Posted: October 14, 2013, 3:40 p.m. EDT
By Clay Jackson
There are lots of fish shows in the sea, so to speak, but the differences between them are negligible.
That’s set to change in November with the debut of Aquatic Experience—Chicago, the first new aquatic show in years.
When the doors to the Renaissance Schaumberg Convention Center in Schaumberg, Ill., swing open to retailers and hobbyists Nov. 15 to 17, Aquatic Experience is expected to look and feel like most aquatic shows. But the devil is in the details:
• For the first time, everything aquatic—saltwater and freshwater fish and aquatic reptiles—will be under one roof, according to the show’s organizer, the World Pet Association of Monrovia, Calif.
• Fifteen educational seminars and 11 speakers are scheduled. Several sessions are tailored to the needs of aquatic professionals.
Aquatic ecologist Zeb Hogan, host of the popular Nat Geo Channel show "Monster Fish,” will be one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural Aquatic Experience trade show.
The aquarium hobby is sliced into specialist niches, something evident when the docket of annual aquatic shows is examined. There are freshwater and saltwater shows, shows dedicated to specific fish groups, some catering to reefkeepers or advanced saltwater aquarists.
"Each one of these niches could have—and most do have—their own show, but there is little to no crossover of knowledge and techniques to the other niches,” said Les Wilson, co-founder of Cobalt International, an aquarium products company based in Rock Hill, S.C.
"The Aquatic Experience brings all these together under one roof,” added Wilson, a member of WPA’s Aquatic Committee.
A large number of aquatic companies have talked about putting on an aquatics-only show, said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a fish nutrition company based in Hayward, Calif., and a fellow committee member.
"The concern that our category has been lost in a sea of dog- and cat-related items at the major shows is what gave a number of us great pause and concern about the future,” Clevers commented.
WPA sensed the time was right for the Aquatic Experience to become a full-fledged show in its own right after a two-year run as an adjunct to America’s Family Pet Expo.
Aquatic shows, in general, are hosted by local aquarium clubs, but one of the dangers of halving the hobby into freshwater and saltwater and further dividing it into African cichlids and other microniches is the drop off in attendees.
Wilson and Clevers consider the WPA’s backing to be a boon to a hobby that over the past decade has experienced a graying of its practitioners and anemic growth at best.
"Our Aquatic Committee has been very active in aquatic events for many years, and they bring to our association a vast knowledge of what the aquatic manufacturers and aquatic enthusiasts are looking for in an event,” said WPA president Doug Poindexter.
The Aquatic Experience comes at a good time, as the number of U.S. households keeping freshwater fish rose from 11.9 million to 14.3 million from 2010 to 2012 and households with saltwater fish more than doubled to 1.8 million, according to the 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.
"Without the World Pet Association’s experience and organizational support, a group of individual aquatics companies could never have enough focus or time to make something of this scope come to life,” Clevers said.
As of late September, 38 vendors from around the world were registered and about 70 percent of the available booth space was sold.
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