Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Back: Segrest's past and some 'ancient' history

A few weeks ago, I helped create a powerpoint presentation about Segrest Farms that we could use for a hobbyist or non-industry audience. Just a basic overview of who we are, how we operate, etc., but with a section entitled "back in the day" which covered the company's history. This was a very interesting project, and it involved not only listening to the stories of some of our "veteran" employees but also getting the privilege of sifting through our founder's personal photo albums. This little detour through the annals of Segrest Farms (and by extension the entire fish industry) got me thinking about the fascinating evolution of the tropical fish industry over the years and just how far we've come from the days of steel-framed aquaria, whisper air pumps and undergravel filters (not to mention the heady days of flying in previously unknown fish from Manaus, Malawi, and Managua on DC-3's).
Founder Elwyn Segrest (left), ever the enterprising aquarist, with local fish store owner
Bob Gallo and what appear to be early saltwater aquaria in the background.
It's interesting to think about how the hobby and industry developed, from basement breeders running banks of sponge-filter powered tanks raising guppies and angelfish to the incredibly vast global network of supply in place today. For people who weren't around for the early days, it's hard to imagine how wild cardinal tetras or a new variant of Aulonocara could have been so coveted but then again, in 20 years who can say what fish that we now consider rare will become commonplace? Already, marine fish breeding techniques have improved to the point where many incredible rare species may soon find their way to the general public as tank bred specimens. And of course we're always looking for worthy candidates for intensive culture on the freshwater side...we have a few we're already getting excited about but only time will tell how successful that may be. Being able to look back at a long history like ours is a great source of perspective, but it is our collective ability to look forward and see the challenges and opportunities ahead that keep us relevant in an ever-changing industry. With that said, let's take a look back at how we were, then and now:

One of our first production ponds, Ellenton, circa 1970:

Current growout pond, Ruskin, on one of our major farms
And last but not least, this little gem came across my desk last week and I just had to share it. Our saltwater night manager, Marie, had mentioned in passing how she had had her picture in a magazine years ago in an article that covered Segrest Farms. Intrigued, I asked her to see if she could find a copy, and sure enough, she brought in a battered copy of the May 1989 issue of Smithsonian Magazine which included a feature story on the tropical fish industry. It is a fascinating snapshot of how things were. I especially enjoyed complaints about the $25-30 price tag of the Blue Eyed Pleco (a fish that now retails at $600-1000) and the colorful stories of Florida fish farmers (who are, as a whole, no less colorful today).
Pdf below: I hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane and hopefully I'll be sharing some more aquarium hobby/industry history in future posts. It's a fascinating topic and one that exists almost entirely in the memories of those who lived it, and through anecdotes passed down over the years. Very little written history exists and what does is typically hard to come by. Please feel free to share your stories and experiences or just memories of how things were in the comments section!


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