Career in the tank is fin-fin situation for fish and aquarium seller

Fish are like dogs and people to Wayne Mellor. The owner and operator of Atlantis Tropical Fish & Aquarium said two of the same variety of fish can have different attitudes.

"One can have a chip on his fin and just be a punk, and the other one can just be mellow as can be," Mellor said.

Although he used to hear that fish had a three-second memory, Mellor found that notion to be false.

"Fish do recognize your face, and they pretty much act like dogs," he said. "If you've had a fish for a long time, it knows you're coming to feed. It will just sit there and wag its tail. Fish have personalities."

Mellor pointed to a lone multicolor fish that was flipping over and cavorting around in the tank.

"He's a clown trigger, very aggressive," he said of the fish, the same kind of fish that starred in the Walt Disney Co.'s hit 2003 animated movie, "Finding Nemo."

In another tank, a tiny shrimp played with Mellor's finger and picked at his cuticle. But Mellor isn't always so playful. He said he wouldn't corner a lionfish with his hand for fear he would be stung with a spine many times more poisonous than a bee sting. A photo shows the swollen hand of a customer after a lionfish stung him.

His son, Nicholas, was pulled into another drama when he opened the store that morning.

A grouper had swallowed half of a foxface rabbitfish. The rabbitfish is poisonous, and Nicholas feared he would lose both fish. He thumped the grouper on the head. The grouper released the smaller fish, and Nicholas put the rabbitfish in another tank.

As water gurgled in the background, Mellor told fish stories and explained how he turned his sons' hobby into a family-owned business.

Question: Where did you grow up?

Answer: I was raised in San Clemente on the beach. Surfer kid. Loved it. Moved into Nevada when I was in my late 20s for business opportunities.

I was in the landscape construction industry and then kind of peeled into the landscape architecture business.

Question: Why did you change careers?

Answer: I enjoyed the construction industry, but it's like every other business. Got tougher and tougher to deal with. I decided, after meeting with the children, to get into (this) business about four years ago.

Question: Was this a hobby before you opened the store?

Answer: Yes, but not so much mine as my children's. Our intent with opening the store was to better the hobby, and it's profitable.

Question: How did you prepare to become a fish retailer?

Answer: We visited every store in town and didn't get the proper information about certain fish.

We noticed there was a lack of communication and a lack of direction. It's really terrible out there. So, we decided opening the business would be a nice challenge. We thought, "Let's give it a go." Educating clients has been the biggest factor in bringing people back.

Question: Who is your typical customer?

Answer: More and more people have fish tanks than I think ever before. They are finding the calming factor of watching a fish tank. In the medical field, the dental field, you'll find fish tanks. It's a natural calming.

Question: How do you help customers?

Answer: First we try to figure out where you are going. Then, we can offer you all the product to set it up.

Question: How do you buy the fish?

Answer: We bring fish in from all over the world. There's a couple of wholesalers out of Los Angeles and Florida that we deal with. They procure the fish from all over the planet, from India, from the Atlantic, from the Pacific to the Caribbean. They are flown into the airport.

Question: How about sharks?

Answer: People love to have sharks. We can provide bottom sharks, like coral banded sharks. We don't sell nurse sharks. We don't sell great whites. You've got to have a tank that's huge for some sharks.

Question: Barracudas?

Answer: No, not that I know of. Number one, they're scary as hell.

Question: Piranhas, perhaps?

Answer: I can't sell and I won't sell piranhas. They get too aggressive. They get too big. They end up in our (lake and river) system. The whole ecology of the lake goes out of whack. I have Fish and Game that come in twice a year, just to keep me in check.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at or 702-383-0420.