Fish For The Road

As you travel through Missouri, you may encounter a truck pulling a sleek black trailer that looks like it might house a racecar. This trailer, however, has panels of bulletproof plexiglass and a Conservation Department logo on its sides. Instead of a racecar, the trailer is used to hold fish.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's "Show-me Missouri Fish" mobile aquarium intrigues onlookers wherever it goes-or stops! As it visits schools, fairs and events throughout the state, the mobile aquarium has sparked tremendous interest in our aquatic resources.

Although it looks new, the mobile aquarium is more than 10 years old. It was once known coast-to-coast as Buck Potter's "Bass Bin" and was a regular exhibit at the Missouri State Fair and various other events. The Conservation Department even contracted with Buck Potter and his wife, Joannie, to use the aquarium for several events in the late 1990s, and the Department was looking at designing its own.

Buck Potter passed away in December 1998. Joannie Potter, unable to continue operating the Bass Bin without him, sold the unit to the Conservation Department in June 1999.

Thanks to my qualifications as a fisheries biologist and my outspoken love of fish and fishing, I was named to operate the aquarium. What a great job!

Our mobile aquarium is the only one of its kind. A boat company in Oregon built it in the late 1980s under Buck Potter's supervision. They never produced another.

The trailer measures 40 feet long and 7 feet high. It's built into a gooseneck trailer on dual axles. The aquarium itself is composed of 14 inch-and-a-half thick plexiglass panels-the same plexiglass that is used to bullet-proof armored cars and diplomatic vehicles. It holds 3,200 gallons of water and weighs a staggering 37,000 pounds when filled!

Setting up the mobile aquarium isn't easy. Maneuvering a trailer of this length requires a heavy duty, dual-wheeled pickup truck. When filled with water, the unit would be too heavy to pull, so we tow the unit empty.

When my assistant and I set up the aquarium, we use eight hydraulic jacks to evenly support the weight. We also have to park it on a hard, level surface so it won't sink into the ground when filled.

During summer, we keep the aquarium cool by keeping it in the shade. Most warm-water fishes prefer a temperature below 85 degrees. If the water starts getting too