Something fishy is going on with this Smart Fortwo – NY Daily News

6 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Something fishy is going on with this Smart Fortwo – NY Daily News

Something fishy is going on with this Smart Fortwo

An upstate New York-based business has transformed a tiny Smart city-car into a rolling aquarium, capable of transporting their carefully bred clownfish around the country.


This tiny Smart car holds a big surprise inside.

This is a tale about how an unlikely car becomes transportation for one very unlikely business.

When I first met Linda Close, she was donating 12 inches of thick strawberry blonde hair to Locks of Love, a not-for-profit that provides hairpieces to children in the U. S. and Canada who suffer from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.

The subject of cars came up, as it always does, when I’m in the salon. Customers and employees routinely ask me what to buy, or I ask them what they drive.

I was stumped. Why would anyone who lives in the snow-belt drive a Smart Fortwo, the smallest production car sold in the U.S. Close’s answer was even more intriguing.

Linda Close

A clownfish-friendly tank is definitely not a normal option when driving a Smart off the dealership lot.

“We run a business out of it,” she said.

Close lives in Kinderhook, New York, a small town roughly 20 miles south of Albany. The historic town is situated far enough north to experience major snowstorms – storms that could bury a Smart for weeks. Big pick-up trucks are common in these parts.

Teeny two-passenger Smarts are not.

But when Close and her business partner went car shopping, they had two key criteria; it had to be cheap, and it had to get great mileage. For $11,000, they drove the Smart Fortwo, a bare bones model that doesn’t even have a radio, off the dealership lot.

Kate McLeod

The cute and colorful clownfish is extremely popular and, in the right conditions, they can live up to 30 years.

The car was outfitted by Close’s business partner, Scott Tomko, with special equipment that allows them to transport their product to customers as far away as Chicago, over 800 miles away. If you’re thinking they’re making microchips or baking artisanal cupcakes, guess again.

Close and Tomko breed, sell and deliver Clownfish.

They emerge in daring oranges, yellows, blacks or reds often with bold stripes or big patches of white. Fully grown, they can reach between 4-7 inches in length.

Kate McLeod

Various pumps and hoses have been installed throughout the car, to keep the tank water clean and maintain the correct pH levels for the clownfish.

“It takes about eight days for the eggs to hatch,” says Tomko. “Most customers buy the fish as juveniles. It takes about a year for them to become fertile. Then they can live for more than 30 years under the right conditions.”

Close and Tomko met at a meeting of the Capitol District Marine Aquarium Society in Albany, New York. Scott Tomko, 29, has a degree in biology from Carolina Coastal University. Linda Close, 49, was a tropical fish hobbyist who worked for the local utility companies until she followed her passion and started working in local fish stores.

The decision to become fish farmers led to long days and sleepless nights tending to thousands of clownfish. Today, tanks in two locations are filled with fish in all stages growth. At Close’s house there are fish tanks in the bedroom, garage and living room.

Tomko and Close refer to themselves as farmers, raising a crop that is a lot trickier and more ecologically beneficial than growing corn. Their farming of clownfish saves reefs from damage that is caused when the fish are captured in the wild.

“The tactics used to catch fish in a coral reef are often harmful to the delicate reef ecosystem,” says Tomko. “Cyanide and dynamite are often used to stun the fish making them easier to catch. Some people cut a large coral off the reef, take it to the surface of the ocean, shake out the fish and discard the coral.”

Kate McLeod

The Smart’s small trunk is filled to capacity with fish tanks specially made for transporting clownfish around the country.

But wasn’t the switch to fish farming a serious leap of faith?

Think of it this way, says Tomko, “Tilapia is a dollar a pound; clownfish can run from $1,000 to $8,000 a pound––and even more for some of the rarer breeds. We can almost deliver the cost of the car in one run.”

“With our current traveling tank, which holds about 17 gallons of salt water,” adds Close. we can go out with a maximum of 400 fish, but the Smart could fit a tank that would carry 1,000 fish. In one run, we can make a nice profit that does not get eaten up by fuel costs. Scott made our traveling tank out of PVC board so it is shatter proof and then we connected the tank through a series of hoses to the voltage in the car.”

The Smart’s interior has the air of a Doctor Who set, with hoses running back to front between the two seats.

Monitoring the salt water’s pH level is another constant challenge, especially while on the road. To date the fledgling company has delivered about 4,000 fish, and the onset of colder weather is actually a boon for the business.

“At this time of year, people are done with their gardens and now they can focus on their fish tanks,” says Tomko. And while the Smart seems an unlikely choice for a couple of people who call themselves farmers, the car’s tiny footprint is a good match for the little fish it carries in watery comfort.

“The car makes me smile,” says Close. “Soon we’re going to wrap it with our logo.” A positive attitude – along with a small cheap car brimming with colorful fish – are attributes Midnight Mariculture hopes will continue to help reel in customers.

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