For Kevin Kohen, who’s been keeping aquariums since the age of 6, being named “2012 Aquarist of the Year” by an esteemed panel of past award recipients dating back to 1995 was a lifelong dream come true. “These are the innovators and heroes who inspired me from the start,” Kevin explains from his office in Drs. Foster and Smith’s Aquaculture & Marine Life Facility in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. “I grew up reading their books, emulating their aquariums, and finding inspiration from their achievements. It’s really like being named ‘baseball player of the year’ by the major league All-Stars in your prized baseball card collection.”One of those aquarium “All-Stars” is reef lighting expert Dr. Sanjay Joshi, Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Penn State University. According to Dr. Joshi, the “Aquarist of the Year” title is awarded to “those who have made significant contributions to various aspects of the hobby over a long sustained period of time, having led to advancements in aquarium keeping through actively engaging in generating new information, openly sharing the information through written articles and presentations, educating aquarists, and having an impact on the state of the hobby while working unselfishly to improve it.”
A quick glance at Kevin’s extensive career in the industry exemplifies these criteria. An accomplished marine life photographer, author, and educator, Kevin Kohen has bred and reared nearly 100 species of fresh and saltwater fish, and was one of the early pioneers in the U.S. to maintain live corals in captivity in the early 1980’s. He launched his professional career working in a retail fish store for eight years before advancing to direct operations for over eight more years at one of the Midwest’s largest tropical fish wholesale and import/export businesses.
Kohen joined pet supplier Drs. Foster and Smith in 2002 as Director of their live aquatics division, LiveAquaria.com. In 2004, he proposed starting up an aquaculture coral facility at Drs. Foster & Smith’s headquarters in Rhinelander, WI, designing and directing the initial construction of the Midwest’s most state-of-the-art Aquaculture Coral & Marine Life Facility, which opened in July of 2005. In 2007, he designed Phase II of the facility, which more than doubled the size to over 20,000 gallons, adding more coral raceways and quarantine systems for corals and invertebrates, along with three dedicated fish systems to house hard to find and unusual saltwater fish from around the world. Phase III, slated for early 2013, is currently in the planning stages.
Recently, Kevin Kohen broke new ground pairing up marine aquarium fishes that no one has ever tried before, then offering them to consumers and private and public breeders. Kevin was also the first hobbyist in the U.S. to successfully breed the rare McCulloch’s Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi). Prior to this, the McCulloch’s Clownfish had only ever been successfully bred and reared by one other person in the entire world. Where there was once only a handful of McCulloch’s clownfish available to a chosen few, they are now available to the public through LiveAquaria.com Diver’s Den. He actively pursues pairing up, breeding and rearing other marine fishes, such as the Wide Band Clownfish (Amphiprion latezonatus) – another fish only a handful of people have been able to spawn and successfully rear.Education is a priority for Kevin: speaking at as many reef club events as possible, detailing insider secrets, tricks of the trade, and introducing important topics like proper quarantine and conditioning practices. Along with advocating proper care and husbandry, he also emphasizes how to be an educated aquarium owner and how to purchase the healthiest fish and corals – so that more people can enjoy the hobby and be successful. And anybody who has met Kevin in person knows he is always willing to help out a fellow hobbyist with advice and guidance.
But for this Aquarist of the Year, his most memorable experience came during a quiet moment at the MACNA conference when he was approached by a 12-year-old fan who wanted to meet “THE Kevin Kohen,” accompanied by his proud mother. “Here was this beaming young enthusiast,” Kohen recounts, “telling me about his favorite fish and how much he admires my aquariums, and I thought, that was ME when I was his age!” So what advice does Kevin Kohen have for the newest generation of aquarium hobbyists? “Like I told him, study hard, explore your dreams, and you too can make a lifelong career out of doing what you love to do. It’s that simple. Oh, and thank your mom every day for letting you keep dozens of aquariums around your house!”