Design & Interiors

The Sage of Aquariums

Amyn kassam Coast Lamps managing director shows
Amyn kassam Coast Lamps managing director shows some of the aquariums at his shop along Moi Avenue in Mombasa. PHOTO | Wachira Mwangi 

At Amyn Kassam's aquarium and lampshade shop, there is a community fish tank at the entrance. The fish swim through the natural plants as others hide under broken pottery covered with a cloud of dark algae. Mr Kassam says the tank has stayed outside the shop for two years now.

This is a hobby turned into a business. Mr Kassam, the managing director of Coast Lamps started interacting with fish at the age of five.

“I started this business in 1982. I had my own aquarium in my shop and a customer came in and bought it. Soon more people came and the customer base grew,” says Mr Kassam who now sells from fish, fish feed, fish drugs to aquariums.

He also does maintenance of fish tanks. Mr Kassam says fireplaces, waterfalls and aquariums not only decorate homes but also they have relaxing effects, helping ease stress.


According to aquarium seller, who has handled ornamental fish for more than 40 years, to have a good indoor tank, first build a well-functioning ecosystem, then leave it to manage itself.

Buy a transparent tank, filters, water or aeration pumps, fresh water fish and natural plants. Fresh water plants that can be put in the tank include vallisneria, Bacopa caroliniana, Amazon sword plant and elodia or water weeds.

You also need gravel, rocks, driftwoods and broken pottery to pamper the bottom of your tank.

“Do not put coral rocks or shells because they scratch the fish. The fresh water fish is not used to rough terrains like the salty or seawater fish. Also, some fish like to hide that is why they need the rocks and driftwood. Catfish, for instance, love to be in an open space,” says Mr Kassam.

The ecosystem should not be disturbed. Also, ensure the light is on for six to eight hours.

“The fish excrete and the waste acts as manure, but you can add fresh water fertiliser,” he says.

To maintain the oxygen levels in the tank, install a filter system or air pump. Also, a submersible filter system is convenient because it pumps the water into the tank and also aerates it. This is better because the cartridge is only removed once a month to be cleaned.

In Mr Kassam's Mombasa shop, there are many types of fish. He sells Brakish, Oranda, Shubunkin, Danio, comet goldfish, Zebra angelfish, Black marble angel fish, assorted Cichlids, Black shark and Red tail cat fish. There is also Texidal platy, assorted molly, fancy guppy and Texas Cichlids.

But before picking two or three fish for your home tank, remember that not all type coexist in one aquarium.

“You can’t mix the fish. For instance, the African Cichlids cannot be mixed with other fish because they are very aggressive. They love attention. Some customers don’t heed to this advice and they end up having fish that fights often or others preying on others,” he says, adding that some fish need hiding grounds and if they don’t hide, they fight other fish. Others are dominating and love marking their territory.

The average lifespan of an aquarium fish is eight years, but it depends on the care given. One can also breed the fish, enabling them to multiply in the aquarium.
“It is a lot of fun. Some of my customers actually breed the fish and sell it to us,” he says.


Most of the fish feed on worms and mosquito larvae. If fed well, the fish grow very fast. Do not give the fish breadcrumbs because the water gets cloudy and smelly.

“Besides mosquito larvae, there is imported fish food like flakes, which is a staple food for fish, and dried blood worms,” he said.

They can also eat fingerlings and milk added to it. Some fish like catfish are bottom feeders. They can be fed on catfish wafers which are made of algae and vegetarian ingredients.

For people who constantly travel, put auto feeders in the aquarium.

“You can set auto feeder for a period of 30 days,” says the entrepreneur, adding that when travelling ensure there is a backup power source.

Feed the fish three times a day but do not do it when there is no power because the water will be polluted.


Change a quarter of the water every week to maintain the ammonia levels and ensure that it does not smell.

“The more you maintain your aquarium yourself, the more pleasure you find in it. For 200 litres, you can’t clean it for almost a year. For a two-feet tank, put a maximum of 20 fish. Fish grow faster if they are given more space. If they are too many, they stunt in growth,” says Mr Kassam.

Fish varies in cost and can range from Sh80 to Sh30,000 for one. Always check the fish every day, to see their movement and know where they are.

“Sick fish stay in a corner and are very inactive. Some of the diseases include fin rot, bacterial and fungal infections,” he says.

But sometimes the fish just need salt, the PH of water to be lowered or heated up because appropriate temperature helps to kill some infections.