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Thread: Should I Buy That Fish? Is That Fish Healthy?

  1. #1
    Brittle Starfish

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    May 2006
    So CA
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    Exclamation Should I Buy That Fish? Is That Fish Healthy?

    I hope this helps the people who are new to the hobby of marine fish keeping. The new marine aquarist can find guidance like this in a book or magazine, yet it seems reading such things are not read as often as they should. Maybe a post will help.

    I am splitting this post into two sections. The first is determining if the fish is healthy while it is in someone else's care. These are things to look for before you acquire the fish. The second part is how to tell if your fish is healthy--a fish you already own.

    I recommend that new aquarists in the hobby start off acquiring marine fish from their local fish store (LFS). New and novice aquarists need to start with a fish they can see and evaluate. As the novice progresses into the 'accomplished' or 'advanced' aquarist levels, purchases through online sources is an option. Of course, for new and novice aquarists that don't have an LFS that provides marine fishes, they will have to rely on the online sources from the start.


    Acquiring a new fish can be a very emotional event. But the best acquisitions (from a friend, breeder, hobbyist, LFS, or stranger) are done with a clear headed, properly prepared and knowledgeable aquarist. This is one place and time to avoid spontaneity! Most who offer a fish for sale (e.g., LFSs) will hold a fish long enough for the new aquarist to find out on the Internet what people's success have been with this fish and the fish's needs for a long and healthy captive life.

    The smart new and novice aquarist wants to verify anything the LFS, friend, or stranger has to say about the care, attitude, needs, and keeping the fish. The aquarist imagines there is a rush on to buy a particular fish. But really, almost all fishes, even the ones the aquarist are told are 'rare' come around at different times. The worst scenario is the aquarist feeling rushed or pushed to make a hasty decision on an acquisition.

    The most important thing when acquiring a new fish is: Don't rush! Take time to study the fish. These are things to look for and find out about the fish:

    1) Is the fish a herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore (or detritivores)?
    2) Will you/your system be able to feed the fish?
    3) What space is needed by the fish?
    4) Can your marine system support this fish?
    5) Will the fish get along with other system inhabitants?

    After the above has been settled and you're sure that kind of fish will be a good addition to your marine system, then comes how the particular fish is behaving and what it looks like, where it is right now:

    6) How scared is the fish? Most are wild caught, however the fish should not look 'terrified' or 'panicky.' Will it swim in the open? or is it 'stuck' in the corner? Did you not even see the fish when you first looked into the tank?
    7) Is the fish aware of its surroundings? A fish in a catatonic state should not be acquired.
    8) Any signs the fish is 'bothered' and/or irritated? Is it scratching/flashing? Is it coughing? Is it 'wagging' its head? Suddenly dashing about? Swimming abnormally? Only swims at the top or corner? Don't acquire such fish.
    9) Is the fish breathing normally? Don't buy a fish that is 'swallowing' more than 100 times a minute (assuming it isn't terrified or panicky).
    10) Check all fins and body for scares, injuries, tares or missing pieces. You don't want a fish that has been badly handled, beaten up along the way by other fish or humans, or otherwise may be in a poor condition.
    11) Are there any signs of disease on the body, fins, or mouth of the fish? Any signs of 'growths,' spots, or off-colored patches? Is its mucous coating smooth and uniform and intact? The mucous coating should not be shedding.
    12) Is the anal region inflamed or discolored? Don't buy a fish with obvious signs of intestinal parasites.
    13) Is the fish the color and has the markings it's supposed to have? Is is shaped properly and not thin? (See: 20)). Don't acquire a fish that looks 'off,' underfed, or so thin you can see bones where flesh should be.
    14) Look closely at each eye. Any fish with signs of cloudy-eye should be left with its current owner to 'fix.'
    15) Is the fish eating? Ask to see it eat--don't assume the owner/LFS knows the answer or is being truthful. SEE THE FISH EAT.
    16) If the fish is eating, what is it eating? Will you be willing and able to supply that food? How is the food being presented? Will you be willing and able to present the food in that manner?
    17) Ask if the owner/LFS water contains any medications (e.g., copper). If it does, keep in mind the fish may be sick and under some treatment. OR that other fishes in the system may be sick.
    18) Prefer to buy a fish that has been in the owner's/LFS system for over 2 weeks.
    19) Look around at other fish that are in the same system as this fish. If they have parasites or exhibit problems outlined above, your fish will likely have those problems too.
    20) Look at the shape of the fish. Unless it is a particularly different from the 'norm' fish, the body should be well rounded with there being a thickness on the dorsal (top) side of the fish. This is where fish fat and extra energy is stored. A fish that is thin or concave in this region is not properly nourished and not likely to survive another acclimation process. If you have been told the fish has been eating, then its 'stomach' area should be well rounded too. Remember that 'eating' doesn't mean it is properly nourished.
    21) If you are aware of how the fish should behave, then determine if the fish is behaving as that kind of fish should. A fish not behaving as it should is a sign the fish is not acclimated properly and should be left where it is.
    22) If you think the fish is worthy of going home with you, gather information about the owner's/LFS system. You want to know:
    ------ Temperature
    ------ Specific Gravity
    ------ pH
    23) Finally, have the fish caught and bagged. IF DURING THIS PROCESS the fish is harmed, injured, dropped on the floor, snagged in the net, then REFUSE TO TAKE/BUY THE FISH. Pass it up. Don't be afraid to do this. Until you've paid or made a trade for the fish, it isn't yours.
    24) With the fish totally acceptable, buy some of the food it was seen to be eating.

    If you'd done your job, buying a fish from an LFS should take about 90 minutes after you're sure of 1) thru 5).

    Print out the above list and take it with you! -
    REMEMBER: You are not a licensed veterinarian nor a fish hospital! Buy only healthy fish; do not buy fish that need extra care or cures.


    So, you have the fish in its transportation bag. Now what? You want to acclimate the fish to your quarantine tank and check it out before it gets into to your display tank. That's very smart of you. Follow these guidelines: Fish Acclimation Procedure; then A Quarantine Procedure.

    Inspect your new acquisition twice a day. You want to look for most of the things on the above numbered list, plus the following:

    a) Fecal matter. You should perform a de-worming anyway, but monitor the fecal matter on color and texture. See: Fish Medicine Cabinet.
    b) Eating habits. Types of foods and does the fish eat with gusto. Will the fish eat the right foods? See: Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition
    c) Acclimation. Has the fish settled down and recognizes you as a friend? at least as a 'non-enemy?' If not, you need to spend more time with the fish.
    d) Monitor QT water quality closely and with proper gas exchange, the fish should now be breathing at a rate below 100 times per minute. If not, something is wrong.
    e) Go through the numbered list above daily with emphasis upon numbers: 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14.
    f) Any indications of acclimation problems (strange behavior, going catatonic, unaware of its surroundings, etc.) should be noted and monitored closely.

    If you now own the fish and think there is a health issue, post your questions in this Forum for help and answers.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by leebca; 10-23-2007 at 09:41 AM. Reason: Typos

  2. #2
    LakeEd's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Bremerton, WA
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    Yet another SUPER sticky post!

    Thank you, for all the great information... not to mention your own TIME you take putting these posts together for us!!!

    180gal tank, 90gal sump, 40gal Fuge, Iwaki WMD40RLXT recirc pump (via SQWD, to Oceans Motions Revolutions on each side), Hammerhead Closed Loop, ETSS 750 dual injector Skimmer (converted to Beckett Injectors), Japanese Iwaki MD40RLT pump for one Beckett, Velocity T-4 for other, 4-250watt MH, 2-XM 10K, 2-ReefOptic 20K, IceCap 660 w/2 46.5" Super Actinics & 1 46.5" Actinic White, 2-250watt Titanium Heaters, ORP Controller & Ozone, Pacific Coast CL-650 Chiller

  3. #3
    Emerald Crab
    Reefergeorge's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    STL MO.
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    Great post, Thanks Lee.

  4. #4
    Krish's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Nassau, Bahamas
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    Very nice Lee...I'm going to link this thread in the new to reefkeeping forum
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