Wed, July 17

Something fishy is going on
School superintendent maintains collection of 60 aquariums

Scott Jacobson is Clarkdale-Jerome School District Superintendent/Principal by day and exotic fish collector afterhours. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

Scott Jacobson is Clarkdale-Jerome School District Superintendent/Principal by day and exotic fish collector afterhours. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

After spending a long day serving his 477 Clarkdale-Jerome School District students, Superintendent/Principal Scott Jacobson returns home to care for hundreds of tropical fish in his 60 aquariums.

"It takes me 30 minutes to feed each day. I change one-third of their water monthly," said Jacobson.

As a member of the Arizona Rivulin Keepers, Jacobson specializes in raising exotic, puddle-dwelling killifish, as well as feisty cichlids from Africa, South America and Madagascar.

Visitors to his home are greeted with a six-foot long, 125-gallon display tank of large fish specimens from throughout the globe.

His wife requested a tank of neon tetras, so he also added a hexagon tank to display the tiny blue and red phosphorescent fish which dwell in South America.

Even his 8-year-old son Aztlan keeps a 20-gallon aquarium. Its theme is "Sponge Bob."

But the real fishy business takes place in Jacobson's dedicated aquarium room.

Here, rack-upon-rack of glass aquariums are filled with breeding fish and aquatic plants.

A piston pump supplies air to each tank's water filters through a series of custom- PVC air pipes that Jacobson himself installed.

Lighting is supplied by overhead incandescent fixtures hand-crafted by Jacobson from gutters, metal and sockets.

"I just can't bring myself to spend $20 per light from a pet store. I used to manage a pet store and I know that the price mark-up is between 200 and 300 percent on pet items."

Jacobson obtains, breeds and raises the offspring of these exotic fish to trade with other hobbyists or to offer at auction.

His favorites include Gardner's Killifish, Purple Spot Goby and East Coast Gold Cichlids.

Not everyone has the skills needed to propagate these exotics.

For example, the goby is a mouthbrooder. Eggs are hatched in the mother's mouth and the babies remain there for safety until they can fend for themselves.

Even more amazing are the trips Jacobson takes to collect tropical fish.

"I'm going to Peru this summer. It's the dry season so the fish will be teeming in the puddles," he said.

The logistics aren't as complicated as one might imagine.

Collecting is open to hobbyists as long as they are not selling the fish commercially. Jacobson uses a special plastic bag to transport them home that is designed to absorb oxygen while expelling carbon dioxide, even when sealed.

With all this experience, a person might be inclined to call Jacobson a "Professor of Fish" -- and they might not be far off.

"Eventually, I want to get my PhD in tropical fish behavior," said Jacobson.