Something fishy is going on, and it’s both fun and educational. Just ask members of the Honolulu Aquarium Society - who are not all wet

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - April 22, 2009
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Scott Chingon’s crystal clear habitat for his rummy-nose tetras earned second-place honors in the Novice Community-Natural category of the HAS 2008 Fish Show

Something fishy is going on, and it’s both fun and educational. Just ask members of the Honolulu Aquarium Society - who are not all wet

Nearly 50 adults, teens and children gather under the shroud of night in a building hidden down a long and deserted road to listen to a lecture about pH levels, environmental parameters, diseases and infections.

There’s something fishy going on here, but it’s not as sinister as you’d think.

Every first Friday of the month, dozens of people are meeting up to discuss all things fish.

That’s right. Fish.

From basic tank upkeep to proper health management - see, that’s where talks on pH and disease come in - those in the Honolulu Aquarium Society (HAS) are more than happy to give their un-watered-down advice on everything in the exciting world of aquaculture.


“We have a variety of fish. We have cichilds, we have catfish, we have special ornamental fish and hybrids that have been mentioned in some of the fish hobbyist magazines,” says club president Wayne Steljes.

“But what you’ll find here is like-minded people who raise fish and want to keep the interest alive, get the adults and kids together, just raise fish as well as commodore.”

HAS was first established in 1950 to promote and encourage the aquarium hobby in Hawaii. Just like any other sports or activities club, members share their knowledge, experience and fellowship with each other at various gatherings throughout the year.

“It all started with gup-pies, and people started to breed guppies and produce different varieties - tail lengths, colors, things like that - and it started that way. The members were just interested in all types of freshwater fish, and it grew from there,” recalls board member David Yoshishige, one of the “old-timers” who has been around since the club’s fledgling days.

Honolulu Aquarium Society board members, from left, Robin Echavaria, Dennis Tse, Lance Pang, Wayne Steljes, David Yoshishige, Eric Hayashi, Scot Seo, Baron Fukata, Denise Seo, Alan Teraoka and Robert Lau

His love of fish developed after receiving a small fish tank as a child. He says he filled the tank with a handful of miscellaneous swimmers, and the next time he checked the waters, the population had doubled.

The fascination only grew from there.

“If you’re of Asian blood, you have that fish gene,” Steljes jokes of his 20-plus collection. “You always are interested; you’re born being interested in fish. You’re raising it, you’re catching it, you’re eating it ... Now tell me I’m wrong.”

The entire board agrees HAS members must have that fish gene in them somewhere. They also agree that the club functions best when everyone is actively involved. Whether it be selling raffle tickets, entering the annual fish show or making a donation, Steljes advocates that mandatory participation is the backbone of the club’s success.

“When you are a member of the club, you are expected to contribute,” he explains. “We’re all stewards of the club; there’s no one person that runs the club. We’ve all put it together - it’s a concerted effort - and that’s what makes the club worthwhile. Everybody puts in their ideas, and everybody has a piece of the action.”

The payoffs are well-worth the work. After paying yearly membership dues of $20 ($10 for those joining after July 1), the floodgates to an exclusive world of fish finds are open wide.

First, there’s the complimentary copy of I’AO HAWAII, Fishes of Hawaii, a monthly bulletin where members can find discounts from pet stores around the Island and learn more about aquaculture through articles submitted by fellow members.

HAS member Chase Inouye won first place with this tank in the Advanced Community-Natural category at the 2008 Fish Show last October

And, of course, being a HAS member means access to all club functions - monthly auctions where bags of hard-to-come-by fish can go for low, low prices; summer picnics and Christmas parties; behind-the-scenes tours of Honolulu Aquarium or other Island fisheries; and the chance to clean up Manoa Stream during the annual DLNR DAR/HAS Armored Catfish Roundup.

“We have all kinds of folks who come here, and that’s the beauty of this club that I like,” Steljes says, admitting the enthusiasm for fish is easy to, well, catch. Active members can add on family for $5 per person, or guppies 16 years and younger can sign up for $6 on their own.

“We have members from 5 years old to 80 years old,” he adds. “People bring their families, and you watch the kids grow from rascals to settled down. We have one member who goes to Africa and South America just to get his fish. And then we have people like me who just like fish and who raise fish because it’s fun and it’s a very worthwhile hobby.”

The easiest way to join is by attending HAS’s next meeting May 1 in the Kuhio Elementary School cafeteria (2759 S. King St., right across from the Hawaiian Humane Society).

Be sure to get there before things start flowing at 7 p.m. to check out the wide selection of items in the auction and swap meet. There also will be a Q&A on bettas and plecos, freshly prepared snacks, and fellow fish hobbyists, both novice and expert, eager to share their passion for aquatic life.

“This is a serious but fun club,” Steljes promises. “Formal proceedings, I don’t believe in that. It makes the club stiff, the formality becomes hard to deal with, and people shy away. We try to keep it relaxed, so that most people can participate. And we try to keep it moving, not only doing things with fish, but we encourage other areas that people may have interests in. A lot of people here donate a lot of their time and energy to this club because we like it.

“This right here, people seem to really enjoy. We have fun.”

Enrollment applications also may be obtained via snail mail. Send your name and address to The Honolulu Aquarium Society, P.O. Box 235791, Honolulu, HI 96823-3513.

For more information on HAS and any upcoming events, contact Robert Lau at 225-4196 or visit

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