Beginner FAQ: Finding Reputable Fish Stores
Like all businesses, fish stores have to make money to
survive. Unfortunately, some are more interested in profits than
selling you just what you need and nothing more. Consequently, a smart
customer is a careful shopper.
Of course no store is 100% perfect all the time, but the difference
between a good store and poor one can be astonishing once you've been
to a few. Visit a store several times, and don't rely on just one
experience. If the same bad patterns are present on multiple visits,
find another store.
The following highlights some of the things that distinguish a
good, reputable store from one you should avoid.
If the fish don't look good at the store, chances
are they won't survive long after you bring them home; they may
already have been stressed beyond the point of recovery.
Is a pattern becoming clear? A good store is knowledgeable about
the products they sell and will take the time to be sure the customer
is making a purchase that they will be happy with in the long
term. They want your repeat business in the future. A bad store will
encourage (or fail to discourage) you from buying things you don't
- A store's fish tanks should be clean and the fish should look
healthy and unstressed (e.g., no nipped fins, good colors, fish
active, etc.). Are dead fish removed quickly? All stores will have
fish die in their tanks; good stores will remove them quickly (fish
covered with fungus have probably been dead a long time).
- Do any of the fish show signs of disease such as ick (tiny white
spots)? A good store
won't sell you ANY fish from a tank that has ick, even if the
specific fish you are purchasing looks OK.
- Are incompatible fish kept in the same tank? If so, how can you
trust the advice they give you concerning compatible inhabitants for
- Check out the store's policy on fish returns. A good store will give
you full credit on fish deaths for a period of a few days, provided
you bring in a water sample so that they can test your water for
- Are the sales staff knowledgeable about what they are selling? A
good store will ask you about your tank (size, inhabitants, etc.) in
order to find out whether a prospective fish purchase would be a good
addition to your tank. A bad store will sell you whatever you want;
they'll be happy to sell you more fish later, after incompatible
inhabitants have killed each other.
For beginning aquarists, a good store will take the time to explain
the nitrogen cycle, and advise you to wait on fish purchases
until your tank has become established. A bad store will neglect to
mention the nitrogen cycle, until you return a few days
later wondering wondering why your fish died (now they can sell you
more fish, and maybe ``nitrification bacteria'' to go with it!).
Ask lots of questions. Be wary of vague answers; they are a sign that
the seller doesn't know the answer (and isn't willing to find out), or
Like that tiny oscar fish? A good store will warn you that oscar fish
get VERY big, and verify that your tank is big enough and that none of
its inhabitants will get eaten by the oscar. A bad store will remain
- Be wary of adding medications to your tank; they frequently don't
work or are unnecessary.
(See the DISEASE FAQ.) A good
store will first ask about your tank's water quality, verify that
cycling has completed, etc., and suggest water changes. They will
also recommend medications only if they can identify the specific
disease. A ``bad'' store will encourage you to buy medicine, without
regard to whether the specific medicine is useful in combating the
specific problem you have. A good store will ask you what fish you
have in the tank, as some medications are toxic to certain species of
fish. A bad store will let you find out the hard way.
- As a (very) general rule of thumb, stores that specialize in
aquariums are better than stores that sell fish as a sideline. In the
former case, a ``bad'' store won't make money over the long haul (they
can only sucker customers once or twice) and will eventually go out of
business. In the latter case, a store's fish department may
continually lose money, but remain open because the rest of the store
(e.g, puppy sales) is making money. Of course, there are exceptions.
- Finally, buying fish at the cheapest store isn't necessarily a
good bargain. A healthy fish is worth paying extra for. A sick fish
may infect all of your tank's inhabitants or die shortly after
purchase; some bargain.
Preparing Water For Your Tank