OCA Extravaganza.

Every year, a week before Thanksgiving, the cichlid and catfish convention known as OCA Extravaganza takes place in Strongsville, Ohio. In 2012, from November 16 to 18, many enthusiastic aquarists gathered at one of the largest conventions of its kind in the United States. It is organized by the Ohio Cichlid Association (OCA), also based in Strongsville. More than 500 visitors attended from neighboring states and came from as far away as Texas and Minnesota. Even other countries, including Canada, England, and Australia, were represented last year.

The meeting was held in two large rooms at the

Holiday Inn in Strongsville, where business owners and manufacturers were selling products, such as ceramic breeding caves, specialty aquascaping wood, foods, and books. On two of the hotel’s floors, the attendees had transformed the hotel rooms into mini pet stores. Everywhere you looked, people wore colorful T-shirts printed with fishes and the logos of aquarium clubs.

In the show room, the fishes for the show competition were housed in some 180 tanks. On Saturday, the main convention day, cichlids and catfishes in various categories were rated by a jury based on different criteria such as rarity, size, color, finnage, and condition. A very large, beautiful cichlid from Central America, Amphilophus hogaboomorum, became “Best in Show,” but the other winners did not need to hide either.

Inspired by the motto “Decorate your very own aquarium,” the youngest visitors, with the help of club members, set up and aquascaped some 20 aquariums donated by a sponsoring manufacturer.The expert lectures were not to be missed. Topics ranging from habitats to the latest taxonomic changes were presented by African-cichlid expert Ad Konings, AMAZONAS editor Hans-Georg Evers, and ichthyologists Jay Stauffer and Michael Tobler. These lectures were well attended—more than 100 people crowded into the lecture hall to hear some of them. Additionally, a “meet and greet” with the speakers was held on Saturday afternoon.

A special feature of such events is the opportunity for attendees to sell their tank-raised fishes out of their hotel rooms. Racks and aquariums were dragged in and set up the day before. During the following nights, with all the room doors open, the strolling hobbyists were invited to gather and discuss fishes over beer and snacks. Quite a few aquarists from around the area took the opportunity to stock up on fishes.

Sunday is traditionally the day of the big fish auction. Thousands of bags of cichlids, catfishes, and accessories are made available to interested parties to bid on. The auctioneer rattles off numbers at lightning speed into the microphone, buyers raise their hands, and it is not unusual to observe interesting “duels” between competing buyers, after which some fishes change hands at surprisingly high prices.

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