FRANKLIN, Mass. (AP) — If you don’t know Bo, you probably don’t travel in tropical fish circles.
‘‘Bo is a famous fish,’’ said his owner, Judy Weinberg. ‘‘He won the whole circuit’’ in 2009, including the Northeast Council of Aquarium Societies’ William T. Innes Award for accumulating the most points in member societies’ shows.
Serious fish folks, including Ron Georgeone, ‘‘the Cichlid King of the Midwest,’’ want Bo, said Weinberg, but ‘‘Bo is not for sale. Bo is family.’’
His significant other and fellow paratilapia polleni, Belle, is also family, and gaining fame in her own right.
Belle earned a blue ribbon last month at the Ohio Cichlid Association’s annual ‘‘Extravaganza’’ show, and her ribbon now adorns the tank she shares with Bo in the sunroom of Weinberg’s Franklin home.
The General, a Nandopsis tetracanthus more commonly known as the Cuban cichlid, is a favorite as well, but, ‘‘him, I might give up in a trade, depending on what I could get,’’ said Weinberg, a lifelong fish fan who took up serious fishkeeping and competing about six years ago.
‘‘After I stopped having my children, I started having my fish,’’ said Weinberg.
She and husband Neal have three grown children and a 15-year-old daughter.
One particularly endearing quality about fish: ‘‘They don’t talk back.’’
There are now more than 30, not counting the betas, in the aquariums that fill the sunroom, along with plants, decorative ornaments, trophies and paintings of some of her prize-winners like the late goldfish Astro, a Northeast Council champ who once earned a $300 prize. Bo has netted a $500 award, but in the tropical fish show world, the prizes tend to be ‘‘fairly small. Most of the awards I've won are in the form of paintings’’ of her winners.
The perks of showing a fish include ‘‘educating people as to your fish’s whys and wherefores.’’ Also, ‘‘you like to hear compliments on the beautiful fish you have brought. And yes, it is a beauty competition.’’
Judges look at the fish with lighted magnifying glasses to check for damaged scales or fins. ‘‘If your fish has a white spot, forget it.’’ Judges also like a bit of feistiness. ‘‘They like a fish that comes at the glass.’’
Getting the competitors to a show is an endeavor in itself. There are pros and cons to the two methods — putting the fish in a water-filled bag for transport or taking the whole aquarium. Scooping a fish into the bag can be dicey. If you’re driving with the aquarium in your car or truck and take a sharp turn, the fish could bump up against the glass and lose a scale or tear a fin.
For shows in Connecticut or Rhode Island, Weinberg usually drives the competitor herself. For the recent Ohio show and the American Cichlid Association show in Washington, where Bo competed two years ago, a friend and fellow member of the Tropical Fish Society of Rhode Island drives the fish in a specially equipped truck.
Some of the more exotic fish in Weinberg’s entourage have been purchased at the auctions that often accompany competitive fish shows. Others, like a particularly attentive and alert goldfish named Smitty, come from local pet stores.
While the cost of the fish themselves isn’t prohibitive, keeping the filters running on a dozen aquariums isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket.
‘‘I try not to look at the electricity bill when it comes in.’’
As with those who raise thoroughbred four-footed creatures, breeding award-winners like Bo and Belle could stir buzz and bids among aficionados, but so far, ‘‘I haven’t been able to get the fry to survive.’’
The microscopic offspring are ‘‘impossible to see. They lie in the gravel and you have to siphon them out and put them in a ‘hospital’ tank.’’
She’s hoping a fish-savvy friend will take Romeo and Juliet, who live in a tank near Bo and Belle, to breed them, ‘‘be successful, then tell me what to do.’’
Each fish has his or her own personality, and Bo does seem to take note of visitors as well as recognize family members. ‘‘I'm the one who feeds him, but he’s in love with (daughter) Abigail.’’
The family, however, doesn’t share Weinberg’s unbridled enthusiasm for fish.
‘‘They think I'm a nut case,’’ she admitted with a laugh.
‘‘You have to like it. It’s a lot of work,’’ she said, but ‘‘the animals and their habits are enjoyable to me.’’
As for what comes next, ‘‘he’s going to be the future winner,’’ Weinberg said of a phenochilus Tanzania in a tank under the back window. ‘‘He’s blue now, but he’s going to get spangled.’’
As for Bo, he appeared unfazed by Weinberg’s assessment of his rival’s potential.
On Wednesday afternoon, he was enjoying his reunion with Belle after her recent return from Ohio, and keeping his eye out for any earthworm flakes or dried shrimp that might come his way.