No fish out of water

June 2022

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” – Loren Eisley

“I started out with red belly piranhas,” says Patrick Merineau, one of the founding members of Thunder Bay Aquarium Keepers. “Then one evening, I was visiting someone’s house and they had a 110-gallon African cichlid tank that was just stacked with fish. I’ll never forget the moving sea of colour. From that night on, it became my obsession.”

Whether it be in the oceans, lakes or a well-balanced aquarium, there are few things in this world as mesmerizing as watching fish underwater. It is a peaceful hobby, but it’s also a living one, and the proper care and maintenance of a healthy fish tank is not as easy as it seems. Enter Thunder Bay Aquarium Keepers!

“The Thunder Bay Aquarium Keepers Facebook page has roughly 1250 members from Thunder Bay and surrounding area,” says Merineau. “Having this many members definitely makes it easy to find the answers to questions people may have, whether they’re new to the hobby or a more experienced aquarist.”

“I’ve been involved with fish as a hobby for years, but I got busy with life and well, I let it go,” says group moderator Barb Van Teeffelen, “But I’m back, and I have absolutely no regrets! It’s such
a nice group and a great hobby.”

I know the lure. Over the years, I’ve had a few very small tanks (smaller than 10 gallon) with just a few guppies, mollies, platies or tetras, but like Merineau, I was always drawn to the living landscapes of larger tanks. This was before the advent of the internet, however, so advice was solely found in books and magazines. With a resource of local devoted aquarists just a Facebook post away, I can only imagine the possibilities!

“A really big challenge for beginners is being afraid to ask questions,” says Merineau. “But here, no question is ever a dumb question. We’re all here to help and support each other.”

“There are no stupid questions, right?” says Van Teeffelen. “I mean we all make mistakes and that’s how you learn. I learn stuff every single day from this group.”

According to Merineau, the most important way to get started in the hobby is to do a lot of research ahead of time, start small and get a feel for the hobby. Asking questions in a group like the TBAK can help people find out which species of fish work best for the size of tank they have, and which species can live together to avoid unwanted aggression. One of the most challenging aspects of managing a healthy tank and population of fish is to keep a clean tank with adequate filtration.

“I now have a 140-gallon cichlid tank with cichlids from Lake Malawi in Africa,” says Merineau, “As well as a 90-gallon bowfront tank featuring African cichlids from Lake Tangyenika, a 30-gallon grow-out tank for any new smaller fish, and a 20-gallon tank that can be set up as a quarantine tank if needed. I’ll also be setting up a 50-gallon tank to house something new to try and broaden the variety of species that I keep.”

With all ages and experience levels, the TBAK group has become a valuable resource in getting advice, buying and selling equipment, managing stock and sharing challenges and successes. Interestingly, TBAK saw a large spike in membership during Covid, when people were essentially confined to their homes with little to occupy their time. Aquarium keeping is a wonderful outlet for that, resulting in a landscape that is both peaceful and interactive. There is so much to know in this living hobby, however, and a careless move can mean not only the sickness of a single fish, but the demise of an entire colony.

“Don’t get discouraged when something happens,” he says. “We all have made mistakes in the past. It’s what has shaped us to become experienced in this hobby. We’re all here to help others achieve this as well.”

“It's a very close group,” says Van Teeffelen. “But they’re very welcoming to newcomers as well. Even kids who want to start out.”

“My 4-year-old son also has a 5-gallon tank,” says Merineau. “He has a betta fish, a few tetras, and some small catfish. He loves it and it’s also great to expose him to the hobby at a young age.” 

“We try to make everyone feel comfortable,” adds Van Teeffelen. “So, they don’t feel like a fish out of water!”

For more information on aquarium keeping as a hobby, keep on swimming and check out the Thunder Bay Aquarium Keepers on Facebook!

Bill Wrightsell is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to Bayview Magazine. Email him at

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