The shopper: Paul Sieswerda, curator of the New York Aquarium at Coney Island.
The product: Tropical fish.
What he wants: "The same thing anybody else wants when shopping for a pet. I want to go to a reputable pet store where I am reasonably certain I'll find healthy, disease-free animals. I look for a fish that plays well with others - one who views his tank-mates as friends, not food. I like fish that have beauty, a personality, an interesting behavior (hmm, sounds like a reality show contestant). Red parrot comes to mind, and definitely Heniochus, the pennant coral- fish, because of its long, flowing dorsal fin."
He must have: "The right equipment. A complete starter aquarium setup is likely to cost about $300, and it includes a 29-gallon tank (bigger is better), substrate (our fancy name for gravel), a filter and air pump (the uninitiated ooh and aah at the pretty bubbles; I like it because it oxygenates the water) and lighting. Fish cost extra. I recommend you start with freshwater and move up to saltwater as you get more experienced; if you do, plan to double the costs for everything."
One thing he hates: "That pretty little fish I fall in love with in the store tank that grows up to be the Godzilla of the tropical fish world. Eats up all of its food plus its tank-mates and outgrows my aquarium, too. Ask your pet store which fish are more aggressive and steer clear. One example: Jack Dempsey (a fish named after the boxer, for good reason). Other miscreants include kissing gouramis, which do anything but kiss. They're fighters, not lovers."
Savvy shopper: "I can't say it enough. Establish a good relationship with a reputable pet store (ask a serious hobbyist for recommendations; clubs often have Web pages). Don't think of your fish as a pretty piece of room decor that moves; plan to learn the hobby and commit to long-term care."
His pick: "The leafy seadragon. It costs $5,000. We don't even have one at the aquarium, but, hey, I can dream."
The next best thing: "Zebra danios, rosy and golden barbs can be bought for not much more than pennies apiece. Dwarf and blue gouramis go for $1 to $3. Corydoras/little catfish also cost $1 to $3 apiece."
Laurie Squire is a staff writer for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.