If you've ever been to an ACA convention, you know that there are always myriad species of cichlids at the event with tanks set up in lobbies, the fish rooms, and even attendees' rooms - some sold by hobbyists and some sold by retailers. This summer's convention was no exception with an astounding variety of beautiful fish for sale.
Imperial Tropicals, a tropical fish farm and wholesale/retail business located in Lakeland Florida, was well represented at the 2016 convention with a wide selection of cichlids, including Peacocks, Eartheaters, and many others. Mike Drawdy, the manager of Imperial Tropicals, was also in attendance. Mike grew up on the fish farm in Lakeland Florida, where he developed a love of the outdoors and a healthy understanding of the balance of nature. Mike is passionate about fish keeping and breeding, and the fish farm specializes in breeding fish (including numerous cichlids) from around the world, many of which are threatened in the wild. In addition, the farm takes pride in educating people about the threats that tropical fish face in their natural habitat. For more information or to place an online fish order, visit their website. Also, check out their Facebook page.
While at the convention, I talked to Mike and invited him to be interviewed for the blog. He happily agreed, so let's get started.
The Cichlid Stage: What separates Imperial Tropicals from other tropical fish breeders and sellers?
We are first and foremost breeders of tropical fish. Our family has been breeding fish since 1970 and we breed the widest variety of fish from all over the world. When you order fish from Imperial Tropicals you are ordering “Direct from the breeders” and we have the quality control that only comes from being breeders.
TCS: Tell the readers about a typical day managing a fish farm.
Lots of stress and headaches!!!! We still love what we do and feel very fortunate to be able to work with the fish for a living. We have 8 full time employees that help take care of packing orders as well as help maintain and breed the fish.
So each day we have to be on top of every aspect of fish keeping to keep and maintain healthy fish. Also we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Weather is always a concern, including too much rain, or drought, extreme heat or cold, and hurricanes. We are still recovering from hurricane Hermine that caused us a lot of wind damage.
TCS: What are the most significant challenges you confront as a fish breeder?
One challenge that one might think of is that we have a hard time finding good brood stock for breeding. We want to begin with the highest quality, and most fish that are available on the wholesale market are of lower quality. We get the best stock from hobbyists or wild caught to start with.
Another issue is when breeding new and rare fish from the wild, it is very hard to replicate the environment that they come from and that makes them much harder to breed. This is especially the case with fish that come from the Amazon region in South America. There are extreme weather conditions that happen when the rainy season starts and that can be hard to replicate in captivity.
TCS: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about selling fish online?
Even though people have been shipping direct for many years, it is still new to a lot of people. We have made a lot of breakthroughs in shipping techniques in recent years that allow us to successfully ship fish and have them arrive in great shape. With most people living in areas that only have chain stores, the online ordering gives them access to much healthier and higher quality fish.
TCS: Your website mentions that you now have a focus on hard to breed fish. What are some of these species and what makes them hard to breed?
We are working with a lot different wild fish from South America, like Dicrossus maculatus, Biotoecus opercularis, Taeniacara candidi, Teleocichla centrarchus, Apistogramma sp. and many different L number plecos. These fish need very soft water and very delicate conditions to be able to breed in captivity.
Also we are now breeding a lot of different fish from Lake Tanganyika in Africa. They are also very touchy and are not as easy to breed as fish that come from Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria.
TCS: Having experienced over the years the changing fish demands of hobbyists and retailers, as well as import/export and business laws, how do you envision the cichlid hobby 5 years from now?
The hobby in the United States is growing and becoming more popular again, and I see it becoming more advanced in the future, like it is already in Europe and other parts of the world. The Internet contains an endless amount of information and knowledge about fish that use to be only accessible by books. Now fish keepers in the United States are more aware of the proper way to keep these fish and are more aware of the environmental hazards that the fish are facing in their natural habitat. Many fish are facing extinction in the wild and likeminded people are joining together all over the world to help preserve and maintain these fish for future generations. Fish keepers will be the strongest voice in the future to help protect and hopefully reintroduce these fish back into their natural habitat.
TCS: As a hobbyist myself, I have a particular interest in pike cichlids (Crenicichla species), especially the dwarf varieties. However, pikes seem difficult to find and they aren’t something Imperial Tropicals regularly has. Why do you think they’re difficult to find in the hobby?
We also love Pike Cichlids and we do have future plans to work with them. The majority of the wild fish that we bring in are for breeding programs. Most pikes that are sold in the hobby come from the wild and that makes them very seasonal for fisherman to catch and harder to get into the hobby. There are only a few people that are working on breeding them on a commercial level, but hopefully as their popularity grows we will see more people working with them. Vin Cutty is the leading expert in the world for these fish and hopefully with his help we will learn more about them as well as have more success breeding them. We also have a few people in the United States that are doing a good job bringing in the Pikes from the wild, Like Jeff Rapps from Tangled up in Cichlids. So they would be a good source for acquiring them.
TCS: Finally, if you could give cichlid hobbyists three pieces of advice about ordering fish online, what would they be?
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub