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- Aug 14, 2016
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- Decatur, AL
Your beautiful new display tank is up and ready for fish. You have come up with your stocking list and you are finally ready to buy your first fish but you aren’t confident on how to proceed. I am going to walk you through a basic acclimation and quarantine procedure. I want to throw in a disclaimer and I really can’t stress this enough. What I am proposing here is not a 100% foolproof quarantine protocol. This is structured to provide beginners a faster, simplified method that will help avoid most common issues if done correctly. If you are setting up a 180g+ system with $1000+ in fish I recommend much more advanced quarantine practices. This is geared toward the average new hobbyist to give them a high chance of success in keeping healthy fish.
I prefer to set the tank up at least 4 or 5 days in advance. I will call or email the vendor and find out what salinity the fish will be delivered in. I’ll use a combination of tank water and freshly mixed seawater to match. Once the water is up to temperature I’ll add some Biospira and a little frozen food for ammonia control.
Once I have floated the bags for around 20 minutes it's time to do some testing. Just because I think I know what salinity my fish are in there is only one way to know for sure and that is to test it. I will cut as small of a slit in the bag as possible to draw a sample of the shipping water.
Once I get my sample I will tape over the opening to prevent air exchange. This is especially important for shipped fish. As the fish consume oxygen in the water they release CO2 and Ammonia. Ammonia (NH3) is very toxic to fish but the buildup of CO2 in the shipping water is going to help us by lowering pH. At a lower pH the NH3 tends to shift toward Ammonium (NH4) which isn’t nearly as toxic. We want to trap as much of this CO2 in the water as possible at this point to prevent an increase in pH and converting the NH4 back to NH3.
With the salinity and temperature matched, we are finally ready to put them into the quarantine tank. I set up a bucket with a large strainer on it right next to my quarantine tank. I find a strainer easier to use than a net and I don’t have to worry about fish with spines, like Foxface’s, getting stuck in it. Now that I am ready, I cut the top off the shipping bag and dump the fish and water into the strainer. I lift the strainer out of the bucket and slide the fish into the quarantine tank. I’ll repeat this process for all the fish I need to add that day. I use a 5 gallon bucket so it normally isn’t an issue, but I want to make sure the bottom of the strainer stays above the shipping water.
I feel it is very important to reduce the stress for new fish as much as possible. For the first day I will only light the tank with ambient light from the room. For some fish, I will never turn the tank lights on at all. This last group I just put through quarantine were Dispar Anthias. They are shallow water reef fish which are more comfortable in brighter lights. As prey, not predators, they associate dim lighting as time to hide which raises their stress. So for this group I left the lights on for 12 hours a day.
How I treat fish while in QT tends to vary based on the situation. I will normally try to not add any medications to the tank for at least the first 3 days. I want to give the fish time to adapt and adjust to feeding without introducing any new stresses. If I do see something during the first 3 days that causes concern I will adjust my treatments based on the situation. Assuming that all the fish look to be doing good after day 3, I will do a freshwater dip on each fish to check for flukes. As long as there are no indications of flukes, the fish are all eating, and none have white stringy poo then I will skip treating with Prazipro. If Prazipro is needed, I will treat at the recommended dose twice, 7 days apart. I will follow this with a 50% water change and running carbon in my HOB for a day or two.
At this point I am ready to begin treating with copper. I use Coppersafe with the API test kit. I find reading these test kits challenging since I never seem to actually see a color that is on the chart. Instead, I mix up 1 gallon of saltwater and add 1.8mL of Coppersafe. I test it with my API kit and this color becomes my new target. If future tests are lighter I know I need to add copper. If they are darker I need to dilute the copper a little. My 10g quarantine tank needs 20mL of Coppersafe to reach the proper therapeutic level. I slowly raise the copper level in my tank by adding 3mL of Coppersafe each morning and evening for 3 days. It is important to maintain this level of copper without interruption! Even a few minutes at lower copper will give parasites an opening! I maintain therapeutic copper levels for 14 days. It works well since I only get fish on weekends and this keeps things lined up for my personal schedule.
After the 14 days in copper and with the salinity in my quarantine tank matching my display tank, the fish are just about ready for their new home. Ideally, the next new home will be another clean quarantine tank where we can observe them for an additional two weeks but I realize it can be a challenge for some hobbyists to set up one QT system, let alone two. If you don’t have the second quarantine system available DO NOT transfer them into your display if you have any questions about their health such as if they are breathing heavy or have frayed fins. If there are any doubts you can keep them in the original quarantine system with therapeutic levels of copper for 30 days. At this point, instead of transferring the fish you, you can safely remove the copper and treat with any additional medications that may be need. I like to give at least 1 fish in the system another fresh water dip to check for flukes prior to the transfer.
It is finally time to move the fish into my display tank. I use my Apex to adjust the temperature of my display tank to match my quarantine tank to make it easy to do a straight transfer. Manual adjustments of the heaters may be necessary if a controller isn’t available. I take the bucket and strainer that I used when I added the fish to my quarantine tank and set it up in front of my display tank. I have a small container that hangs on the front of the tank which I fill with water from my display tank. I will pull the PVC elbows out of my quarantine tank and either use a net or a small strainer to catch the fish and put them into the container. I dump this container into the strainer as a final rinse to minimize transferring copper or other medications into my display tank. From the strainer, I put the fish into an acclimation box in my display tank. They will spend anywhere from 1 to 5 days in the acclimation box depending on the risk of aggression issues. All that’s left at this point is to open the lid to the box, let the fish out, and enjoy my display knowing that I have an excellent chance of avoiding any major disease outbreak in my system.