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July 24, 2018

50+ Years and Counting

Over those years it became an obsession of mine that I might get into the aquarium hobby. To earn the money to buy a simple filter and some fish I did everything I could to earn a few pennies.

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

Allow me to tell you about my over half century of involvement in the marine aquarium hobby.

In the early 1960s a family friend had given me a metal framed slate bottom aquarium. I think it was maybe 5 gallon capacity at most, it was tiny. Along with the tank was a short pamphlet that described the wonders of keeping freshwater aquarium fish. I was just a young kid and my family was poor so the tank sat empty for a few years. I remember reading and rereading that small booklet dozens of times and dreaming of the day I might fill that tank with some of those pretty Tetras I saw in pictures or maybe an angelfish or two. Over those years it became an obsession of mine that I might get into the aquarium hobby. To earn the money to buy a simple filter and some fish I did everything I could to earn a few pennies. I sold lemonade, went house to house trying to sell Christmas cards, I was too young to get a paper route, but I would eventually get a job delivering propaganda for a local politician door to door and that brought me the money I needed to make my dream a reality.
 
I talked one of my brothers into driving me to Black Angel Haven, the closest aquarium store and I loaded up on gravel, a filter, and some sparkly freshwater fish and their food. Ah yes, I was in heaven for a while. But as we all know the addiction of fish keeping was too powerful to be contained within a 5 gallon metal framed aquarium. I eventually had a real job and in 1965 got me one of those new fangled all glass aquariums and some of them more colorful saltwater fish. I got me some bleached corals, an undergravel filter, and a bunch of fish which I proceeded to kill within about two weeks because I had no comprehension of the nitrogen cycle and how to properly care for the much more delicate saltwater fish. 
 
I quickly regrouped and found a good aquarium store, Marine World in Lincolnwood, Illinois and they put me in the right direction. I read everything I could and took their advice, and educated myself about how to have a successful marine fish aquarium.
Marine World Wholesale Catalog
My father and I moved and just happened to become located just a few blocks from Marine World--interesting how that happened. Within a few weeks of our move I was working there and that put me on the path to where I am today. At Marine World I learned about retailing and wholesale and everything known at the time about marine fish husbandry. I became an expert about all the fish, how to unpack and acclimate, pack wholesale orders, communicate with suppliers via the Telex machine, and do just about everything possible related to aquariums. I bought every new book as soon as it came out and many weeks spent more on fish and supplies than I earned.  I once buying a Tinker Butterfly-fish for I think $150, it was certainly more than I earned in a week! I had over a dozen aquariums with every type of fish. I had a biotope with a pair of clownfish and anemone and the clowns would spawn regularly. In the living room I had a 55 gallon tank filled with colorful fish that my father loved to watch every night. Being an immigrant from Yugoslavia he had never heard of keeping fish in an aquarium and he was truly fascinated. 

"Marine World was a gorgeous store with elaborate dioramas behind each tank and beautiful huge display tanks. They had an extensive quarantine facility and on Saturday mornings it was my job to bring out the fully quarantined fish into the retail tanks. Customers were lined up to buy them, sometimes directly out of my transfer bucket."

Rows of fish tanks at Marine World

 

Marine World was one of the largest importers and wholesalers in the US and I recall customers coming in from all over the country to buy fish. They had their own chemist that made a copper treatment and a product called Instant Algae. We felt at the time that a tank was well seasoned once it had a good algae growth and that the algae served as an important food source and an aid to filtration. We used Stephen Spotte's books as the bible to understanding the nitrogen cycle and how to maintain our tanks. Marine World was a gorgeous store with elaborate dioramas behind each tank and beautiful huge display tanks. They had an extensive quarantine facility and on Saturday mornings it was my job to bring out the fully quarantined fish into the retail tanks. Customers were lined up to buy them, sometimes directly out of my transfer bucket.

Each week new shipments arrived from around the world. The bulk of the fish came from the Philippines,  but every week or two a shipment arrived from somewhere else in the world such as the South China Sea or the Red Sea. I enthralled seeing my first Pine-cone fish from Australia with it's "lights" glowing from it's gills. Shipments occasionally came in from the famous diver/collector Rodney Jonklaas from the Indian Ocean and John Noyes in the Florida Keys. He sent literally pieces of the reef--chunks of live rock with attached sponges, gorgonians, and corals, today you would go to a federal penitentiary for years for touching or possessing such things--but this was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the days when Royal Grammas and all Caribbean angels were routinely collected in the Keys. Marine World also had extensive invertebrate systems. Yes, this was all done and done well using under-gravel filters. I personally kept every imaginable fish for years and the brother of the owner of Marine World who has been my lifelong friend still keeps tanks with under-gravel filtration and has had many types of fish spawn in his tanks including butterfly fish! He had a 10 foot long tank in his greenhouse with a large school of Moorish Idols and they thrived. It's quite humorous for me to read recounts of folks that use to use under-gravel filters years ago and say they couldn't keep anything alive, well it most certainly was not due to the filtration!
 
Marine World closed in the early 1980s just about the time reef-keeping started to become a thing in the US. By that time I had moved on to other careers including working as an undercover photographer for the FBI and going on to other photographic endeavors. Eventually I decided to go to veterinary school and then graduated and went on to become board certified in pathology and work for many years in the poultry industry. The reef-keeping bug called me in the mid 1990s and once again one tank became many and eventually lead into me selling corals online and opening Pacific East Aquaculture and making it a full time business for the last 20 years.
 
My advice after all these years, watch out what you wish for-it may be addictive!

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