My first ACA was in Chicago in 1990. It was my first fish convention bigger than a one-day North Jersey Aquarium Society auction, and I still remember it as one of my favorite conventions of all time. Hundreds of people, dozens of friends (Where have you gone, Jeff Frank?), beautiful fish including the magnificent Thorichthys aureus from Ron Taylor that took best of show, lots and lots of fish for sale... "It doesn't get any better than this," and for years I thought that was right.
Until now. Even though it seemed impossible, the GCCA-hosted 1997 ACA convention was even better. Rumor has it 1000 people attended, there were 670+ (that's no typo) tanks of magnificent cichlids, including rare Madagascar cichlids like Ptycochromoides sp., 6 juveniles of which sold in a silent auction for over $300, a drop-dead gorgeous giant Amphilophus robertsoni that took best of division, new world cichlids, and the striking orange Lamprologus leleupi that won the hotly contested best of show.
The speaker lineup included such luminaries as Dr. Paul Loiselle, giving a fine talk on Victorian cichlids. Heiko Bleher on "land of the apistos", setting what must be an ACA record with 9 trays of slides. Juan Miguel Artigas Azas showing all the would-be fish photographers what in situ shots of cichlids are supposed to look like, with his two talks about Cichlids of the Usumacinta basin area of México and cichlids of Belize. Talks on cichlid health, photographing fish, and a real gem of a talk on calculating the blower size for your fishroom with lots of good data on how much air pressure is consumed by a typical fish tank apparatus, like an airstone or a box filter. Talks were dual tracked due to the busy schedule, so I'm sure I missed some of them.
Friday's day trip to the Shedd aquarium was a nice treat. Sadly, the Shedd appears to be going after the tourist $$, instead of the impressive array of cichlids and other freshwater fish they had in 1990, there were the usual group of marine fish you see at most run-of-the-mill public aquaria and "cute marine mammals" like dolphins, otters and Beluga whales. On the bright side the Shedd donated a bunch of fish to the Jordan fund for auction that are part of their breeding program for endangered cichlids, so at least behind the exhibit walls the aquarium is doing the right things for cichlids, just not showing enough of them. Seems like the Steinhardt in SF is the remaining bastion for extensive displays of cichlids in public aquaria in the US.
The large vendor room was handled very nicely, Ray "Kingfish" Lucas had his impressive array of manufacturers goods which he donated and auctioned on Sunday. Mike Schadle with lots of fine literature (yours truly was tickled to find the new Aqualog killifish of the old world book available already from Mike, but that's the last I'm going to talk about killies in this article). The ACA table where I bought "Confessions of a Tropical Fish Hobbyist" by Ross Socolof, easily the most entertaining book about fish keeping I ever read.
Saturday night's banquet left the attendees full and content, Charlie Grimes did his usual hilarious job poking fun at fish keepers and fish keeping, and we were treated to a rousing introduction to next years ACA site, St. Louis Missouri, by Pat Tosie. Apparently, the Budweiser folks, according to Pat, use those nice Clydesdale horses to help make beer. I wonder what the horse does, I guess he meant something to do with pulling the beer wagon? After the banquet, during the happy hour (there was one every night but Sunday and I consumed way too much alcohol, but the camaraderie made it worthwhile) we were treated to a first at an ACA, a comedy slave auction run by B.I.T.C.H, "Beasts In The Cichlid Hobby," apparently a ladies auxiliary of the ACA started by such notables as Ginny Eckstein, Carolyn Estes and Pam Chin. I understand Lee Finley sold for over $100 and that over $800 was raised for the Jordan Foundation. A slave auction is the last thing any of us expected to see at an ACA and was a hilarious treat.
Sunday's auction was the only bump in the otherwise smooth superhighway of the convention run by that talented group in Chicago. An outdoor tent was set up to sell off the fish, but the much-needed air conditioning units were only 1/3 functional, and it wasn't till well into the day that the rest of the air conditioning arrived. This didn't stop the ACA stalwarts from bidding like bidding should be at an ACA, after all, it's only money. My understanding is that in fine Chicago tradition the auction went till around 2:30 a.m., but yours truly had an afternoon flight to catch.
So, another ACA has passed and a grand time was had by one and all. I don't know if I'll ever attend an equal to Chicago '97, but it certainly has raised the bar for how well an ACA convention should be run.
© Copyright 1997 Matt Kaufman, all rights reserved
Kaufman, Matt. (July 21, 1997). "ACA 1997 Chicago Convention, a Review". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on February 17, 2020, from: https://cichlidae.com/article.php?id=57.