Juan Miguel Artigas Azas,
Cichlid Room Companion

Interview with: Pam Chin, Jul-2005

By , 2005. image

Classification: People and associations.

" Pam Chin, aquarist, author, editor, speaker, cichlid hobby promoter and author of one of the most popular columns on cichlids there are or have been, Ask Pam, which has helped out cichlid hobbyists around the world for many years now. Pam has made important contributions to cichlid research and conservation. In short, there are few people in this world that have contributed to the cichlid knowledge the way that Pam has done it. I am very proud she has agred to give me this interview for the Cichlid Room Companion "

Gary Chin
Gary Chin looking at carrier doves, one of his passions, 2005.

Pam Chin, aquarist, author, editor, speaker, cichlid hobby promoter and author of one of the most popular columns on cichlids there are or have been, Ask Pam, which has helped out cichlid hobbyists around the world for many years now. Pam has made important contributions to cichlid research and conservation. In short, there are few people in this world that have contributed to the cichlid knowledge the way that Pam has done it. I am very proud she has agred to give me this interview for the Cichlid Room Companion

Pam how did you get started with fish?

Gary is responsible for my love for fish as he had tanks when we met. Gary has been keeping fish since he was a child, and when I met him, he probably had over a dozen large tanks with large fish in them. He even had an Arapaima gigas, along with several Arowanas, Oscars, knifefish, Pacu’s and a bunch of other tank buster types. I just was fascinated with them and I loved to go over to his house and watch the fish. We used to go to the fish shops around northern California to look for interesting stuff, and of course I would see fish that I wanted and I would talk him in to getting them for me. I wanted to know more about them, and so I started reading, as well as trying to learn from Gary. I started to help him more with the fish, and once he realized that I could clean a tank, the rest is history.

Would you tell us about your new wonderful cichlid setup?

We have been working on the fish house remodel for a couple of years now, but we are very close to being complete. We had all wooden stands for our tanks, and they were great, but they were getting old, the paint was peeling, so it was time for an update.

We wanted to do stands made from some type of metal rather than wood. I work for a mechanical contractor and we use a lot of unistrut, it is like tube steel but open on one end. It is an extruded metal and then galvanized. It is used primarily to hang pipe or duct. I knew I couldn’t afford a welder, and really didn’t want to do black iron stands. I tried to use pallet racks but I just couldn’t make them work in the space I had available without major modifications. Unistrut is a system that is all bolted together, and no welding is required, so it was the perfect way to go for us.

I had a seismic engineer help me design a stand that would hold our largest breeding flats, and then I modified the design for smaller tanks. It has made our fish house look much more open and has added more space between the tanks and the aisles. We have about the same number of tanks, it is just laid out better. We have also added a Fish Lounge, where we can sit around and visit, and have a soda or beer while we talk cichlids.

Pam and Gary Chin fishouse
Some views of Pam and Gary´s Chin fishhouse.

Do you have a favorite fish? Why?

This is a really tough question for me, I can’t even tell you what my favorite genus is. It is part of my cichlid problem, if I was able to focus on one cichlid, I would not have to have all these tanks. Gary is just as bad as I am, he isn’t happy with just one or two Aulonocara; he has to have couple dozen different ones. I really enjoy the substrate spawners from Lake Tanganyika and I am addicted to Tropheus. I have two Parachromis dovii (Juan Miguel & Ferdi) who I simply adore, and there are several centrals that I just can’t live with out, like Neetroplus nematopus and Cryptoheros nanoluteus.

Lately I have really had a soft spot for the Geophagus types, I can’t help myself and whenever I see any, I have to have them. I have a great group of G. altifrons coming up, as well as Satanoperca jurupari and G steindachneri. And who doesn’t have 3 or 4 favorites from Lake Malawi? I have been lusting after Chromidotilapia guntheri and longing to try some Altum angels again. I could go on but I think you get the idea!

Pam and Gary Chin fishouse
Outside view of Pam and Gary´s Chin fishhouse.

What is the purpose of The Babes In The Cichlid Hobby (B.I.T.C.H.), and who came up with the concept?

It actually started as a joke, because the cichlid hobby is 99.9% male, the girls have to stick together, which we have discovered makes the guys nervous. Caroline Estes usually thinks up something and Pam Marsh and I add our input and then facilitate it. Caroline came up with the idea that we could make money, and that we should donate it to the Guy Jordan Endowment Fund that awards money every year for Cichlid Research. At ACA 2000 in Cleveland they announced the formation of the Paul V. Loiselle Conservation Fund. This was the first year we held a Silent Auction, and it has become a very successful annual fundraiser. It is amazing to see all the wonderful donations, given to us by hobbyists, and then bought by hobbyists.

Last year we were asked to do an exclusive Guy Jordan Auction live. Fish were donated from the farms in Florida, as well as hobbyists, and it was a lot of fun. People are willing to pay more because they know this money is going to a good cause. It was so successful, we have been asked to do a live (oral) auction of Jordan fish again this year.

Raising money for Cichlid Research and Cichlid Conservation is definitely our main goal, but we still like to have fun, and we are well known for our antics and events throughout the ACA weekend. It is a safe bet that the Babes In The Cichlid Hobby are planning and plotting to show the fun side of fish keeping, and to promote comradery among all cichlid keepers.

How has your involvement in B.I.T.C.H. affected you?

It has made me realize that one person can make a difference; there is no donation that is too small. That serious cichlid hobbyist’s are concerned about Cichlid Research and Cichlid Conservation, and they are more than willing to support it. I am amazed at how the silent auction and the Babes have grown each year, and how it has become nearly legendary. I had no idea how it would evolve, but I like the direction it is going and I am proud to be part of it.

Pam you are a cichlid hobby soldier, replying to aquarist's questions on a daily basis for years, now summing up in the thousands. You never seem to get tired. What motivates you to such generosity? What is the retribution that you get from that?

Basically I love to talk about cichlids, and doing a question and answer column is easy. I enjoy writing, and with this format I don’t have to come up with a topic, I can just answer the question. I like doing the research, and I often find myself with 2 or 3 books out, looking up something I should probably know!! The basis for the column has remained the same, my goal is to help, but if I can’t than I hope I can point them in the right direction.

When Gary and I first started working with fish in the 80’s, information was scarce

When Gary and I first started working with fish in the 80’s, information was scarce, and not everyone wanted to share their methods. Gary and I don’t mind sharing our successes or our failures we are hoping others can learn from both. I love to hear how other people are spawning certain species, as I am always looking for a new angle. So it is quite rewarding and I can’t believe how much I have learned from doing Ask Pam, it is a win win situation!

Your involvement in the organized hobby is well known. You have been the editor of "Cichlidae Communique", the bulletin of the Pacific Coast Cichlid Association, for years. Tell us how do you see the Cichlid hobby nowadays. In your opinion, what are the strongest points of the organized hobby, its weakest points?

The organized hobby has been very good to me. It all started with joining my local aquarium society, not long after that, the PCCA (Pacific Coast Cichlid Association) started up and I also learned about the ACA. These clubs have led me to genuine friends, fabulous fish, and trips of lifetime, what more could one ask for! I am constantly telling people to check out their local clubs, here they can meet breeders, obtain fish you don’t see in the stores, and make other hobby related connections.

Participation seems to be the weakest point of any club. Getting members to help out can be tough, and clubs struggle when the core members get burned out. I think it is important to see what other clubs are doing, and to not be afraid to change with the times. There are a lot of people out there who are keeping fish and don’t realize there are clubs in their area. So promoting your club is a big factor.

Promoting your club is a big factor

With access to the World Wide Web everywhere now and in this computer games era, most other hobbies have suffered. How much is the influx of young people into the organized hobby. In your opinion, does the organized hobby have a future at all? Are we meant to be a hobby for elders?

I used to be really worried about the lack of young people coming up in the hobby. However once I started hanging out on a few cichlid forums, I see young people coming out of the woodwork, far more than I have ever seen in the organized hobby.

I do think the hobby is changing, and the Internet has a lot to do with that. You can find just about any cichlid you would want on the web. Previously you had to go to a club, convention, or have a relationship with wholesaler to help you bring the rare stuff in. That is all changing, you find your fish, and you can have it by 10:00 am the next morning. I think the freight is outrageous, but it doesn’t seem to bother this new generation of cichlid keepers.

There is a big turn over in the fish hobby, there always has been. People have their priorities, and they change for various reasons. Young adult males, who have young children, usually have to cut back on the fish, to spend more time with their family. Often after the children are older or when they leave home more time is available. This allows mature fish enthusiasts to become involved again in the hobby. Perhaps these are the elders you are referring to!!! LAUGH!

Now you can research a fish, buy a fish, show your fish to your fish buddies, sell fish, and talk fish with out leaving your couch. No one loves a club more than me, but if you can do all of that without leaving home, who needs a club?? ...Well, I do, because there is something special about going to see a speaker, seeing your friends, trading fish, and buying fish at the auction. It all boils back down to how fun your club is.

You have been on collecting trips to Lake Tanganyika and México. Tell us about your collecting trips, what they mean to you?

I love an adventure, and I love to travel, and there is nothing better than going on a trip with your best friends! Being able to travel has opened my eyes to the way the rest of the world lives, and I think that is fascinating. It has given me a profound appreciation for cichlids and their habitats. I am amazed that we see any wild fish in the hobby; I just don’t think the average hobbyist realizes the logistics it takes to make that happen.

To be able to see your target cichlid in the wild, in its natural environment is an accomplishment I can’t explain. It makes it all worthwhile, and you gain such an appreciation to then see them in your tanks. When you are in a paradise watching the sun go down with your best friends, reviewing the cichlids you seen that day, and celebrating your hobby, there is nothing better. I just want to go again and again!

Pam Chin and friends
Ad Konings Tanganyikan Zafari 2002 fearless explorers group shot in a London pub. Left to right: Rusty Wessel, Caroline Estes, Steve Lundblad, Pam Marsh, Eric Hanneman and Pam Chin.

As most disciplines, the cichlid hobby has changed tremendously in the past decades. What are the main changes that you see in the way we keep our cichlids?

You are so right there have been major advancements since I have been in the hobby regarding: resources, equipment, foods, and the fish. The basic concept is the same but now you can go high tech in nearly every area. The quality and assortment of foods, drugs, water conditioners etc. is simply overwhelming. And the availability of fish has never been this good; you can get just about every cichlid out there. No wonder beginning aquarists are confused, even the diehard cichlidiots are at a quandary with all these choices. With this better knowledge and better foods, our fish look better, the spawns are larger, and the mortality rate of fry has gone down. Cichlids that were previously difficult to spawn in captivity have become easy with the right conditions and proper foods.

Pam, what can a hobby as complex as the cichlid hobby bring to fish keepers?

One of the neatest things about cichlids is the variety; there is a cichlid for everyone! However, you are not going to find them at your local convenience store. There is a cichlid network out there; you just have to search it out. Whether you join a club, or hang out on a cichlid site, you are bound to meet other cichlid hobbyists, who will lead you to more cichlid hobbyists and your base just keeps expanding.

The accomplishment of being able to breed the cichlids you keep is a big reason for their popularity. And then behind that is the fun of buying, trading and selling them. However the greatest reward that I have received from the Cichlid hobby is the friends that I have made over the years. There is a certain joy about hanging out with people who are as crazy as you are about cichlids!

Any final thoughts?

Today I can’t imagine my life without cichlids! And of course how lucky I am to have Gary, who is really my secret weapon in the fish house! I love to go around the world to see and talk about cichlids, but he is really the expert. He has an amazing ability with fish, and I enjoy bringing new species home for him to work with. He loves his personal collection of cichlids and sees no reason to leave the house! He is definitely my biggest influence in fish keeping!

Also a big thanks to you Juan Miguel, who saw a little column called Ask Pam, and asked to use it. I had no idea that it would be so popular and it has made me a better writer and communicator. I love being a part of the Cichlid Room Companion! The Best Cichlid Site Ever!!!!

Thanks Pam.


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (Jul 27, 2005). "Interview with: Pam Chin, Jul-2005". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Feb 29, 2024, from: