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Love in the age of aquarium

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A collection of discus, which come originally from the Amazon Basin.
A collection of discus, which come originally from the Amazon Basin.

The keeping and breeding of exotic fish is the raison d’etre of the Sarnia Aquarium Society, a group still going strong after more than 40 years.

“Our members keep some fish that no longer even exist in the wild,” says president VanderAa. “We’re not big, but we’re very active.”

Fish breeding, as it turns out, is a competitive sport.

Points are awarded for degree of difficulty, so much depends on the sexual proclivities of the maters involved. Guppies score you 5 points, angelfish 10, certain catfish 15, etc.

The winner gets annual bragging rights and the Sarnia Breeders Award Trophy.

“It’s very competitive,” said VanderAa, who has convinced 200 species to replicate and tallied 1,500 poins over his long career, making him the Gordie Howe of the local aquarium league.

The fish of choice at St. Joseph Hospice in Sarnia are, fittingly, angelfish. The club maintains an 80-gallon tank there for end-of-life residents and their families to enjoy.

“Every fish is a challenge,” says club vice-president Bill Reckman, an angelfish specialist, during a visit to the hospice.

Reckman takes pride in the finny school, which frequently draw viewers to a comfy chair parked nearby.

“It’s the shape and stateliness of angels; they’re so majestic,” he said. “I could sit in front of my aquariums for hours.”
The club has 25 active members drawn from all walks of life – including two retired veterinarians – who get together monthly.

Twice annually they auction off thousands of fresh water fish, and fanciers from across southern Ontario arrive in Sarnia to bid on species, tanks and live plants, with sellers keeping 70% of the take.

“One individual, who’s not a member, drives all the way in from Montreal for it,” VanderAa said.

The retired municipal plumbing inspector has 29 aquariums at home, and his pride and joy is a school of brilliant and hard-to-breed discus (20 pointers) from the Amazon basin.

Losing yourself in the gentle bubbling and shift of iridescent fish in a darkened room is a soothing experience, VanderAa says.

“My tanks are so relaxing, I really believe they’ve kept me sane.”



WHAT: Tropical fish auction.

WHO: Sarnia Aquarium Society

WHERE: Sarnia Christian School gymnasium, 1273 Exmouth St.

WHEN: Saturday, April 12. Doors open 9:30 a.m., auction at 11 a.m.

OTHER: Lunch, refreshments, available at cost,


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