Yaay! You purchased some new fishes. Now what? True confessions of a traumatized fish buyer...

Are you one of those hobbyists who's pretty easygoing when it comes to purchasing, acclimating, quarantining, and adding new fishes to your aquarium? Are you just sort of "systematic"- with a set procedure that's almost automatic ("Open bag, pour fish in bucket, drip, add to tank...")? Or, is each time sort of a unique, highly specialized, well-orchestrated process, with anticipation, frazzled nerves, and second-guessing? Or, are you like me- sort of somewhere in between?

I don't know what it is, but it seems like whenever I purchase fishes, whether it's online or in person at the LFS, it's a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, when I "pull the trigger" and buy some fishes, it's an exciting experience, which leaves me childlike with euphoria!

And then I get home. 

All business, man. Time to go through my acclimation and quarantine process. I mean, I have the process down, honed by decades of experience, much like many of you. It's virtually like a "checklist at this point, you know? ("Airline tubing? Check. Bucket? Check..."), yet each time, I sort of get a little- I dunno- nervous, maybe? I mean, I've never ever lost a fish during acclimation (well, at least due to the "stress" from acclimation...I've had a few losses caused by- well-"stupid equipment choices", as I'll explain later...)...

I have had some close calls: A wrasse or two jumping out of my acclimation bucket (and quickly swooped up off the floor by me, the "mother hen."), a Centropyge Angelfish or two keeled over in the freshwater/methylene blue dip I use with marine fishes...(always a bit traumatic to watch, but absolutely effective and highly recommended!), a baby Knifefish sort of "disappearing" in the acclimation bucket for a while, before reappearing, as I was ready to give up after searching the floor (still have no idea what happened, but there he was..), and a few other assorted traumas.

Okay, once I did have a pretty bad experience using a powerhead to provide aeration while acclimating some Tetras. I loaned my spare air pump to a buddy that week...Let's just put it this way- I started with 12...and added 9 to my quarantine tank...yeah. Not recommended.

So yeah, for the most part, acclimating new fishes is probably more traumatic on me than it is on my fishes...Pureed Tetras not withstanding, of course. 

Oh, and isn't the whole process even more- well, scary- when you're dealing with a "rare" fish? Yeah, it's like time to double down and really get it right, huh? I mean, it should be no different a process or experience than acclimating the most common batch of Zebra Danios, but there's something more...I dunno- businesslike- when it comes to acclimating a fish that you paid $50- $200 for. I remember acclimating some very expensive marine fishes in the past, and I tried to be very nonchalant about the whole affair. I mean, a fish is a fish, right? Well, when you forked over the equivalent of a monthly car payment for a fish, it takes on a different vibe. Looking back, I remember how scary it seemed at the time.

And I remember winning some "extinct-in-the-wild" Goodeids at an auction once and taking them home...talk about pressure!

(Zoogonectus tequila by Loury Cedric - CC BY S.A. 4.0)

And of course, it doesn't end once you've acclimated your new fishes, does it? I mean, then you have to see how they do in quarantine (you don't quarantine? Urge, don't get me started...). You carefully watch and observe and look for any sign of something wrong with the fish...you know how that feels.

Hoping against hope that they're "clean" specimens... And then, of course, there's the issue about the first meal: "Why isn't this fish that just completed a 2 day journey in a box to me after just traveling halfway around the world the week before eating! I'm giving him enriched brine shrimp, for goodness sake!"

Yeah, you know that feeling. Logic will tell you that the fish needs to settle in from its traumatic last week or so before it even thinks of food, but as hobbyists, we want our babies to be healthy and happy- and that means "hooking 'em up" with the best cousine that the house has to offer within 10 minutes after they hit the quarantine tank. It's almost like a "test" to see what kind of time we'll have with this fish. Instinctively, as an aquarist, you KNOW that the fish won't touch any food this soon, yet you still drop in that spoonful of food anyways...

Yes, you do. Don't deny it. I do, too.

Finally, after a bunch of observation, careful feeding, and just general waiting around, comes moving day. You carefully acclimate your new addition to his "forever home", and hope for the best. And of course, the process of the fish adapting to another new situation starts pall over again, and the pressure and nervousness that we dealt with a few weeks back ratchets right back up, with a new set of potential challenges and questions: "Will the fish get bullied? IS the tank big enough? Will this guy hide all day? Will he eat my Rainbowfish? Will he eat at all? Why is he showing fright coloration? And why are the Cardinal Tetras taking runs at him? WTF?"

You know, the usual stuff.

It almost always works out in the end, but the whole experience tells me all I need to know about why purchasing new fish- ANY new fish- is a big deal for me. It is the marriage of research, planning, carefully coordinated action, watching, waiting, and hoping. It's a big, sort of traumatic event...

And I- we- love every second of it. And when it's done and the fish is calmly swimming in your display tank without a care in the world, you smile, publicly acknowledging that it's no big deal adding new fishes to your collection. When inside, you know that the whole damn process generally scare the s---t out of you, doesn't it?


On the other hand, when you think about it. Just imagine how tough even "delicate" fishes are. Especially wild-caught ones, right? I mean, they survive collection, transport, acclimation, the wholesaler, the LFS or vendor, and the whole process yet again when you get 'em. 

That's toughness. That's why we owe it to our fishes to acclimate carefully, quarantine methodically, and observe them continuously. 

So next time you're ready to purchase that cool little Pleco or hot-looking Mbuna at the LFS, think ahead about what comes next after they net the fish out for you...

And try to enjoy every delicious, agonizing, nervous, traumatic, and ultimately satisfying second of the whole process.

You're a fish geek. It's about the fish. And getting them and going through all this stuff?

It's what you do.

And that's pretty damn cool, isn't it?


Stay excited. Stay methodical. Stay vigilant. 

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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