Wywiad z Lee Nuttall.

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Zapraszam:

We are fascinated by your fish tanks. Please tell us more about them.

Thank you. I currently keep four display tanks with fish dedicated to cichlids from North & Central

America. I have 2 medium sized tanks and 2 large tanks both with Back to Nature backgrounds

fitted inside them. The larger displays are mainly used to setup a particular chosen biotope theme,

where the medium tanks are used mainly for a single breeding pair only. Currently I have two

chosen biotopes for the largest tanks; these are firstly based on Lake Izabal with exCichlasoma

bocourti and Astatheros robertsoni as the main occupants and a riverine setup based around Rio

Puyacatengo in the Grijalva system. This tank is home to Paraneetroplus gibbiceps and Thorichthys

helleri.

The medium tanks are filtered with conventional external canisters, but the two largest tanks use

the background as a filter. They are quite crude in theory, only using mechanical and biological

filtration methods. Large sponge sheets are placed behind the background and two powerful

pumps to draw water through and back into the aquarium. Most UK tap water is very suitable for

centrals, so as long as there is biological filtration; chemical filtration is not needed.

When did start your aquaristic adventure? How did you get involved in it?

My interests in aquariums started back in 1979 when my dad bought home a 90 cm / 3ft tank. We

mainly kept bread and butter fish however, in the early eighties I remember a work college of my

dad was keeping a large pair of Herichthys carpintis, commonly mislabelled back then as “Texas

Cichlid”. They had successfully spawned and we were given a small number of young to grow up.

American cichlids back then were unknown to many hobbyists, so we were quite surprised how

quickly and aggressive these fish grew up to become. Unsurprising these fish had either eaten or

attacked many of the smaller bread and butter fish kept alongside them in this small community

tank. Observing the colour pattern and social behaviour of these cichlids got me completely

hooked on the genus that is known as North & Central American cichlids.

I later persuaded my parents if I could setup up this tank in my room dedicated to these fish. Over

the months badly chosen combinations were crammed together with the carpintis, including C.

nigrofasciatus, H. nicaraguensis and T. meek, as you can imagine this would be a complete disaster

however, I was very lucky that I had chosen a compatible male and female T. meeki (Firemouth),

where I would dedicate this tank to this pair only. Eventually they would become my first ever fish

to spawn from this genera.

Every one of us began with a small fish tank, how did you start? Because now your tanks are really

large!

As mentioned earlier I started with a 90cm/ 3ft tank. Over the coming years, I managed to

upgrade to a 120cm / 4ft tank where I traded my T. meeki pair and was keeping Rocio octofasciata

and Cryptoheros spilurus pairs together. This size tank would stay with me for many years only

until I could get my own house and then dream big.

I have been keeping my current tanks for 11 years, but these are too large to keep inside the

house. My only alternative was to build a dedicated fish house in the garden using a heavy duty

garden shed. The shed walls and ceiling is insulated with 50mm polystyrene, also there is 50mm

polystyrene insulated around the back and each side of both the large tanks. When people see

photos or videos of my tanks, many assume I have a huge dedicated workshop and I do this

professionally where I can throw huge amounts of time and money at it, but this is simply not

true. I’m an everyday guy in a shed with a job and family to look after, that may take my hobby

just a little higher than your everyday hobbyist.

I read that you have taken part in ADA competition. How have you been preparing your tanks for the

competition and how long did it take you?

I have only ever entered the AGA (Aquatic Gardeners Association) as they have been running a

biotope category for many years. I first entered a biotope display in 2009 loosely based around an

Usumacinta River, but unsurprisingly it didn’t get a ranking. This tank was featured in an article

I did for Practical Fishkeeping magazine, but in truth it wasn’t all that and I had entered a rather

scrappy uninspiring old photograph of the tank. The coming years I was doing a lot of Central

American cichlid inspired biotopes for my own personal reasons, mainly for articles and my work

in progress book. I wasn’t really interested in entering competitions and entering the AGA 2011

was done at the very last minute with a couple of recent displays I had setup. I got a 2nd

ranking that year which boosted my confidence to prepare another aqua-scape and go for first

place. The winning aqua-scape I created was called Lake Petén shallows. I like this aqua-scape

because I used floating plants with this particular theme and I think it worked out quite well.

You do have fish from CA, was it always like that or did you start with other fish, if so what fish were

they?

In the early 1990’s I used to keep Oscars, rams and Discus fish for a few years, these were locally

bred colour strains and not the wild forms. Although the different colour morphs are nice, their

beauty can’t compare to the wild colour morphs! I love the subtle colouration, I’m not a big fan

of overly colourful fish; I think an aqua-scape can look too chaotic, especially when doing a hard-
scape only display.

I also used to maintain planted aquaria with a few tetras, but they didn’t hold my attention for

long as I missed keeping CA cichlids.

and 3rd

Can you tell us where do you buy your fish from?

Many UK retailers are nigh on useless when it comes to stocking Central American cichlids. They

are poorly represented with either mislabelled or dubious in origin (hybrids). There are a few

shops that will try, but these are few and far between.

The Central American community is quite small in the UK, especially when it comes to dedicated

breeders, but this can also be beneficial as we are quite a close community where we can

exchange fish. Some of my best fish have come from the dedicated efforts of UK breeders.

Sometimes we have been able to import fish from the continent like the Netherlands and

Germany. The Germans are keeping some rare and fantastic Central American fish in their tanks.

From a retail level, I will only ever buy my fish from Oddball Express in Stafford. This is a great

place owned by my friend Ross Evans. Most fish are imported in from America via Jeff Rapps,

Don Conkel and Cichlids of the Americas. Some of the unusual South American stuff is imported

directly from Colombia, an excellent place with good reliable stock!

How do you manage to keep your tanks so clean? How do you feed them, we all know that fish this

large are pooping a lot ;)

My tanks are maintained twice weekly with 25% water changes and cleaning of the substrate.

Feeding is only offered 2-3 times daily with light feeds, there is no need to overfeed with these

fish; doing so will only develop out of proportion fat fish! Most commercial foods are offered and

depending on species, I offer higher protein foods (prawn) and lettuce leaf.

My tanks are quite crudely setup filter wise however, they are very effective. I don’t run expensive

equipment; everything is run on a tight budget. You have to remember that I work a lot with these

tanks adding changing fish, so in theory, they don’t have time to get messy or develop algae, I

think people have a misconception that my tanks are like this permanently. Algae build up will be

inevitable in any enclosed eco-system; some more quickly than others depending where your tank

is positioned or if you have a natural light source hitting the tank directly. We should encourage

algae growth on the aquarium décor, but not on the viewing glass. As my tanks are kept in a shed

with no natural sunlight, I believe this helps to reduce algae growth to an extent, especially on the

viewing glass.

What do you think about relatively small popularity of aquaristic in the UK? In other european

countries like for example Germany or Poland aquaristic seems to be developed much better, what

could be the reason for that?

Aquarium keeping is certainly more evolved and better understood on the continent however, we

are getting there. The UK certainly has a better understanding now on how planted aquaria works,

but when keeping cichlids and setting up proper display tanks, we tend to lack the understanding.

I partly blame UK literature in magazines such as Practical Fishkeeping as they have tended to shy

away from CA cichlids and biotope aquariums. It was more or less an unknown until I started to

post my tanks and fish on the forums gaining an interest in these fish. We are quite similar to the

Americans keepers regarding CA cichlids. Many of us want the big and bad and to cram as many

fish together in sparsely setup tanks. I also think there is a misconception that you have to have

a swimming pool sized tank to keep these fish, but the best biotope displays are created in much

smaller tanks with lower stocking densities.

I think if articles in UK magazines had a less bias towards planted aquaria and shrimps and started

running more articles on creating biotope aquariums, then I guess UK hobbyists will have a better

understanding. If the information and aquariums aren’t presented, then no one can learn. A

good starting point would be running articles on the biotope category from the AGA and JBL

competitions; we don’t get to read it, only on the internet, if you can be bothered to look for it.

What would be your advice for those beginning with CA?

Do your research first, join forums or groups and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Buy the biggest

tank you can accommodate. Think about the project, do you want to keep a community or a

spawning pair? CA cichlids aren’t always as bad as people make out to be. Most problems are the

fault of the keeper, by not providing a large enough tank or keeping badly chosen combinations. I

see a worrying trend on Facebook groups, where someone asks for and id on a fish that they have

bought and are currently swimming around in their aquarium. I simply cannot understand this

thinking and this is where asking question and research beforehand comes into play before any

decisions are made regarding fish purchases!

Pros and cons of having these fish?

Pro’s, beautiful colours, shapes and breeding behaviour, Cons, can be a little too aggressive and

sometimes need larger aquariums.

What would you like to say a few words to the members of our forum?

I just like to say thank you for asking for the interview and taking an interest in the work I

do. When done correctly, fish keeping is a wonderful thing, as aquarium technology and our

understanding of fish have got better and better. We can now produce some fantastic looking

aquariums that emulate nature more closely and looking at looking at some examples that you

guys do, I think there will be a lot to see and look forward to.

Happy fishkeeping

Lee Nuttall.

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