that?
JE: I find it refreshing, in that I work mostly with marine set ups, so keeping a freshwater tank still allows me to have an aquarium as a hobby, as opposed to it feeling more like work. I enjoy finding oddball South American and West African fish in particular.
RM: When do you find time to take care of your own tank? Do you hire someone else to do it?
JE: No, but you’re welcome to come over any time to clean it.
RM: Is everyone in your family part of the fish hobby?
JE: They all hate it.
RM: When was your last vacation, and what did you do?
JE: I went to Aruba with my wife and daughters for a few days in July. Did some wonderful snorkeling over the reefs and a WWII wreck.
RM: Did the diving give you a greater appreciation for fish and coral, any new insights?
JE: I found it very interesting, from the scarcity of corals in the area to the water flow that I experienced. It was no way nearly as colorful as I’d expected either. I was also surprised at the indifference many fish had for divers, merrily going on their way.
One observation I made that reinforced my feeling that tangs should not be kept in smaller aquariums, was a fight between two Blue Tangs. The speed they reached and distance they covered surprised me. Over 30 feet in one direction, 30 feet back, going very, very fast. Had that fight happened in an aquarium it would have been a massacre. These fish are used to large territories, it seems, and ruthlessly defend them.
RM: Are you a bare-bottom or sand man?
JE: Sand all the way. There are arguments for both, but in the end I like wrasses too much!
RM: What’s your general philosophy in setting up a reef tank for someone else, does it differ from your own tank set ups?
JE: It’s the same. I believe in setting up systems as simply as possible. Heavy skimming, appropriate dosing, all the basic stuff. Easy to maintain, and ultimately less to go wrong. I’m not a big fan of gadgets. Lately I’ve been interested in the Amino Acid supplements.
I’m surprised it took so long for people to actually start focusing more on what corals require for tissue growth, rather than skeletal growth.
RM: So you designed the store yourself, and it came out amazing looking. You’ve received acclaim around the world for being a high end looking shop, congratulations on that. Where did your design talents come from? Did you ever want a career in interior design or architecture?
JE: Thank you. We spent four months building the store. There was a basic concept from the get go, for layout, tank design and so on. We were lucky to find a space that really suited what we wanted to do, with some pretty awesome architectural elements. It was really important that the space remain open and free flowing, a space you actually want to spend time in. I’m not sure I have any talent, but I worked in animation for 15 years, so built up a fairly good understanding of layout and design.
Oh, and no, I never wanted a career in interior design!
RM: If you were to be reincarnated as a fish what kind would you want to be?
JE: A Flying Gurnard. For no other reason other than I like the name.
RM: Do you have any advice for people who want to open their own aquarium store?
JE: Yes. Do as much research as you possibly can. Work out how much time and money it will take, and double it. Plan to work harder than you’ve ever worked before! And most importantly, remember that it is not an extension of your hobby. It is a business that absolutely needs to be treated as such.
RM: And lastly, will you ever sell one of the super rare beautiful fish that comes into the shop or do they all end up in the 600 gallon display tank?
JE: Listen smarty pants… it’s a display tank. I have to say, I do get excited when something new or unusual comes in. And it is only right of me to understand its husbandry requirements before I sell it, don’t you think?
RM: The formal interview is now over, thanks for taking the time to let us get to know you.
JE: Thank God.