James Krase and fellow UC Davis graduate Norman Ponferrada (not pictured) started Rivers to Reef. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Local News

Large-scale dream led to aquarium’s opening

By From page A1 | December 17, 2013

Plenty of fish in the sea is right; there are more than 32,000 species of these aquatic animals in the world. And a pair of UC Davis graduates have aspired to introduce locals to some of them.

James Krause and Norm Ponferrada both attended UCD for marine biology, and bonded over their shared passion for fish life. Together, the students aspired to open what is now Rivers to Reef, an aquarium in downtown Davis.

“Something like seven years ago we said, in passing, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have an aquarium store?’ ” Krause recounted. “But we just sort of laughed it off as a pipe dream, and just kept on working and going to school.”

But Krause and Ponferrada eventually saw that become reality, when in October 2012 — six years out of college — the duo applied their knowledge about fish to establishing an aquarium.

The store, at 333 F St., features approximately 100 display tanks. The largest is 600 gallons. Eight people had to help squeeze the 1,200-pound tank through the storefront’s doors before the business opened.

Krause set up each of the tank’s contents, hand-selecting plants and aquatic life that he was able to determine were healthy. The store has freshwater and saltwater fish, as well as shrimp, turtles and coral.

And he’s been able to keep his stock in good health. Krause expects that he has 35 or so fish die each week out of the more than 1,000 in his store, less than what’s been reported from larger retailers.

That’s a perk of having been a home aquarium hobbyist himself for more than 15 years. Krause still owns a 300-gallon tank at home, filled with fish that he cares for.

Back at the store, he was at one time caring for more than 200 African cichlids in the aforementioned hefty 600-gallon tank. He expects that the population was the region’s largest stock in terms of that particular species.

“Davis water is perfect for them,” Krause said. “It’s very close to their native waters. … We liked them, because cichlids are generally more interactive with people. They’ll follow you as you walk around the tank.”

At their recent one-year anniversary, Krause and Ponferrada decided to change their sizable tank to a home for South American cichlids.

Their intention is to move what will be their largest fish, the arapaimas, into that tank. Krause said the arapaimas will grow to more than 6 feet long, and may even outgrow what has come to be the store’s biggest draw.

“It’s the attention-grabber,” he said in reference to the store’s 600 gallon tank. “When people walk in they’re enamored by it and the fish inside. It sort of spurs the imagination.”

The 99-some other tanks that are efficiently stacked in the small Davis space hold myriad other species, and Krause encouraged locals to peruse the selection. There’s a fish for everyone: “Some are peaceful, some lively. Fish come in all personality types,” he said.

For the uninitiated: Every species of fish has different requirements, including food, tank size and filtration. Krause explained that in many ways a customer’s first purchase defines their route in the hobby, because only certain types of fish are compatible.

The sales aspect, however, wasn’t exactly the main thrust of this local enterprise:

“When Norm and I started (Rivers to Reef), we had the strong intention of not only trying to be a successful business, but to be a learning institution in which people could come and learn about fish, and gain the same passion as us.

“Even though we’ve struggled somewhat to get the word out about us, I think we’re at least succeeding in that.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett.

Brett Johnson

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