How To Plan a Livestock List

The very best way to select the fish you will keep in your tank is to start well before you even purchase a tank. Wait. What? I don’t even have a tank yet and you want me to start selecting fish?! Quite simply, yes I do.

In this hobby, a very good portion of the fish we keep require special needs for their care. The biggest of which is ROOM. Room to swim, to exercise, to call territory. Tangs are among the most popular fish to keep in the saltwater world and they need lots of room to swim. Schools of fish need plenty of room to swim as well especially since a good portion of them get quite large.


(photo credit Watchguy123)

Everyone in this hobby saw something they just had to have. For some, that thing was a fish and for others it was a coral. Maybe it was the whole package, but after looking around at pictures and other people’s tanks they fell in love with something specific. To have the best chance at success I would suggest looking at that one thing. For this article we will look at that one fish you just have to have. The one that you decided to start a saltwater tank for. The fish that you will design your whole tank and it’s other occupants around. What are the care requirements for it? Does it need a six-foot tank or longer? Or maybe it needs to have strong currents to swim in? Is a very tall tank required for mating rituals? Or perhaps it needs to have a secure cover, deep sand bed, open spaces around the rocks? Does it need a small tank with peaceful tankmates? There are any number of things that this fish might need to live a long and happy life in your care.

So, have you picked it yet? Think real hard. Look around and make sure to check out the pricing. If your pick something you can never afford, then you may want to pick something else. Got it? OK! Let’s say that the fish you absolutely had to have is a sting ray. Whoa baby that’s quite a choice! So you do your research and discover that these guys need a large tank, with plenty of room to roam the sand. Too much rock will cause issues and may even injure the ray. Now you know how big of a tank you need. Now we look at what kind of fish and inverts (if any) can go with a ray. Now which of those can live in a tank with open spaces and minimal rock to hide in? When you look through that list, is that a list you like? Is it worth it to you to be limited in such a way? Did you really want a ray that badly? No? Let’s move on.

Now you’ve picked that Blue Hippo tang that your daughter just has to have. What wouldn’t we do for our kids right? We do a quick search and see that they get up to a foot in length, need lots of length to swim. That 75 gallon tank you were looking at on Craigslist isn’t quite going to cut it. Oh boy, this is pretty hard.

Let’s do one more. Let’s say you saw a Yasha Haze Goby and pistol shrimp pair and just had to have it. You’re buying a tank just so you can have that one fish and his little buddy. We do our research and find that this fish might get lost in that 180 gallon tank and never be seen. Those triggers you were eyeing as well might eat the pistol shrimp and maybe even make a snack out of your prized goby. He needs fine sand and peaceful tankmates. We start looking at the fish that would be able to thrive in a tank with the goby and we see things like firefish, other gobies, clownfish, some wrasses. All of these need a tight fitting lid to prevent jumping.

(photo credit: BeakerBob)

Going this route to plan your fish list, you can come up with a solid plan for the tank you need to buy, the equipment you need for the tank and a solid list of fish that will not only live together, but thrive together. Getting on your favorite forum (ehem R2R) and asking about other people’s experiences mixing certain fish on your list will help you gain more insight into how your list will fit together. You won’t find yourself asking the local fish store employee “well what can I put in my tank?” or being disappointed when the fish you brought home suddenly killed several of your fish or got stressed and died. You’ll be prepared for each trip to the store, or each login to the online vendor, knowing exactly what you’re looking for and what will and won’t get along with your favorite fish and the tank you need to keep it.

Happy Reefing!

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About author
Meredith Presley started keeping marine aquariums in 2007. She’s done everything wrong that can be done in the hobby (mostly but not all in that first year) and that has afforded her to learn a lot of hard lessons. Recently she’s been focused on marine disease diagnosis and treatment and hopes to focus on breeding soon as well. She also keeps a blog with basic info on saltwater keeping and her experiences with her own tank and livestock.

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