Big box stores and Weak fish stock

  • #1
I've bought fish from big box stores(PetSmart, Petco) and seem to have a really varied fish survival rates. My tanks are finally cycled 0 Ammonia/Nitrite 5-20 Nitrates. But it's still hard to take losses on fish that die the next day or the day of. I can't help but blame myself sometimes. There is always the question of what if I did this better or what if had these resources?
I am relatively new to the hobby. 4 weeks in exactly. I suffer from MTS as many people here do too haha! Went from a Betta to 5 nano tanks of varying stock. But I do my research as well as possible. What to feed, what fish go well in what temperatures and what water hardness they tolerate. What fish can go together as many of these fish aren't naturally together. Many are from different regions in the world. I try to provide the best possible scenarios I can provide while enjoying what fish I have. Their specific personalities and behaviors and how they all interact are all such a joy to watch.

My thread topic here is to ask how has anyone else faired with buying fish from these big box stores and the health of these fish? My specific store has lots of choices but I noticed their nano fish seem to have pretty low survival rates. My recent purchase of Scarlet Badis(Dario Dario) had no luck. My first one died that night. Again water parameters were perfect for him and I have live food and a variety of foods. So I go and get the last remaining one. I get there and the tank is full of dead borneo loaches and some dead scarlet badis. Those are red flags but in the hopes of giving the surviving member a good life I got him. Died the next day. Many of the Molly's I have got the death wobble and died shortly as well. Luckily enough my fish losses seem to happen the day of or after and seem to be more or less not my fault(maybe?). Even supposedly hardly neon tetras have died 2 hours after receiving them. I drip acclimate them. Some of the employees tell me that the breeding situation for where ever they are ordering from is subpar and seems to weakening whatever breeds are most popular.
I have not lost any fish to disease or cycling! That's sounds crazy to me. These fish at these big box stores seem to be weaker or stressed from the trip and don't have much vitality. I've received my first purchase from AquaHuna online and all of those fish came healthy and ready to eat as soon as they hit the water. Same for the shrimp from there. I may have to start ordering from respectable online fish sellers. What are some experienced members thoughts on this? Do you guys shop at these places and how do they fair? Should I keep giving these guys a shot? Ordering online can be expensive but I'm starting to think it's actually costing me more to keep making these trips especially with gas prices going up. I don't have many LFS stores locally here in Georgia.

  • #2
I'd say if you have an option not to buy from big box stores, just don't - it's a moral duty in a way. If you have an option to order from respectable buyers, just do that, both for your own success rate and as a way of supporting bussinesses that actually know what they're doing. It may seem more expensive at first, but when you take into account that with bad fish stock you end up buying again and again, it will probably costs about the same. Additionally, look at your local ads - for things like shrimp, snails and other easily bred creatures, you can find small scale breeders, and what's best is that these animals will already be adapted to your local water conditions, much easier to acclimate.

  • #3
I wouldn't say order online because of shipping costs you kind of need a big order so cost per fish goes down.
I would say find a non big box, local fish store or local breeder to buy from, see if there's a local fish keepers club, a lot have swap meets where you can pick up fish, or look for a local aquarium/fish show near you to attend and get fish from.

I think a lot of times the big box stores have varying issues, they get their shipment, they open the bags to the tanks, and the fish are immediately for sale, theres no adjustment period to their water and if you happen in on or near that day there's no real time between adjustments and the stress can be too much.

From a breeding perspective, I water change like crazy and keep bacteria, TDS and nitrates really low in the tanks where I'm breeding for the duration, it's zero stress for the fish, and raise the temperature for faster metabolism and I feed like crazy to get fast weight gain and fast growth and daily cleanings. However before I'm at market size, I've acclimated them down to normal tank Temps, normal feedings with normal flake foods people would be feeding them and slacked off water changes for normal TDS and nitrate levels the average person would have in their tanks. My fish have experienced some stress and gotten through it before I've sold them, their store they go to won't be their first instance or response to stress. I can control those things and I think of it like "hardening off" of plants, you can't sprout seeds indoors and then stick a plant outside in the dirt right away, they need time to adjust to natural sunlight, wind, rain, bacterias pests ect.
Maybe I take some losses and don't sell as much doing it but if a fish can't adjust it happens to me, not to the customers.

The one thing I can't control is everyone else's water quality or the stores..
I can only get the fish used to the "normal beginners way of doing things" and "stores way of doing things", those conditions. If someone knows how to keep a tank then they know how to adjust a fish from "so so" water quality to pristine perfect parameters, and if they want to feed expensive high quality foods they can do that, my fish have healthy appetites and will eat whatever you put in. It's how I raised them, they won't be picky they know flakes or pellets are food as well as stuff that moves in the tank.

It's not so much "weak stock" as it is possibly the breeder they buy from doesn't adjust fish before sale, or neither does the fish store or a combination. What chance do fish have if they were in a bag for 2-3 days, dumped in a tank for a few hours, sold and bagged and dumped into anther tank to adjust again. Just too much when you consider most fish at the stores are juveniles. Only so much they can take, I can prepare them for a rough patch adjusting, but not abuse. The big box stores don't seem to really care. Heck the local fish stores don't care all that much either, losses are part of the game. Same goes for the big breeders it's a thing and inventory. Theres a lot of death naturally in growing fish from fry and you get numb to it over time people also get complacent with repetition same way if you make a hamburger it might be amazing but somewhere around 100 or 1000... you're just going through the motions to crank out hamburgers.

You should not be afraid to be armed with your tanks water parameters when buying fish, and ask a place to give you theirs before buying fish from them to compare if it would be a rough or easy acclimation. You'd need their ammonia,nitrites, nitrates, temp, pH and TDS. A lot of the first day deaths are from TDS differences and osmotic shock.
You should not be afraid to ask when they got the fish in and ask if they will hold fish for 48 hours for you to buy them if they haven't had time to adjust completely to your local water, it makes your acclimation easier and less chance of loss. If they don't know, you should pass and wait 48 hours and return and if they are still there inspect and buy if they all look healthy and adjusted.
Also shouldn't be afraid to ask them to feed the fish, a stressed fish won't eat. If it's stressed in their tank, it's not gonna get easier after a bag and a trip to yours.

I wish you the best of luck!
  • #4
Dedinitely should find out from ANY store which days they get their fish delivered. While some LFSs will get supplied quite a bit from local breeders for some fish(both of mine the BN plecos are all from local breeders), they do often get a lot of their fish from the same suppliers as the big box stores. So giving the fish a couple days to recover from travel shock is a good idea anywhere.

Edited to add: even though this one is very basic, make sure to NEVER add the water from the bag to your own tanks...NO MATTER WHERE YOU GOT THEM!!!
  • #5
You've been keeping fish for 4 weeks and you've cycled several tanks a AND lost several fish in that time?
  • #6
The big box stores obtain much of their stock from huge Florida hatcheries such as Segrest fish Farm. The quality of the fish are usually good to start with.
There are so many factors that occur along the way that can adversely effect the fish's health.
What it all comes down to is the buyer's ability to recognize what a healthy fish looks like. Being educated about common fish deseases.
Hand pick only the most vibrant, active fish from the vendors tank, and verify that the desired fish is eating.
Once one has a good working knowledge about how to select a healthy fish, buying from a big box store or a mom & pop store should be equally simple.

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