Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


Are You an Aquarist or an Aquarium Hobbyist?

by Robert W. Bly, founder,

Are you an "aquarist" or an "aquarium hobbyist"? What's the difference between the two? And does it matter which you are?

Merriam-Webster defines an aquarist simply as "a person who keeps or maintains an aquarium."

To qualify as an aquarist, therefore, it's not even necessary that you take care of (maintain) the tank yourself.

If you have (keep) a fish tank, you are an aquarist - at least according to the dictionary.

The word "hobbyist" implies a higher level of interest and dedication: according to Merriam-Webster, a hobbyist is a person who pursues an activity - outside of his regular job - especially for relaxation.

(If you pursue it primarily as a second source of income earned in your spare time, but also done for pleasure, it becomes an avocation.)

In reading the fish-keeping magazines, they seem to use "aquarist" and "aquarium hobbyist" interchangeably.

If you do that, is everyone who owns a fish tank an aquarist or aquarium hobbyist?

I don't think so.

That being said, how do you distinguish between the aquarium hobbyist and aquarist ... vs. a guy or gal who just owns a fish tank?

I don't think it is defined by the size of your tank ... the number of tanks you own ... the type of fish you keep ... or the activities (e.g., breeding) you pursue.

In my view, the aquarist or hobbyist is defined by the amount of interest he has in - and attention he pays to - his fish tank.

When I was an aquarium hobbyist as a teenager, I had more time and energy. And so I did all the work of maintaining my 3 fish tanks (29, 10, and 5 gallon) myself, as most kids do.

Today I am much busier and have less energy. I still do most of the work myself. And whenever I get a new tank, I buy everything, set it up, and decorate it without help.

However, now I "treat" myself and hire a local professional to give my biggest tank - the 92-gallon corner aquarium - a professional cleaning every few months.

Yes, I know how to do it. I can't count how many times in my life I sucked aquarium water through a tube and into my mouth to get a siphon started for tank cleaning.

But my local professional aquarium service guy has better equipment, and it's his full-time job. I love how the tank sparkles when he's through.

I can easily afford the $100 a cleaning fee he charges - something my parents could never have done when I was younger. And I do not think stooping to hiring some professional help disqualifies me as an avid aquarium hobbyist.

I love fish and fish tanks - always have, always will - and I get a lot of pleasure out of feeding and watching my fish, going to the fish store to check out the new specimens, and adding fish to my tank.

Since our recent switch from big cichlids to small community fish, our 92-gallon can accommodate a much larger population - so when I see something I like that's compatible with the current community in the tank, I buy it.

I also like that as an adult, I can afford without worry fish that as a child I could not own - like my new teacup stingray, which cost about $80 and is worth every penny.

So what fish tank owner is not an aquarist?

I'd say doctors, dentists, and others who buy one tank mainly as decoration for the office or home rather than for the interest in watching the fish ... and pay someone to take care of everything: tank set up, fish selection, care, and maintenance.

My friend MM, a successful entrepreneur, has a nice 40-gallon tank in his office.

I don't think he looks at it for more than a few seconds a week, usually passing it on his way to another part of the office.

I doubt that if asked, he could correctly name or identify any of the species in the tank.

I know someone else takes care of the fish including cleaning and feeding.

MM is a man of many interests, but he is not an aquarium hobbyist: for him, the aquarium is just another office decoration, like a potted plant or a framed print.

And that's my definition: for the aquarist or aquarium hobbyist, fish and fish-keeping are, at some level, an interest.

For the person who "just owns a fish tank," the aquarium is a decoration - nothing more.