SFR: What gets someone so passionate about fish? Where did this all start for you?
JM: The first ponds that I built, which were more water features, was 20, 25 years ago. I began ponding here on my own property about 15 years ago. It was so much fun when we put fish in. Being a landscaper and having so much property, I didn’t have a place to just sit down and relax because I would look around and there was always so much to do. Once I put those fish in, they’re just such an incredible being that they can just take you away. It was like a ride on my motorcycle.
Your first big rescue mission, about three years ago, was 400 fish. What happened in that case?
That was quite an extraordinary case. The fellow had a pond that you could canoe across. It was estimated to be about 40,000 gallons, and I think that was an underestimate. He was moving into town and building what he was hoping was a 4,000 gallon pond and was only able to keep about five fish. He didn’t know what he could possibly do with the rest, so I built my second pond and activated the swimming pool in order to accept them.
How does a pond grow to 400 fish?
His pond began with about 10 fish, and of those 10 fish came 400 little fish. One thing that he did that is uncommon and not recommended was he put a ramp into the pond for his old yellow lab so that the dog could easily get in and out of the water. This ramp turned out to be the perfect breeding ground. He certainly did his part in populating the city with fish.
How has the koi rescue developed since then?
In most cases, people call and say, ‘I’ve got 15 koi fish and I need to control it.’ So I make an appointment to go and see them. Some people that are very successful with their ponding, their fish are actually outgrowing the pond and they need to reduce population for that reason. Another one may be that someone has a pond and they have difficulty affording it and I need to recommend that they remove the fish because it’s not a healthy environment…I give them the opportunity to give up the fish, knowing that they will be cared for and that a home will be found for them.
It’s hard to anthropomorphize fish. What’s your relationship with them? Do you name them?
Doc [Erik] Johnson, who is one of the big fish veterinarians, says, ‘Don’t.’ I’ve got one fish that came with a name—it’s kind of retained the name. Her name is Blanca, but I suspect it’s a boy, so we’ve been considering Blanco. Obviously Rudolph is in there, with a red spot on his nose. So it can happen, but typically not. And with a population of over 100, I’m not going to do a lot of naming.
Why is it recommended you don’t name them?
They’re a perishable crop. I’ve had some circumstances or dealt with some people who went through fish loss and it was very traumatic. They couldn’t handle it and, to this day, will not have fish. I have difficulty, obviously, within my personal collection to pick a favorite. I have many that I admire and am very attached to and, indeed, I do live with fear that something could happen to my population. I work very hard on individuals, medicating and taking care of them.
What happens when someone calls and wants to adopt a fish?
There are no fees, but first I have to evaluate their system. I’m no different from a Great Dane rescue or a cat rescue. I have to be clear that the owners that I’m considering are responsible. I evaluate the size of the pond, existing population, water circulation, filtration methods and techniques—all of those things will tell me that their pond can support the fish. I see many ponds that I almost feel it’s my responsibility that they should be reported to the humane society, though I’ve never done that