Adding a new fish to the aquarium (transport, acclimation, quarantine)

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In today’s article, we present the topic of buying your dream fish, transport them to an aquarium specially prepared by you, and explain the processes of acclimatization and quarantine.

The topics of acclimatization and quarantine are very important, but still ignored by novice aquarists. Lack of proper acclimatization and quarantine is the most common cause of fish dying shortly after being brought home. Not only does acclimatization make it easier for new fish to adjust to the right temperature, it also prevents shock from differences in parameters between the water in your pet store’s tank and your own tank. The time needed for proper acclimatization depends on the size of the pH difference and the hardness of the water.

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Quarantine, on the other hand, allows you to observe the fish for diseases or other problems, without the risk of spreading to the entire population of your aquarium. There is probably nothing worse than buying a few inexpensive fish that have not been quarantined and killed most of the (often expensive) fish in your tank within a few days.

We have also described these topics in the article: how to set up an aquarium in the proper way.

An extra tank would be perfect

If you have an additional quarantine aquarium, use it. Remember to acclimatize the fish to the new place. This is done exactly as with the main tank. However, if you have nowhere to quarantine, pay special attention to where you buy your fish. Vendors often keep different species in different small aquariums. Check that the fish swimming in them have no visible signs of disease. In addition, never pour water from the transport packaging into the main or quarantine aquarium. Thanks to this, you will avoid the risk of transmitting various diseases or parasites.

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Packing the fish

It is best to use special fish bags for this. They are strong and practical that you can pour the right amount of water into them, so that the fish can move relatively easily during transport, and at the same time be protected. A glass jar may also be helpful – it’s important that it is quite large, but be careful. If you are traveling by car, when accelerating and suddenly braking, the fish may simply bump into the hard wall of the jar and in extreme cases may not survive the transport. Also, make sure the jar is well washed and does not have a rusty lid.

The seller in the store will select the number and size of the bags depending on how many and what fish we want to buy. Seller will put the caught fish in a container with aquarium water, in which the fish has lived so far, and then pour it into a bag. In the case of small fish, you can pack a few in one bag. Large fish, on the other hand, are better packed individually. Fish with spines on their bodies, hard fin rays or sharp teeth (e.g. Ancistrus, Symphysodon discus, Cichlidae) should be packed in an additional bag. This will protect against water loss in the event of damage to the bag by fish. In any case, however, it should be remembered that at least 1/3 of the bag should contain air. During transport and splashing, it will mix with the water, greatly increasing the fish’s chances of survival.

Some species of fish are best packed into double bags, which are most conveniently tied with rubber bands
Some species of fish are best packed into double bags, which are most conveniently tied with rubber bands

How to transport fish from the store to our aquarium?

If we plan to transport the fish for several hours, we can ask the seller to fill the bag of fish with pure oxygen from the cylinder instead of air. You can also use oxygen tablets, which will saturate the water with oxygen and thus slightly extend the time the bag can be closed without harming the fish.

Another important note in the aspect of transport. Pay attention to the weather. If it is summer, do not keep the fish in the car in the sun or under the direct blast of air conditioning. The same is true in winter – you should hide the fish close to your body to keep them at a constant temperature and reduce the risk of hypothermia. To maintain a constant temperature, bags for frozen food or polystyrene boxes are very useful. In winter, we can put special heatpacks in them or simply bottles with warm water.

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The process of acclimatization and quarantine

To maximize the fish’s chances of survival, prepare everything before you go to the store for them. These steps are the basis and must not be omitted.

  1. Prepare the tank for acclimatization and quarantine. We can only use the target aquarium for quarantine if there are no other fish in it. If we want to supplement the stock by buying fish, it is worth placing them in a separate aquarium or container for at least two weeks. In both cases, the tank must be equipped with a filter with aeration, a heater, and the cover will be an additional protection. The tank must be adapted to the size and quantity of the fish.
  2. Check the levels of ammonia, nitrite and chlorine. These parameters must be at zero. Also check that the water temperature is appropriate for the new fish. If your ammonia and / or nitrite levels are above the zero limit, our tank may not be still ready to introduce fish (in the case of fresh aquariums the nitrogen cycle is not closed or it is ineffective). In this case, postpone the purchase of fish for at least a few days and get the aquarium under control. If there is chlorine in the aquarium, a suitable water conditioner should be used.
  3. Turn off the aquarium light to reduce stress on new fish. If possible, also dim the room lights or direct the light away from the tank.
  4. Place the sealed bag containing the fish in the water in the tank to keep the bag floating. Leave the bag for 15 minutes so that the water temperature in the bag is equal to the temperature of the aquarium.
  5. Open the top of the bag without letting water in or out of the bag. Fold the open end of the bag to form an air pocket hem so that the bag can float vertically. Re-tie the bag if necessary.
  6. Pour about half a cup of aquarium water into an open fish bag. Wait 15 minutes. Repeat the same process as many times as needed to equalize the water parameters in the bag and aquarium. The longer it takes to acclimatize and equalize the parameters, the better for the fish.
  7. Use the landing net to transfer the fish to the aquarium. Rest the fishnet against the rim of the bucket or ask someone to hold it over it. Carefully pour the water and fish through the landing net, then quickly transfer them to the tank.
  8. Water from transport and fish acclimatization should be poured into the toilet. Never pour this water into an aquarium. Instead, refill the aquarium with previously prepared water.
  9. Leave the light off for several hours to allow the fish to get used to the new spot.
  10. If the fish are healthy and in good condition after the quarantine period, we can introduce them to the target aquarium. Follow all the steps above. In addition, it will be helpful to add a small amount of food to the aquarium to distract the existing fish from new fish.
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About this category

Animal at home is a project derived from the Polish portal dedicated to domestic pets, which I run. This blog category features the best articles I have created with pet experts. Together, we help educate their current and future owners.

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Jakub Markiewicz
Jakub Markiewicz
Hi, I am the author of the blog and series of thematic portals since 2013. I have nearly 15 years of experience in working in the media, marketing, public relations and IT. If you are interested in cooperation, you would like me to write about something or test a product - let me know.