Saturday, November 17, 2007
My name is Eddie Hanson. I'm 39 years old and posting this from Indonesia. Currently I'm an exporter of marine fish and corals for the aquarium trade. My main reason for creating this blog is to educate and inform fellow reefers of the activities behind the scenes of collection, aclimation, and transport of marine fish and corals in the aquarium trade. Being a hobbyist for a long time myself, this area of business had been a mystery to me.
Here is a quick overview of my background in the aquarium industry.
I started keeping marine fish back when I was 17. I kept freshwater cichlids for many years before that and decided to try marine fish. My friend Jimmy gave me a brand new 50 gallon Tru Vu acrylic tank for my birthday to start the marine fish keeping. My friend already had started keeping triggers and got me into the saltwater. The latest technology at that time was the protein skimmer. It was a simple air driven unit mounted on back of tanks. Of course the wet/dry was the norm as filtration.
Triggers were my thing too, and I soon learned of overstocking problems. A few years later, I had saved enough money to buy 180 gallon reef setup. I even had halides! It took a half year for me to figure out what corals could live, and couldn't.
During my college years (I was doing the 8 year college thing), I started a maintenance company. I would charge $40 an hour to clean people's fish tanks. This was big for me, considering I was making only $12 an hour at McDonald's as a manager. Going to school and living on your own is tough. My advice to anyone who wants to move out of mom and dad's house, stay as long as you can and save money. Because once you move out, you are own your own. It's good thing my roomate was also a manager at McDonald's. When I was off, he would bring food home. So we took turns. Sounds funny, but back in the days, it was a great thing.
In 5 years, I managed to turn my little company into something. I had enough clients to keep me pretty busy. I quit my job at McDonalds. Actually the owner wanted to sell the store and move on away from the fast food business. He had worked for the corporation for 25 years, setting up franchises all over the world. When he retired back in 1985, the corporation actually gave him a franchise for all the services that he had done. He could pick any location he liked in the US. Of course he decided on our store in San Leandro Ca. I was working there and it was the best run McDonalds in the world!, or at least I think it was. Even the president of Mickey D's came by to say hi. Actually the owner, his name was Cal, was my mentor. I actually stayed there that long because of him. We were friends and he guided me through my company. He taught me all about customer service and marketing strategies. It actually was very sad. He called me to a meeting and said "Eddie, it is time for us to move on", and told me he was selling the franchise. He told me that McDonald's was holding me back from doing great things. We were the last two to leave the store on the final day. It was very sad and we both had tears in our eyes. It had been 10 years that I worked for my friend and mentor.
I then focused on the business of cleaning fishtanks. I soon bought some accounts from my competitor that was selling out. Business really took off and soon I moved into a large warehouse. At first we had parties in there. It was too big for my purpose but the rent was so cheap. I used to dj and people called my place "club Ed". It was fun for a while but I wanted to start retailing. People were coming by the shop and wanting to buy corals and fish. I really don't know how these people found me, but they were showing up. I actually refered them to Aquarium Concepts for a long time. Aquarium Concepts was the only high end reef shop around. I did alot of business with them, before setting up my own shop.
So the whole summer, me and my dog "Joy" worked day and night building my shop. It was a big hit. I had no idea at that time that the reef hobby was so big. I never went on Reef Central, or didn't even know it existed. My shop, Tropical Paradise, became well known in the reef community. I was also selling corals on the internet. I worked with the local clubs like BARE, BAR, SEABAY, and MARS to promote the growing reef hobby. We worked together to bring in special speakers and even had some of the meetings at my shop. The club eventually got too big(BAR) to have meetings at my shop. So I asked my friend Robert who has a wholesale operation nearby to see if he could host the club there. His warehouse is huge and even has a conference room. To my knowledge, the club is still having the meetings there.
Two years later, I had a chance to go to the Kingdom of Tonga to work on a collection / export station. I also set up a small wholesale operation in Los Angeles. This was more of a tranship station than cash and carry outlet. So at one point, I had my Tonga station and LA wholesale. The idea was to distribute Tonga products through LA, and also to send products to my retail shop in the Bay Area. Remember I still had the service business going as well. In the end though, without my supervision, each one of my operations started falling apart. So I had to choose which direction I wanted to go. I really wanted to make a difference in this hobby. So I chose to stay with the Tonga operation and close down the rest. I actually gave each one of my operations to my guys that had stayed with me for years. I gave the LA station to my guy Dave, and made him my customer. I also gave him distribution rights to the area. The retail, I closed down. The service company, I split up the accounts and gave to my other guys. I gave my warehouse to a friend of mine who is a wholesaler.
One of the highlights during my service company was doing work for Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. We took care of a reef tank while they were working on making "Finding Nemo". We had fish in there that were in the movie and the artists used to draw from the fish tank. At one point, they asked us not to clean one side of the glass. The artists then drew as the algae grew. Remember the scene in the movie towards the end, where the filter stops working because Nemo put a pebble in the impeller? Then the tank turned green with algae.
I gave everything up to focus on the Tonga station. Anthony Calfo came and visited me to help with an aquaculture project that I was working on. He actually has an article in his second issue of his new magazine "C The Journal of Aquatic science, Travel, and Adventure" from that visit. Daniel Knop also has visited my Tonga station. He actually found and took a photograph of a rare clam, the tevora, in the wild during his visit. You can see the photograph on page 19 of Anthony's magazine. Daniel is the king of clams, and he came out to do consulting work for our clam farm.
We also brought in Filipino divers to work with our Tongan divers to catch fish. With the help of my friend Robert Rodriguez, owner of Aquatic Specialties and Pets (also known as ASAP, is the largest wholesaler in Northern California), we organized to bring in famous Steve Robinson to Tonga to train on non distructive fish collections. For those of you who doesn't know who Steve is, he basically pioneered the switch from cyanide to net caught in the Philipines. He learned from Australians and took the knowledge to train the Filipinos how to catch fish with nets. Robert and I wanted to make sure our divers knew how to catch fish non distructively, as well as decompression techniques. Our bi color angels could live for months at a holding facility. Our fish were the healthiest on the market. On the coral side, I went out with the divers for months at a time to train our Tongan divers on the corals. They were actually collecting a lot of non desireable corals, but they didn't know. There was a lack of training and know how in the collection ends. Basically no one told them what coral is good and what is not good. So most of the time, I worked as a boat man and sorting the corals after the divers came up with the goods. I would have a quick meeting and go over the corals with the divers, sometimes putting back almost all of it back into the sea. After months of doing this, the guys got well trained. I no longer needed to go with them. So around this time, I started the aquaculture project. First we focused on acropora and montipora, then moved onto other sps. I had gone through five different areas of the reefs, until finally found an area that was perfect to grow coral. When I say perfect, I mean away from predators and no maintenance without corals bleaching. The aquaculture farmers here in Indonesia have to deal with these problems on a daily basis.
But in the end, after heavy investment of money and time, I got the short end of the stick in Tonga. So now I'm in Indonesia working with an old friend from the US. His name Gili and he used to service tanks for me. I told him a few years back, before he returned to Indo, that when he goes back home (he is Indonesian) to look into coral export. I've been here for 6 months exporting high quality corals to the US with him. Soon we will be exporting to Europe as well.
I will post pictures of my activities on a regular basis. I have access to some very exotic corals. I will post photos on a regular basis for now.
Thanks for taking the time to read my background. I strive to make a difference in this hobby.