References - Buying and Keeping a Better Fish!
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Buying and Keeping a Better Fish!

Shawn Prescott


We all dream and expect that, when we buy a fish, it will look as beautiful in our tank as it did in the store when we fell in love with it's shape, color, behavior, or whatever. We would also like it to live at least as long as we continue to be involved in the hobby (a horrifying 9-10 months on average), and be easy to keep.

My mail box, and your own knowledge dear reader, indicates that such is far from the general rule, yet you the buyer can, with just a little thought and prudence, greatly enhance the chances of obtaining a desirable result.

In order to do this there are a number of rules that we must observe, and if we learn these and take them to heart, not only will the chances of having a successful aquarium be greatly improved, but in addition the act of learning and reading up on the subject will improve one's knowledge of the fish, it's environment, and much more. This will lead to far greater understanding and satisfaction with the hobby, as we become increasingly confident in our ability to be aware of what makes for success, as well as the converse.

Such a learning curve will enable you to discern which dealers have made a real effort to import fish, and give them the kind of conditions that lead to success. These are in contrast from those who are cowboys, and whose sole aim is to "sell" you a fish, irrespective of whether it is healthy and suitable for your Aquarium, and more.

So, lets look at "The Ten Commandments" of good fish husbandry, as they apply to a hobbyist who wishes to be successful, and have as few problems as possible.

1) Ensure before buying even your first fish, that you have got good filtration capability.

There are many types of filters, and it is important you select with advice if necessary, the kind most suitable for your setup.

You must take steps to "run-in" the filter. This series of events is as follows:-
The Ammonia cycle of NH4/NH3 is converted by Nitrosomonas bacteria to NO2 (= Nitrite), and then the Nitrite (NO2) will be further converted by a group of bacteria usually called Nitrobacter (this group of bacteria is now the subject of some dispute among Scientists, but whether it is this group or another, the end effect is the same) to NO3 Nitrate .

Unless this process is achieved properly BEFORE buying any fish that are to be kept as part of your collection, the stresses and toxicity that exposure to either Ammonia or Nitrite cause, can induce stress leading to disease and worse.

These factors apply in fresh and salt water tanks, in the case of those of you who wish to keep salt water reef tanks, you will also have to involve yourselves in some process to get rid of the Nitrates, as any level beyond 5-8 ppm. is toxic to many of the more sensitive and beautiful invertebrates. This latter process of reduction of the NO3 to Nitrogen gas (N) and Oxygen (O) is called denitrification, and I will return to the best methods to do this in another article.

So how to "run-in" the filter:

Warning: there are several products on the market claiming to do this instantly. If you are lucky enough to get a bottle of such a product that has left the factory only a few days before, it probably will work. Test kits should be used to ensure that the cycle is working etc. However in the majority of cases, the fall-off in efficacy of these products is considerable, and leads to imperfect results or worse.

Another way to run in your filter bed, and develop large colonies quickly of the two groups of nitrifying bacteria, is to obtain from a friend or the store that you deal with, some "dirty" water, that has been obtained by "shaking" a quantity of the gravel or other substrate in an amount of water. The substrate will yield to the water, with some vigorous shaking, a large amount of viable bacteria which will immediately colonize the substrate in your aquarium if poured over the filter bed.

This is effective and immediate. Also like many simple solutions there is a downside. If the tank from which the bacteria is obtained has any parasites or pathogenic bacteria knocking around, there is always a danger of the inadvertent introduction of these pathogens to your aquarium along with the desirable forms. This occurrence can lead to most undesirable results.

Here is where your detailed knowledge of your dealer comes in. Some of the better dealers have a few tanks that they use for this purpose, and these tanks have been free of disease for a long time, or better still have never had such. If you have confidence in the dealer, you can go this route. Maybe you have a friend who has also been disease free for a long period, he/she may oblige you in obtaining such.

Another, though slower alternative, is to set up a small quarantine tank with an inexpensive sponge filter, and buy a cheap fish such as a goldfish for freshwater or a Domino for saltwater. Keep the fish in the quarantine tank for about 2 weeks measuring the levels of Ammonia and Nitrite daily, and plotting them on a graph, until they start to fall, or better still, disappear entirely. These fish are very hardy, and will usually resist any stress factor far better than average specimens.

Only get 1 or maximum of 2 fish, and do give them a little cover or a rock, so they have somewhere to "hide". Feed them VERY SPARINGLY during this time. Assuming the fish do not develop any apparent signs of disease, and that the levels of Ammonia and Nitrate have now fallen to at or near zero, you may introduce them to your main Aquarium, and at the same time take the sponge filter and squeeze the water in it, over your filter in the main tank to colonize it.

The cost of having this small say 10 gal. Quarantine tank, along with the small sponge filter an air pump and heater, is around $25-$30. Compare this to what one of the so called instant conditioners will cost, which may or may not work. Also remember it is a very sensible procedure to use the quarantine tank for all purchases before introducing them into the main tank: see commandment 3. This procedure is so your investment will not a be a one time waste of money.

Those of you who have read my first article in this series will recall that I made the point about stress being the biggest villain of all in causing disease with fish. The elimination of the toxicity that Ammonia or Nitrite can cause, is certainly as important a factor as is possible to think of.

Far to often the Hobbyist brings home a quantity of fish before his/her tank is mature, and the subsequent losses and heartache are what keeps some dealers in business, and too often causes Hobbyists to quit in disgust with the losses they encounter.



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