The Fish Store

FAQ's

Should my first aquarium be freshwater or saltwater?

Our usual recommendation is to start with freshwater for at least a year before moving into saltwater, but really the decision is yours.  There are a couple reasons why we recommend freshwater for beginners.  First, the freshwater animals tend to be a bit hardier since they can encounter greater physical and chemical fluctuations in nature that saltwater animals; especially in areas that exhibit a monsoon seasonality.  This means that the freshwater animals will be more likely to survive if you make a mistake with your aquarium and perhaps overfeed or miss a few water changes.  The second reason is simply that the freshwater animals are quite a bit less expensive on average than the saltwater animals.  This means that they are easier to replace if something does go dramatically wrong and an animal is lost.  Once you feel confident in your ability to handle a freshwater aquarium, then it’s easier for you to take care of saltwater.  Also, caring for freshwater plants can be good practice towards taking care of live corals in saltwater.  While the two are not completely identical, the plants do have differing light and nutrient/supplement requirements, similar to corals.

What size tank should I start with?

There are really three ways to approach this one.  First, many people come in and are not sure if an aquarium is really something they or their child are interested in and want to just start with a small aquarium (10 gallons or less) simply to keep the costs down.  This is fine, but keep in mind that the physical and chemical parameters of the water can change quicker in a small volume that a larger volume.  Also the variety of plants and animals that can be kept in a small tank will be smaller than with a larger tank.  The second approach some people take is to see how much space they have and set something up that will fill that space to their liking and stock the tank appropriately.  The third approach, and the least common, is for someone to decide what animal they want to keep and then set up a tank that is appropriate for that animal at its maximum size.

Can I special order and aquarium and/or stand that you do not normally carry?

Yes, you usually can.  Come see us with the exact dimensions and specifications you are looking for and we will get a price quote for you.  Keep in mind that most special orders are going to be more expensive that any of the tanks we usually stock that would be of similar dimensions. If you are still interested in making the special order then we would need you to pre-pay for it in full and keep your receipt for proof of purchase when you pick the item(s) up.  It can take as long as 8 weeks to get a special order into the store after it has been ordered.  We can special order tanks in glass or acrylic ans most stands and canopies in a variety of woods.

What size filter should I have?

There are a number of factors that can influence the answer to this question. Are you keeping plants or animals that like fast or slow current? Do you like to keep a lot of active animals in your tank? Do you really enjoy watching the fishes eat and feed them way more that what they actually need? Do you plan on keeping animals that produce large amounts of waste? A good rule of thumb should be about 8-10 times the volume of the tank per hour through a back mounted power filter and about 3-5 times the volume of the tank per hour through a canister filter. Really the best way to tell if you have sufficient filtration is to look at the tank. If there is any ammonia or nitirite in the water then there is not enough filtering capacity. If all of the animals are cowering behind decorations and plants are blowing around like tumble weeds, then you may have too much filtration. Remember, even a very small filter can work fine on a 100 gallon tank if there is only one or two small fish in the tank.

How much water flow should my aquarium have?

Actually the answer to the previous question provides a good introduction to this one. It really depends on the plants and animals you have, and how you want the tank to look. Usually larger flow rates, especially through filters, will allow for a greater carrying capacity for the tank, but too much flow can damage the tank's inhabitants, especially if they caught in a pump or filter.

Do I have to buy all of my equipment at once?

No. You can purchase a set up one piece at a time and put the whole thing together at a later date, or even start out with a simple system and move into something more complex later. Many people will start a planted tank with low light a appropriate plants and then move later into a higher light system with different plants and perhaps some CO2 injection. Some people will start a saltwater aquarium with just some fish and a small amount of live rock (if any at all) and upgrade to more intense lighting later to change their tank into a reef. The same can be done with filters. Start with a single small one for a few small fishes and perhaps add a second small filter or replace the original with a larger filter as the fish population increases.

My filter or pump won't start back up, do I need to replace it?

Probably not. The single most common problem we see with any magnetic motor, regardless of manufacturer, is that the impeller can become covered in a layer of gunk (yes, that is a technical term) that can cause the impeller to get stuck after being stopped (turned off). The best thing to do is unplug the device and carefully disassemble it according to the manufacturers instructions. Clean theimpeller and housing under tap water with a small brush or cotton swab. Once the device is reassembled and put back in place, it should start right up when plugged in. Regularly cleaning any magnetic motor once a month will help prevent this problem as well as any wear on the impeller and the impeller shaft that can eventually cause the motor to rattle.

What size heater should I have?

The general rules are 2-3 watts of heating power per gallon for an acrylic aquarium and 5-7 watts of heating power per gallon for a glass aquarium. This difference is due to the fact that acrylic is a better heat insulator than glass. Larger heaters are not inherently bad for a smaller aquarium since they will just run hotter for a shorter time. The thermostat in the heater functions just like the thermostat in your home; it turns on when the temperature is too low and turns off when the temperature is too high. A larger heater can be problem if in a smaller tank if it ever gets stuck on continuously. This will overheat the tank faster and may not leave you time to react.

What type of lighting do I need?

It all depends on what you are trying to do. For a fish only aquarium (salt or fresh), a saltwater aquarium with non-photosynthetic invertebrates (feather dusters, sponges, crustaceans), or a planted tank with really low-light plants (Anubias and java moss), the stock lighting that comes in most aquariums should be fine for these low-light situations. A moderate level of light would work well for some plants like Aponogeton or sword plants in freshwater or some soft corals or hardy anemones (Condylactis) in saltwater. High light tanks might include plants such as baby's tear or Limnophilia in freshwater or corals like hammers and brains or even bubble anemones in saltwater. Lighting levels can vary in their intensity based on the type of water in questions. In freshwater, low-light is about 1 watt of energy draw per gallon, medium-light is about 2 watts of energy draw per gallon, and high-light is 3 or more watts of energy draw per gallon. In saltwater, low-light is about 1-2 watts of energy draw per gallon, medium-light is about 3-4 watts of energy draw per gallon, and high-light is 5 or more watts of energy draw per gallon. This information really only applies to standard output fluorescents, power compact fluorescents, and some incandescent bulbs like metal halides. Very high output bulbs (VHO) and standard incandescent bulbs tend to be less efficient at converting electricity (watts) into light (lumens or lux) while T-5 high output (HO) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) are more efficient. The best thing to do would be to talk to our staff about what kind of lighting your tank has, what kind of organisms you want to keep, and what kinds of changes you may need to make.

How long should my lights be on?

Generally speaking, the lights can stay on for 10-12 hours in most aquariums. Some tanks with more complex and intense lighting systems can have a short period (3-4 hours) of high intensity preceded and followed by lower intensity periods (3-4 hours each). Under no circumstances should the lights be intentionally left on 24 hours a day. Most animals with eyes need some form of a day-night cycle and excess algae growth commonly results from too much light. Reducing light times if the tank is exposed to sunlight may help a bit with algae problems, but the best thing there is really to avoid the sunlight all together.

How much gravel/sand should I have?

If you are into geology and want to fill a tank to within an inch of the top and raise flounder, you can do that. Most people will go with less though. If you are running an undergravel filter then there should be about 3 inches across the entire tank. If not, a freshwater tank should have as much as 3-4 inches for really large plants with extensive root systems to as little as half an inch in open spaces. In salt water, most people work with about 0.5 -1.0 inches, but this can vary higher or lower depending on the types of animals maintained or personal choice. There really aren't any hard-fast rules about gravel. Keep in mind that while burrowing animals and large plants like more substrate (bottom material), a thicker layer can be more difficult to keep clean.

How many decorations should I have?

There should at least be something available for the animals to hide behind or under if they become startled. More decorations can come in handy when trying to maintain territorial species. Outside of that, it really comes down to personal taste.

How long after I set up the tank can I start stocking it?

As long as you are happy with where the aquarium is set, you're sure all of the equipment is functioning properly, the temperature is in the correct range for the plants or animals you want, and the water quality is correct (specialized salts added for East African Cichlids, brackish water, or salt water) you can start stocking your tank. We usually recommend at least 24 hours to determine if everything is good. Waiting longer will not have any extra benefit, like cycling a tank. An aquarium will only cycle (grow beneficial bacteria) if there is fish waste for the bacteria to live off of.

Can I buy all of my livestock at once?

You can but we don't really recommend it at all for a couple of reasons. A new tank or a lightly stocked tank will not have enough bacteria to handle the sudden influx of fish waste. Since fishes produce ammonia as a waste product and more overall waste than most other animals that will go into your tank, you can quickly get toxic levels of unprocessed waste. We recommend starting a new tank with about 30% of the maximum number of animals. If you tank already has a few fishes, then we recommend not adding any more biomass to the tank than what is equivalent to the present stock. So, if you only have six small fishes in a 20 gallon tank then we would recommend adding the equivalent to six small fishes to the tank. Each time that fishes are added to an established tank you should wait about week before adding more. With invertebrates, which don't produce as much waste as fishes, you can add larger amounts, but you may not want to. You can get a better feel for how the animals will interact with each other when you add them in smaller groups. Also, as a general rule, more rambunctious animals should be added after more peaceful ones have gotten settled. Another thing to keep in mind is that by spreading your acquisitions over a greater time, you get a chance to see a greater diversity of organisms to choose from.

How many fishes can I put in my tank?

The general rule of thumb is one inch of fish per gallon in freshwater, when dealing with small fishes about an inch or two in length. This rule quickly breaks down with bigger animals because their mass increases dramatically with their size; a twelve inch Oscar has much more body mass than 12 one inch neon tetras. In saltwater, we usually recommend one small to medium fish (less than 5 inches) per 5-10 gallons. In any case more body mass means more waste production. As long as the waste levels are not dangerously high in you aquarium then your stocking level is fine. If there is too much waste in the water on a chronic basis then you probably have too many fishes in your aquarium. Remember that waste levels in the water also depend on you feeding and water change practices.

How many plants can I put in my tank?

It all depends on where your interests lay. The Dutch Style of aquarium keeping is described as a tank full of plants and just a few fishes to fertilize the plants. Many people like to use live plants simply as an accent for their tank. Some people don't work with live plants at all because they don't like dealing with them or they have animals that eat the plants. If you can't see any of your fishes and they have difficulty moving through the tank, you may have too many plants, but really there is no set limit. You should keep in mind that it's possible for plants in a tank that is heavily stocked to crowd each other out for light or add chemicals to the water that inhibit each other's growth.

How many invertebrates can I put in my tank?

The answer to this is pretty similar to the one for plants in that it all depends on where your interests lay. The biggest things to keep in mind here would be 1) do you have any fishes that like to eat the invertebrates in question ( or vice versa) and 2) can the invertebrates harm each other is the come in contact. The latter really refers to corals and anemones, which have either have nematocysts (stinging cells) or toxins in their slime coat, but some invertebrates can prey upon others, particularly crustaceans.

How much live rock do I need in my tank?

The general rule of thumb on live rock for a reef tank is 1-2 pounds per gallon, but, again, it really comes down to what you want to look at. We usually recommend starting a reef tank with a smaller amount of rock so that you have room to rearrange things in the tank and also so you have room to add more stuff later. Many corals and polyps come in already attached to a rock or a stony skeleton, which will take up space in the tank. You may later find a rock that has an interesting shape or cool stuff growing on it and will need some room available to add it to your tank. If you are planning to use the live rock as a filter then you will want more rock for more fishes. If you are running a fish only tank with other filters then add however much rock you want to look at.

Do I need to get all of my rock at once?

No. You can get all of your rock at once, but you don't need to. It's probably better to start with a smaller amount so you can have room to work when stacking the rock and also have room to add more pieces later.

What are some good community fishes?

That's a really tough question to answer because there are just way to many possible combinations to discuss them all. Do you want a peaceful community or an aggressive one? Do you want large fishes or small fishes? We suggest looking at some books, maybe even online, and find some fishes you like. Come talk to us about what you are interested in and we can go from there.

How do I acclimate the plants or animals I just bought?

Plants and most invertebrates can do fine with a simple acclimation of floating them in their bag in the tank for about half an hour. Fishes generally do better being acclimated to the water chemistry as well as the temperature. This can be accomplished two possible ways: 1) float the bag for about half an hour and add some water from the tank to the bag every 10 minutes or so, or2) put the fishes into a bucket, create a siphon with some airline tubing, tie a knot in the tubing so the water comes out in a fast drip, and put the fishes in the tank when the bucket is almost full (stop the siphon). This latter method can also be used to do a small water change while acclimating the animals; never a bad idea.

How long can I wait before putting these plants or animals in my tank?

Usually, the sooner the better. Plants and animals can overheat or get too cold if out of a tank for too long. Plants can dry out and fishes can suffocate or poison themselves with their own waste. If you need to have plants or animals packed up for a lengthy trip home, please tell us in advance and we may be able to accommodate you. Keep in mind that plants are shipped in damp newspaper in a plastic bag in a box for 2-5 days. Many animals can spend over 36 hours in transit coming to the shop from wholesalers, but they are usually anesthetized and have pure oxygen injected into the bag. We don't have that ability, but most plants and animals should be able to last a couple of hours pretty easily from us. If you can, try to make your plant or animal purchase the last thing you do before going home.

How long can I leave my plants or animals sitting in the car?

This is a surprisingly easy question to answer. Will the car get above 80o F or below 75o F for tropical fishes? Will it take you more than a couple of minutes to run your errand? If your answer is yes to either question, then the answer is not long enough. It's easy to carry a small bag into another shop with you when the weather outside is not favorable. If you can, try to make your plant or animal purchase the last thing you do before going home.

Can I put this plant, animal, or decoration in my tank?

Maybe. This is a great question to ask in the shop if you can tell us what you already have in the tank; everything, not just your favorites, not just the ones in mid water or just the ones on the bottom, everything. If you can remember more than just the sizes and or colors, that would be helpful. Writing down the names of the plants and animals you buy on the back of one of our business cards is a great way to remember.

Can I put a goldfish or a Betta in a bowl?

The only place worse than a bowl for a goldfish is the floor. Seriously. Goldfish have the potential to reach 9 inches in length, live 30 years, and have a very inefficient digestive system (they produce a lot of waste). They need large amounts of water and good filtration to have a chance at a meaningful lifespan. Bettas, on the other hand, can survive in a bowl, but they MUST HAVE HEAT. Bettas are also called Siamese fighting fishes because they originate from Siam, which is a province of Thailand. There are no unheated portions of Thailand. Bettas need to be over 80o F to spawn. Most problems with betas are related to them being too cold. If there is no filter on the bowl, half of the water will need to be changed twice a week. If there is a filter then half the water should be changed once a week due to the bowl's small size.

How can I tell the difference between a saltwater and a freshwater aquarium?

The best way is to read books about both types of aquariums and become familiar with the animals that live in them. Otherwise, you can just ask us. Some people tell by tasting the water, but we would never seriously recommend that.

What's the difference between a freshwater and a tropical aquarium?

These are two completely different parameters. "Freshwater" refers to the chemistry of the water, specifically the concentration of dissolved solids (a.k.a. salts) in the water, and means that there is a low concentration of dissolved solids (specific gravity less than 1.003). "Tropical" refers to the physical parameter known as temperature. Anything that originates from the tropics (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer) is tropical and usually requires a temperature above 75o F.

What should I feed to my animals or fertilize my plants with?

Your usual options for animals are dry foods, frozen foods, or fresh plants or animals. Dry foods include flakes, pellets, crisps, wafers, discs, granules, and powders. Most dry foods are made from a lengthy list of ingredients and can provide a nutritious, balanced diet. Frozen foods can be intact animals, such as bloodworms, Mysis shrimp, Daphnia, Rotifers or silversides, or combinations of many different ingredients mixed together and usually formed into cubes. Fresh plants would include aquatic plants or fresh vegetables and fruits. Fresh animals would include clams, shrimps, crickets and smaller fishes. Many suspension filter feeding animals can consume powder or liquid foods designed for them. The best thing you can do is research the animals you are interested in, see what their requirements are and determine what you want to deal with. Your options for plants are solid, liquid, or gas. Solid fertilizers are usually a tablet that is inserted in the gravel at the base of plants with extensive root systems. Liquid fertilizers are added to the water for stem plants, floating plants, or plants attached to rocks or wood. Gas would the carbon dioxide (CO2) added to the water for all plants. CO2 injection usually requires some extra equipment and additional lighting and solid or liquid fertilization and is recommended more for experienced aquarists.

How much should I feed my animals or fertilize my plants?

Most fishes have a stomach about the size of their own eye ball, so not much. Usually feed only what the animal can consume within a minute. Large predators can consume larger amounts, but avoid an overly distended stomach. Fish will beg for food and act hungry even if they do not actually need food. Fishes rarely starve is they are being fed on a regular basis. Most corals, anemones, clams, sponges, and worms only need a small amount of food because they do not expend a lot of energy. Plant fertilizing is a bit trickier because the tablets can't be seen in the gravel, and many liquids are difficult to test accurately. The best rule of thumb to use with plants is to start with a quarter dose and increase gradually from there. If you start to see any excess algae growth then cut back on the fertilizer. With CO2 injection, monitor the pH and hardness closely since too much CO2 can lower the pH and suffocate your animals.

How often should I feed my animals or fertilize my plants?

Most animals do not need to be fed more than once a day. Large predators can eat 1-3 times a week. Corals and anemones can eat once every week or two. Plants will need fertilizing daily for CO2 and weekly or monthly for the liquid or solid fertilizers.

Do you do special orders on livestock?

Maybe. We are more likely to do a special order for some sort of drygoods item since small items can usually be returned if they are not picked up. Larger, more expensive items like special order tanks or stands require prepayment in full since we cannot return those if they are not picked up. We stay away from special orders in livestock because we cannot guarantee when a particular item will be available, whether or not it will be shipped, and whether or not it will be healthy when it arrives. Also, we don't want to get stuck with a large and/or expensive animal we can't sell or return. You can ask about a particular plant or animal and if it's something we feel we can sell, and we can get it, we'll try to get it in when we can. Keep checking back.

What kind of guarantee do you have on your livestock?

We have a 15 day guarantee on the health of our freshwater fishes only. If the freshwater fish exhibits some sign of illness with 15 days of purchase, you must bring the fish in question, the receipt from the purchase, and a separate water sample (a cup of water works well). We will test the water conditions. If the water conditions look good, we will credit you the price of the fish. If the water conditions are not good, we will tell you what you need to fix them and that usually includes just changing some of the water. We do not guarantee gender or behavior (such as jumping or aggression) in any case. We do not guarantee any plants or saltwater animals. Many animals are difficult to distinguish gender, especially when they are small or out of breeding condition. There are many exceptions to behavioral rules with animals (some people are not as well behaved as others) and big fishes usually eat small fishes (that's nature). Plants often take too long to show signs of problems to determine their health. The saltwater animals see too much handling from the wild to our tanks to be able to guarantee them. If you are unsure about an animal you are interested in buying, ask us about it. Regardless of what shop you are in, it is never a good idea to try to rescue an animal of questionable health. Some people may try it, but few are successful.

How do you handle defective equipment?

We honor all manufacturer warrantees. If the item in question is something that we sell and is accompanied by a receipt showing purchase from our store and all of the manufacturer's requirements are met then we will gladly work with you to provide the necessary replacement part or item.

Do you buy back plants, animals, or equipment?

Rarely. We never buy back used equipment. We occasionally buy plants or animals that we are in need of if they look healthy and are kept in appropriate water conditions. If you think you have something we may be interested in then please contact the person in charge of ordering the plants or the animals and discuss it with them. DO NOT JUST BRING THINGS IN WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE, ESPECIALLY ON WEEKENDS OR WITHIN TWO HOURS OF CLOSING. We give store credit for 1/3 the resale value. Any plants or animals that are not needed by the shop can be dropped off as orphans to be given away to staff or customers for a nominal bagging fee.

What do I do with my livestock or equipment when I no longer want it?

Please contact the person in charge of ordering the livestock you are interested in getting rid of. If there is anything that we might be interested in buying, we will give store credit of 1/3 the resale value. If there is not anything we are interested in you may be able to just drop the plants or animals off as orphans to be given away to other customers of staff for a nominal bagging fee. We never do anything with used equipment. You might want to try a garage sale, online listings, or a donation to Goodwill for those items.

Do you sell reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, or mammals?

Right now, we only sell the African Dwarf Frogs. Outside of that, we have no reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, or mammals for sale.

Do you sell shrimps, crabs, or fish as food for people?

Everything we sell is intended for ornamental use in an aquarium (or pond in a few select cases). We do not sell anything intentionally as a food item even though many of the animals we sell are used for food in the countries they are native to.

Can I just walk around to look at the fishes?

Sure thing. We've got a wider selection of fishes than The Seattle Aquarium and a cheaper admission price. Come on in and enjoy the view. We have over 2900 gallons of freshwater and 1300 gallons of saltwater tanks to peruse and more than just fishes in many tanks. Who knows? You might actually decide to set up an aquarium of your own.

What does a person have to do to get some service around here?

Yes, we actually get this question once in a while. There are at least 15 signs around the shop informing customers to come to the counter when they need help. Now, this really means to come up to the front of the counter since that is where we are looking for new customers to help, especially when we finish ringing someone up at the register. It is difficult to see people standing off to the side, behind posts, or in the shadows back by the tanks. As a general policy, we try not to disturb customers while they are browsing unless they really look like they need help or are about to damage something. Expecting us to stop helping a customer we are presently working with or to help someone in the back of the store when there are other people waiting patiently up at the front counter is equivalent to cutting in line. We really don't encourage that. Interrupting us with an unrelated question while we are talking to another customer boarders on rude unless there is a dire emergency. Getting angry with us because there are more customers waiting for help than there are employees available to help them (this results in a phenomenon widely referred to in the retail industry as a line) will not result in faster service and may actually result in you staying at the end of the aforementioned line regardless of how many people are in it. If we are busy, please be patient. We try to give everyone the same high level of quality help in turn.

I just bought something online or at another shop, how does it work or how do I keep it alive?

This is a tough question to answer gently since nobody, except consultants and psychiatrists, makes money just by giving advice. You should really ask the person or business you made the purchase from. We are perfectly willing to help out any of our loyal customers but we cannot be expected to take time away from our other responsibilities to fortify the deficient customer service that might be provided by other sources. If there is absolutely no one in the shop needing help and all of the maintenance is done then we may be able to answer this question. This might sound rude, but it's really not fun or very beneficial for us to encourage someone else's continued bad behavior.

On the internet it says…

STOP! The internet is the world's largest bathroom wall. You never know whose story is true and whose isn't. With any source of information, whether it's the net, books, magazines, or your neighbor next door, the information itself should always be examined closely. How does it compare to what you know or have experienced? If all sources say one thing except for one lone voice, is that lone voice automatically correct? Possibly not. Anyone can post anything (true or not) on the internet. Hey, they let us put up a website. While there are many good sources of information on the internet (including our website) there is no editorial service to separate the legitimate sources from the bogus ones. Books and magazines are more reliable, but even their editorial practices can be questionable at times. Also keep in mind, that there are many different ways to accomplish the same thing in the aquarium hobby, so there isn't always just one correct answer. Some techniques may work under one set of tap water conditions but not in others. Some techniques may more expensive than others. There's also a lot of variability in behavior or tolerance levels between individuals within a specie; think about how different people can behave under the same circumstances or even with the same types of stress. If you're looking things up on the internet, or anywhere for that matter, stop and think about the information you have found. Does it make sense? Is it something you want to try? Is it the only possibility available? What have other sources said about the same subject? We are always interested in finding out new information, but are generally skeptical of the really radical news. Feel free to come to us for more information at any time, but always think about the information you've been given.