Are you a master fish keeper?

Are you a master fish keeper?

You guys may just call this a whinging article but I truly believe there are some really valid points here that should be addressed for us all to grow as fish keepers.

I assume if you are reading this you would consider yourself a fish keeper, but are you actually?

Many of the shops I supply are really great fish keepers that are skilled in their art. However, there are still few of you out there that continue to blame your supplier for your continued misfortune at keeping your fish alive. I want to help and provide some insights as to some of the tricks of the trade we have developed over the years.

I am sure most retail shops would refuse to refund 100 of any type of fish to their customer, regardless of the species/price without asking some basic questions to establish what went wrong, and not just to find a guilty party, but really just to learn, move on and try not to do it again. So how is this any different from a wholesaler asking a store some basic questions to establish what went wrong? The instant reflex action of some saying; "you think I'm lying?" or "you don't trust me?" or " I've been doing this for over 20 years and never had this issue". This is not our mindset when we ask, it is merely to see how WE BOTH can improve to prevent it happening again and further our understanding and grow together to be the best we can.

Maybe it is the big boys of the wholesale industry who credit anything regardless, no questions asked, who are actually hindering your learning curves, limiting your skill set and subsequently impacting on your fishkeeping ability. Remember dead fish don't make you money!

What I am getting at is the shops are the teachers/mentors for their customer base. You are the ones who advise and assist your customers to learn on their aquatic journey. I want you all to be great fish keepers!

EVERYONE in this industry kills fish! I have probably killed thousands in my career. Definitely not on purpose, but to learn this game you MUST inevitably make mistakes. To be great at this game you need to problem solve and try to look back what went wrong, how things could have been done differently and how others do it better. This means you should discuss, share and explain your experiences both good and bad.

There are very few true master fish keepers out there. Why you may ask?....well when you think you are a great fish keeper you make a fatal flaw... your glass becomes full. To be a master fish keeper your glass is NEVER full!

Believe it or not I truly want ALL my customers to be successful in keeping my fish. If not how can I expect both of us to prosper and grow this wonderful hobby? The stigma that all wholesalers are there just to rip off shops to make a quick buck by selling skinny, sick, undersized fish on purpose is definitely not true for Aquatic Solutions (I can't speak for other wholesalers but I just can't imagine this could be done on purpose). I am definitely here for the long run and the marathon I run on a daily basis is for the future growth of this industry.

As shop owners I am sure you can appreciate fish don't come out of molds and that there can and often is size variations in the fish we sell. We do try be as fair as possible, and for the most part I would say our sizes are more generous than stingy, but there are those out there that fail to see the fact that say 80-90% of their order was oversized and want to nitpick on the 5% that weren't the size advertised (do they seriously go and measure each fish on arrival? Handling already stressed fish that have just been in transit for up to 24hrs or more?.... this is just is poor form). I would think the same effort redirected into caring, feeding and selling the fish would be a far more advantageous proposition.

I really like constructive criticism and being an owner operator I can implement changes fast, immediately in fact. We are in no way perfect and if there is something that we need to do better I am all for it and welcome feedback and suggestions. I want to improve, and all I can say is that I do my best for all my customers everyday. Whether you see it or not is a different story.

From dealing with a huge variety of stores over the past 12-15 years I have gained considerable insight in the various setups being run by stores, and their associated pitfalls. Some run recirculating systems and some run independent tanks. There are definitely pros and cons for both. If I were to run a shop I definitely would lean towards independent tanks. This strategy has been predominantly been used in Aquatic Solutions. I would go further to say that it has been surprisingly successful considering the vast technological advancements available these days. Sometimes the simple, traditional techniques work best!

If you run systems you need to be extra vigil for cross-contamination issues. Picking up fish from different suppliers, different origins and different water requirements and keeping them in 1 volume of water can be tricky and can have its drawbacks.

Systems can harbour a variety of good and bad bacteria as well as parasites. To break it down to basics there can be opportunistic bacteria/parasites existing in your systems just waiting for some highly stressed new arrivals with potentially damaged slime coats to prey on. Yes, transporting fish is very stressful for fish, so don’t expect them to be fully coloured, fresh out of the bag/box. There are definitely things you can do as store owners to give the best chance of survival for your new arrivals.

Check and inspect your fish carefully on arrival and quarantine anything that hasn't travelled well before adding them to your systems or mixing them with other fish.

Consider weekly/fortnightly/monthly prophylactic treatments for your systems using salt and or anti-parasitic medications such as trichlorfon (this is just an example please do your own research). If you have a dog or cat you would undertake preventative treatments for fleas/ticks no? are no exception. Stores that run systems and do this, generally have greater outcomes, the ones that don't generally have on going issues.

Don’t forget, fish can get sick too just like humans do, and from a myriad of reasons. We humans take medicines, supplements, vitamins etc to keep ourselves healthy and if your child, dog or cat were to get sick you would get some medicine to help them no? So why not treat your fish? Refusal to do something for animals in your care borders on neglect and animal cruelty. Most fish show signs well before they die. Often there are behavioural changes that fish use to communicate that something is not right (clamped fins, itching/flashing, hanging on the surface/bottom, rapid breathing, shunting, discoloration, patchy colouring, growths, damaged fins etc). You as their primary caretaker need to be vigil and well attuned to this, and act swiftly and pre-emptively before it's too late. Most fish can be saved and recovered if you know what to do and actually do something. I am always happy to bounce some ideas with you as to what we do here, or what has worked for us in the past.

PREPARATION is the key to your success and the success of your newly purchased fish. YOU know what's coming, as YOU ordered them. Prepare YOUR tanks for YOUR precious live cargo, PRIOR to their arrival. Look into their desired water parameters (are they Softwater fish? Hardwater fish? Brackish water fish?), tank setup (are they jumpers?/escape artists? Do they need caves? Hides? Structures?) and compatibility with other fish

(Are they aggressive? Peaceful? Predators?). Ask yourself did we have issues with this fish last shipment? Should we try something new this time? Did we overcrowd them last time? Did I mix them with other fish? Are they better kept on their own?

We prepare tanks for incoming fish on a daily basis and on a massive scale. We commonly use Indian Almond Leaves for certain Softwater fish with amazing results (i.e. Kuhli Loach, Rummy Nose, Apistogramma and Rams to name a few). We use shell grit bags to buffer pH and stabilise pH fluctuations for harder water species. We add salt to certain fish to reduce stress. What do you do to give your fish the best possible chance for success in your tanks?

Certain fish species have low immunities and can easily be infected by their tanks mates or from water shared in a recirculating system.

Rummy Nose and Cardinals for example I would definitely recommend keeping them off systems. Stores that do this have much greater success in keeping them thriving. So maybe for fish that have regular problems under your care this could be something you can do to change it up?

White spot season is fast approaching and if you run systems I would definitely invest in running UV-sterilisers on them. This won't eliminate it. It will reduce risks at best and only if you UV tube is still fresh (please check when it was last changed). It's also time to check your heaters are in good working order and actually heating your tanks/system to your desired temperature. Remember white spot is totally treatable if discovered early and addressed immediately. Late treatment is often ineffective. Prevention is the best cure!

When unpacking fish I hope you all spend some time to acclimatise your new animals. They are in your care now and hopefully you want to give them the best possible chance for survival so they can thrive in your tanks. We at Aquatic Solutions drip acclimatise basically all the fish we bring into our facility. This gives fish time to adjust to not only the temperature but also to the water parameters of their destination tank (please ensure they have oxygen whilst this is being done via the drips splashing themselves or by adding an airstone to the container/bucket they are being acclimatised in).

We spend considerable time and effort to care for all our fish here and in many cases have grown and nurtured them to the sizes you see for sale from fry. This can be for several months or more. It is heartbreaking to hear that fish don't make it in their new homes (i.e. your tanks) and are dead within hours of arrival. In many cases I wonder if they would have had a longer life if they were in fact left in their fish bag.....

Occasionally we have shipments go missing and turn up back to us days or even up to a week later. Guess what... we have very minimal, if not no DOAs!

Fishkeeping is wonderful and an ever challenging hobby that keeps you on your toes and the mind ticking. It's not always easy times but the rewards are definitely there and achievable with some devotion of your time, attention and your love.

I hope there is something you have picked up in this article....if so you are definitely on the way to being a master fish keeper!

I wish you all happy fishkeeping as always.

Julian Wong B.Sc. Hons

JMW International Pty. Ltd. t/as Aquatic Solutions

Next article The honest truth of our current aquarium industry from a wholesaler's perspective