Robert M. Fenner, 1952-2020

Bob Fenner as a budding young southern California marine biologist.

Bob Fenner as a budding young southern California marine biologist.

Robert M. Fenner

A great friend and charter contributor to CORAL Magazine, Robert M. (Bob) Fenner died in his sleep at his home in San Diego, California, on May 7, 2020. His family said the apparent cause of death was a heart attack. He was 67 and actively working as a writer, underwater photographer, aquatics educator, and internet publisher.

Bob is considered to be one of the pioneers of marine aquarium keeping and a champion of the ethical, sustainable collection and husbandry of aquatic animals. His landmark book, The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, is one of the bestselling aquarium titles of all time, with more than 100,000 copies in print.

Learn more and buy Fenner's second edition of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist.

Learn more and buy Fenner’s second edition of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist.

The founder and driving force behind Wet Web Media, a wide-ranging, long-established, content-rich site and helpline for keepers of marine, brackish water, and freshwater aquariums, Bob was a lifelong teacher who mixed science with wit as he advised aquarists of all skill levels, from rank beginners to professionals at major public aquariums.

Dr. Neale Monks, a British zoologist and writer who worked closely with Bob, said this in a message to CORAL:

“There are others who will be able to explain Bob Fenner’s influence on the marine aquarium hobby, and the aquatics business, and his love for reef diving and underwater photography. But for my part, Bob was a dear friend with whom I worked on a daily basis for almost 15 years, helping to maintain the unique and incomparable WetWebMedia website.

“As idiosyncratic as the man himself, with a layout barely changed since the Stone Age of the Internet, WetWebMedia is a sprawling mass of articles, photographs, and those mailed-in appeals for help he referred to as FAQs.

“Every day he’d tackle questions from aquarists keeping anything from a high-spec reef tank through to a goldfish bowl, and do his best to help them out. He had strong opinions on certain things (Melafix, for one; and text message grammar for another) but what a work ethic he had!

Bob with Wet Web Media collaborator Michelle Lemech at Interzoo in Nuremberg. Bob's caption: "Deutschlund Deutschlund, where da hell are da biers!"

Bob with Wet Web Media collaborator Michelle Lemech at Interzoo in Nuremberg. Bob’s caption: “Deutschlund Deutschlund, where da hell are da biers!”

“For a man who lived life to its fullest, who enjoyed his beer, sushi, and late nights out, barely a day went past when he didn’t log into the WWM website. He’d check through the day’s messages, and send out helpful replies in a speedy manner, and on some days there might be twenty or thirty messages, some simple, but others long, rambling, or otherwise difficult to solve.

“God only knows how many fish, frogs, turtles and invertebrates are alive today (or at least lived full and happy lives) thanks to this generous titan of a man. It’s often said after someone passes that they will be irreplaceable, but it isn’t hyperbole here: Bob, you will be missed.”

Bob Fenner: diver, photographer, author, conservationist, sushi lover, chef, and world-class wit. Image by Michelle Lemech.

Bob Fenner: diver, photographer, author, conservationist, sushi lover, chef, and world-class wit. Image by Michelle Lemech.

Posted by Bob Mehen on Bob Fenner’s Facebook page: “Very sad to hear this. His book ‘The Conscientious Marine Aquarist’ was way ahead of it’s time & guided me into the marine hobby in an ethical way and the lessons it gave have followed me back into the freshwater hobby. My few interactions with him showed him to be a kind, supportive & funny man.”

Shared by Jessica Pickering:

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to share this news with you all. I just got off the phone with Bob Fenner’s family and they confirmed that Bob passed in his sleep this morning. They asked me to make this post for all the mutual friends we have in the aquarium and pet fish hobby. There will not be a ceremony anytime soon due to the current state of the world but something will be planned eventually.

“Bob was a force of life all unto himself. His face could light up a room, his knowledge and stories could fill a library, and his generosity certainly touched the entire world. He lived his life to the fullest every day and I am lucky to have been called one of his friends. Bob we will miss you. Rest In Peace.”

“What loss, what a life he led,” said Rob Mougey, Director Emeritus of the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA). “His family plans a future celebration to ‘return his ashes to the sea’ once the current health crisis has passed.”

Bob giving a presentation at MACNA 2018 in New Orleans. He was honored by the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) with the coveted MASNA Award in 2005 for his contributions to the aquarium hobby and trade.

Bob giving a presentation at MACNA 2018 in New Orleans. He was honored by the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) with the coveted MASNA Award in 2005 for his contributions to the aquarium hobby and trade.

Robert M. Fenner, author of
The Conscientious Marine Aquarist: A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists
Microcosm, 1998
Microcosm/TFH Professional Series, Revised & Updated Edition, 2008

Author Biography

Bob Fenner was a lifelong aquarist with an active and continuing involvement in the academic, journalistic, trade, and hobbyist sides of aquarium keeping. He is a former marine science and aquariology instructor at the University of California and in the California State University system.

Bob was the author of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist and had been a regular contributor to a number of aquarium publications, including CORALFreshwater and Marine Aquarium, Tropical Fish Hobbyist, SeaScope, Pet Dealer, and several foreign hobbyist and business periodicals. He was a speaker and judge at many aquarium conferences and events, with subjects ranging from cyanide collection of reef fishes to koi, shell collecting, and environmental, aquarium trade, hobbyist, and scientific topics.

He worked in all phases of the aquarium business —as a collector, wholesaler, jobber, retailer, hatchery worker, designer, manager, and owner. Bob lived in San Diego, California, and is both an active Hash House Harrier and an avid scuba diver, having completed thousands of dives throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Baja California, the tropical eastern Pacific, and the shorelines of his home state.

Review by Author Richard Stratton
“Most hobbyists know of Bob from his book The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, a book that I consider a candidate for the best book on the marine hobby ever written.
“I am not alone in my praise for this book. It is typical Fenner, bristling with information in easy-to-understand terminology.”
—Richard F. Stratton


Wet Web Media

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist


  1. Matt Pedersen

    The things I will remember most from my times with Bob Fenner include his boisterous, gregarious warmth, always an arm around your shoulders, and his unique voice. I consider myself very lucky to have had him in my life, and I will miss him. (left to right, Marc Levenson, Bob Fenner, Matt Pedersen)

  2. Derrick

    Sorry to hear of his passings. I love his book.

    • Steph

      Bob you will be greatly missed! I enjoyed talking with you about our shared love of diving and Cozumel Mexico. I know you are happily diving the most beautiful thriving reefs in the world in heaven. Thank you for all the years of help, advice, and for being a patient mentor. Rest in peace!

  3. Tom Land

    I, like many others here, considered Bob a friend and, coincidentally, a fellow San Diegan. I saw Bob every year at MACNA and, more recently, worked with him a couple times a month, on future conferences.

    We met first at a WAMAS meeting after which we drank (too much) beer and ate homemade, brick oven pizza at a mutual friend’s house. Several of us talked for hours.

    Bob was a treasure to the hobby with encyclopedic knowledge and a gentle demeanor. When you talked to Bob, he not only listened, but gave you his full attention, making you feel, in that moment, important to him.

    I learned of his passing, like so many others, the day after. He’d missed our online meeting the night before.

    I’ll miss Bob, but will treasure the memories of times shared.

  4. Forrest Mills

    Although we have lost his physical presence, Bob will always be with us through his contributions to the hobby and the care of Earth’s creatures.

  5. Mark Quigley

    I read what I am sure were literally thousands of Bob’s posts on WetWebMedia starting in the early 90s; not a few of them were direct answers to questions I asked.. His patience, good humor, and vast knowledge got me (successfully) started in the hobby. It was an honor and a great pleasure to finally to meet him a few years ago. The world is a poorer place for his passing.

  6. Jeff Turner

    May 8th, 2020
    As I sit here today reflecting on all of my past experiences with Bob Fenner each and every one of them brings a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that Bob always payed it forward. Without many equals, Bob was always happy, thoughtful, eager to listen, witty, intelligent, caring, and one of the nicest and best Conscientious Marine Aquarists I have ever met. My relationship with Bob had to go back to the late 80’s, early 90’s, with the beginnings of MACNA and meeting many fishy folks in the early days of reef aquariums. Bob loved the oceans and marine organisms and was a walking talking encyclopedia of fishes and marine life in general. Never a dull moment talking with Bob about aquariums and he could make a fun discussion out of polychaetes and serpulid worms, and then transition to discussions about labridae and grammatidae while knowing everything about them, heck I couldn’t even spell or pronounce their Latin names properly! Bob loved to dive and lived to dive, where he could observe the wonderful underwater world firsthand while marveling at the immense diversity under the sea. It must have been fascinating being so aware and educated about marine life through Bobs eyes and Bobs thoughts.

    Earlier this year Joleen and I went down to Duck Key for the Waterbox “Family Reunion” and Bob was one of the speakers at the event. We had a beverage with Bob Friday night and watched his talk Saturday morning, always entertaining and full of interesting and factual information for any fishy geek! Joleen and I sat with Bob in the front row for the rest of the day through the talks and simply had a genuinely great time talking about diving, aquariums, fishing, and about life in general and how its really wonderful being productive people in the aquarium industry. We hoped to be diving together in the nearer future and planned to see each other again this summer at MACNA Phoenix, as Bob was then the newly appointed/volunteer as Vice President of MASNA.

    A lifetime of fishy fun! That was Bob Fenner…. He truly will be missed by all of us, however I’m confident that Bob would not want us sulk over his passing, but to rejoice in his fulfilling life as a guy who really cared about all of us and even more so about the very sea creatures he loved and cherished.

    “Carry On Fish Guys” Bob might say, there’s always so much more to learn!

  7. Walt Smith

    Bob has always been one of my closest friends, industry or not, since my early days in this business. We met when we were both young and excited about the newly developing marine aquarium hobby back in the early 70’s while we were both shopping for fish at one of the few wholesale joints in LA.
    I recall clearly talking over a wooden tank (glass front) full of yellow tangs at a place called Pacific Marine Imports (PMI) that later changed it’s name to the fabled Quality Marine today.
    Bob’s energy was infectious and he talked with excitement about the fish becoming available to the hobby more and more as new countries started to get into the game. His ability to remember every fish by it’s scientific description and depth and location made him an undeniable authority.
    He has probably been to Fiji at least 7 or 8 times (maybe 10) to visit us and dive with our teams and was always full of useful advise. I called on him to come to Fiji to do some exploring and survey a new area I was considering expanding into and he was there in a heartbeat. We dove every day for about 5 days (4 – 5 tanks a day … shallow) and made list of fish we saw there that did not occur in my main collection area 400 km to the south on the main island of Viti Levu.
    I made the decision to expand my operation to the northern Island of Vanua Levu and Bob came back again to help build the fish system that now produces over 65% of all the fish we export.
    many beers and many laughs later the system was operating thanks to Bob’s generous help and time.
    One of our (Me and Deb) best memories was when he convinced us to book a cruise on the Nia’a. This is ranked as in the top 5 live aboard dive boats in the world and it is berthed right in my town of Lautoka. We were not sure if we could afford to just get lost (out of touch) for 7 days at sea but it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life and guess what, the biz didn’t miss us. With gourmet chefs cooking every meal and a beautiful lounge to rest in at light Bob held court showing his amazing photo’s taken that day … he was a master and the fish history he included with each photo made him the hit of the night!
    Deb and I will miss talking with, planning trips with and his visits to our home.
    He was a true friend, a great spirit and put light into every soul he ever met.
    We miss you Bob!
    Walt and Deb Smith


    Before and during my marine keeping hobby journey, I have read many posts and articles written by Bob. I have learnt so much from his rich knowledge. Even though I have never met him as I am based in Singapore, I often look forward to learn more from his discoveries. His contributions to the hobby will always be remembered.

  9. hugo/anita freudenthal

    Always lively time and discussions with Bob and Michelle and Ariel. So much to learn from those on the inside of the hobby. Will miss the energy Bob thew into all he did.


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