Give up or rehome ?

Dechi

My 75 gallons Mbuna tank has been running for 7 months now. The fish have grown and all are doing very well. Not too much aggression, it’s peaceful in there most of the time.

What kills me is the smell in the tank. There is no ammonia to speak of, I’ve tested dozens of time. I’ve also upgraded my Fluval 407 for an FX-4 and I’m also running a Maxi-jet 1200 as a polishing filter. It becomes brown after less than a week so I change the filter floss regularly. I do a weekly 50% water change and vacuum the sand bed (not too deep).

In spite of all this, my tank always has a urine smell. It bothers me because I like to give my animals the best living environment possible and I don’t feel it’s the case here. I feel these poor fish are swimming in feces and urine. It’s also very disgusting to put your arm in there to do maintenance. I’ve had fish tanks for 40 years and I have never seen anything like it. I do have a sensitive nose, but still…. Oh, and doing more WC per week is not an option. 1 is the most I can handle.

So, here is the question :

A- Should I close this tank, rehome everyone and start over with a different group of fish altogether ?

B- Should I rehome half and keep half ? I’m afraid this would cause too much aggression ?

Keep in my it’s a huge job to empty 100 lbs of rock to catch fish so I will only do this once so I can’t go wrong. I have physical limitations that makes it even harder.

Here is the list of the fish I currently have. If you think I should go with option B, which ones would you keep ?

Labidochromis caeruleus : 1m:2f
Pseudotropheus demasoni (Pombo rocks) : 2m:2f
Pseudotropheus acei Ngara : 1m:2f
Labeotropheus fuelleborni OB (Chinyankwazi island) orange : 1m:2f
Cynotilapia sp. lion (Mara rock) : 1m:3f
Astatotilapia Latifasciata/zebra obliquidens (hap from Lake Victoria) : 4 (unknow sex, 1-2 males probably)
Total : 21 fish

Thank you ! :)
 

BigManAquatics

That is odd. No litter boxes nearby the tank? Thats all i can think of.
 
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Dechi

No,
That is odd. No litter boxes nearby the tank? Thats all i can think of.
I don’t even have a cat, lol !

It really is an ammonia smell, from the water.
 
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BigManAquatics

No,

I don’t even have a cat, lol !

It really is an ammonia smell, from the water.
Guess the only other thing i can think of as far as the source is food. When i do water changes on my 45, i have noticed a sulfur-ish smell(don't use Prime), from uneaten algae wafers. I stopped feeding those particular wafers very recently as my plecos do not seem to eat them as well as another brand, so hoping that smell goes away once i get all the particles vacced out completely.
 
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Dechi

Do you use the carbon filter, I have heard it does help with the smell.
Check out this link, might give some ideas as to the cause.
7 Reasons Why Your Fish Tank Stinks (And how to fix it!) - FishLab

Good Luck!

I don’t use carbon. I’ve read it can cause problems with cichlids and I feel it’s just a patch and doesn’t solve anything.
Guess the only other thing i can think of as far as the source is food.

I feed Northfin pellets and veggies flakes twice a week.

Maybe the problem is I don’t turn off the filter when I feed, and the pellets get caught in the rocks and rot. I’ve started agitating the water around the rocks when I do maintenance and I do see little particles flying off that don’t look like poop.

I don’t like turning off the filter when I feed because it will cause premature wear and tear. I don’t know how to solve this one…
 
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Yeoy

I don’t use carbon. I’ve read it can cause problems with cichlids and I feel it’s just a patch and doesn’t solve anything.


I feed Northfin pellets and veggies flakes twice a week.

Maybe the problem is I don’t turn off the filter when I feed, and the pellets get caught in the rocks and rot. I’ve started agitating the water around the rocks when I do maintenance and I do see little particles flying off that don’t look like poop.

I don’t like turning off the filter when I feed because it will cause premature wear and tear. I don’t know how to solve this one…
Try skipping food totally for 2 or 3 days and see if the smell goes away? Most mature tanks should be ok for a few days without food.
 
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FishDin

When you said "there is no ammonia to speak of", did you mean there is no ammonia, or there is ammonia, but not much? EDIT: Just looked at your tank profile. I see that you do have a small amount ammonia in your water. Have you tested your source water. I know that small amount wont cause the smell you're experiencing, but it would be good to know where the ammonia is coming from in a cycled tank.

It is odd. When I dose a tank to 4ppm ammonia for cycling, the tank does not smell of ammonia or urine. I may have a poor smeller...

Do other people smell the urine smell too? I ask this because my wife can smell things that I can't even detect.

I agree with Yeoy, stop feeding for awhile. I would stop feeding for a week after your weekly water change to give it long enough to see if it makes a difference. The fish will be fine. If it helps, then maybe switch to a different food to see if that helps (as others have suggested).

How does your water look? clear, cloudy, etc

What does the water taste like? :~)
 
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MacZ

100 pounds of rocks, so the tank has less than 75 gallons. Including sand, likely less than 50 gallons are left.
The tank is simply overstocked, strong urine smell also points to a diet too rich in protein.

I'd rehome half of the fish (especially the Cynotilapia and Chindongo demasoni to prevent aggression peaking) and switch the food.

If that doesn't change anything, I'd presume the microfauna in your filter is composed in a way that produces slightly different end products than usual.

Also, what type of rock do you have?
 
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Dechi

Try skipping food totally for 2 or 3 days and see if the smell goes away? Most mature tanks should be ok for a few days without food.

That’s been done when I went away a few weeks ago. It didn’t do much.

Also, I just noticed yesterday that some fish have a sunken belly. I’ve started shutting off the Maxi-jet while feeding this morning. The pellets were flying away and the fish weren’t eating enough.

So I can’t feed less. But I will be shutting off the Maxi-jet from now on when I feed. And I will try to clean up the pellets that flew in the rocks over a few weeks, when I do my maintenance.

Have you tested your source water. I know that small amount wont cause the smell you're experiencing, but it would be good to know where the ammonia is coming from in a cycled tank.

Yes, tap water has 0 ammonia. The ammonia in this tank is close to none. I mean it’s a little greenish, maybe 0.1 ppm.

Do other people smell the urine smell too?

I don’t know, it’s just me in the house and I haven’t thought about asking visitors, lol !

How does your water look? clear, cloudy, etc

My water is perfectly clear, but when it gets closer to 7-8 days without a WC, it tends to be a pale dirty yellow color.

What does the water taste like? :~)

That, no one will ever know ! :)

100 pounds of rocks, so the tank has less than 75 gallons. Including sand, likely less than 50 gallons are left.
The tank is simply overstocked, strong urine smell also points to a diet too rich in protein.

I recalculated my rocks and it’s 75 lbs, not 100 lbs. The fish population in this tank has been discussed at length on this forum, and I followed advice given from cichlid experts, including you.

So in theory this should work. I guess practice isn’t always the same as theory !

I'd rehome half of the fish (especially the Cynotilapia and Chindongo demasoni to prevent aggression peaking) and switch the food.

I agree about the Astatotilapia, I feel they are the least happy in the tank. The demasonis are really great fish and up to now, are not being too aggressive at all. I would be sad to rehome them.

I don’t care too much about the fuelkeborni, so maybe them instead ? Only three of them but they are bigger.

That would be 7 less fish, for a total of 14 remaining.

I only feed Northfin veggies and spirulina flakes. This is what the breeder/LFS feed their hundreds and hundreds of fish with great success. Low in protein.

What do you suggest I should feed ?

If that doesn't change anything, I'd presume the microfauna in your filter is composed in a way that produces slightly different end products than usual.

That’s interesting. In the FX4, I have all the original sponges, and multiples different ceramic rings. Some from many years ago (10+ years), but mostly all the ceramic rings from my Fluval 407 and the FX4.

I wonder what else I should try ?

Also, what type of rock do you have?

58 lbs of Florida rocks, 15 lbs of lace rocks and 2 lbs of stax rocks = 75 lbs

I’ve fought diatoms for a long time but they seem to be mostly gone now, maybe a little bit left but not much.

Here is the tank about 2 months ago :

 
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MacZ

I agree about the Astatotilapia, I feel they are the least happy in the tank. The demasonis are really great fish and up to now, are not being too aggressive at all. I would be sad to rehome them.

I don’t care too much about the fuelkeborni, so maybe them instead ? Only three of them but they are bigger.

That would be 7 less fish, for a total of 14 remaining.

If you read my post again, I said Cynotilapia, not Astatotilapia. Otherwise how you reduce the numbers is at your discretion. I would just remove the usually more aggressive species first.

I only feed Northfin veggies and spirulina flakes. This is what the breeder/LFS feed their hundreds and hundreds of fish with great success. Low in protein.

What do you suggest I should feed ?

Can you post the ingredients? Especially the percentage of protein : fat : fiber.
I can only give you recommendations of how foods should be composed, I have given up on recommending brands when people live one continent over.

That’s interesting. In the FX4, I have all the original sponges, and multiples different ceramic rings. Some from many years ago (10+ years), but mostly all the ceramic rings from my Fluval 407 and the FX4.

I wonder what else I should try ?

Bacteria, and frankly I myself too, don't care about the model of filter you use. If you have been dealt a bad composition of bacteria that's pure coincidence. Should it come out as the reason for the smell, there is a little trick I learned once.
You take a bucket of tankwater, add new filtermedia and an air pump and add a starter of media from a non-smelling tank and let that sit for a while, while adding plant material as an ammonia source to cycle.
 
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Dechi

mackZ here are the ingredients to the pellets I feed.

I don’t have the ingredients for the spirulina flakes because I bought it in bulk, but I suppose it’s mainly spirulina.

76EF17F2-D813-4973-BC96-65EB8ECEEB60.jpeg
 
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MacZ

The flakes would actually have been interesting. Often it's spirulina plus a filler.

The pellets have a high amount of wheat flour (high energy, carbohydrate filler) and 36% protein. This is a lot for a diet for herbivore fish. I feed my carnivores 40% protein foods.

Try reducing this stuff and replacing some feedings with actual fresh veggies. It might actually help.
 
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BigBeardDaHuZi

T
That’s been done when I went away a few weeks ago. It didn’t do much.

Also, I just noticed yesterday that some fish have a sunken belly. I’ve started shutting off the Maxi-jet while feeding this morning. The pellets were flying away and the fish weren’t eating enough.

So I can’t feed less. But I will be shutting off the Maxi-jet from now on when I feed. And I will try to clean up the pellets that flew in the rocks over a few weeks, when I do my maintenance.



Yes, tap water has 0 ammonia. The ammonia in this tank is close to none. I mean it’s a little greenish, maybe 0.1 ppm.



I don’t know, it’s just me in the house and I haven’t thought about asking visitors, lol !



My water is perfectly clear, but when it gets closer to 7-8 days without a WC, it tends to be a pale dirty yellow color.



That, no one will ever know ! :)



I recalculated my rocks and it’s 75 lbs, not 100 lbs. The fish population in this tank has been discussed at length on this forum, and I followed advice given from cichlid experts, including you.

So in theory this should work. I guess practice isn’t always the same as theory !



I agree about the Astatotilapia, I feel they are the least happy in the tank. The demasonis are really great fish and up to now, are not being too aggressive at all. I would be sad to rehome them.

I don’t care too much about the fuelkeborni, so maybe them instead ? Only three of them but they are bigger.

That would be 7 less fish, for a total of 14 remaining.

I only feed Northfin veggies and spirulina flakes. This is what the breeder/LFS feed their hundreds and hundreds of fish with great success. Low in protein.

What do you suggest I should feed ?



That’s interesting. In the FX4, I have all the original sponges, and multiples different ceramic rings. Some from many years ago (10+ years), but mostly all the ceramic rings from my Fluval 407 and the FX4.

I wonder what else I should try ?



58 lbs of Florida rocks, 15 lbs of lace rocks and 2 lbs of stax rocks = 75 lbs

I’ve fought diatoms for a long time but they seem to be mostly gone now, maybe a little bit left but not much.

Here is the tank about 2 months ago :

That's a beautiful tank Dechi
 
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Dechi

After much deliberation, and even though it saddens me, I have decided to end the Mbuna adventure.

Not because of the smell. I had my daughter and son-in-law smell it and apparently I’m the only one who notices it.

The reasons are more profound, if I might say. First, I am not having this satisfaction feeling I am looking for when having a fish tank. What I am trying to achieve is the most natural ecosystem possible and I feel with Mbunas it’s just not possible. Females are holding eggs most of the time, so not eating. There is so much rocks to curb aggression that the tank feels small. 2-3 fish are still glass surfing, which to me is an indication they are not thriving.

Overall, even though I did everything I could, I just don’t feel I am giving these fish a good life.

Second, I find keeping Mbunas kind of boring. Once you’ve done the initial research, which took months, set up the tank and added the proper fish to reach equilibrium as much as possible, there is nothing left to do besides feeding the fish and doing water changes.

I need more of a challenge.

For all these reasons and probably more I forget, I will be rehoming all the fish and tearing the tank down.

But…. I will be converting it to a saltwater tank. I will miss my fish but I am so excited with this new project. I think this one will be a huge challenge and should keep me busy for years. :)
 
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FishDin

I think this one will be a huge challenge and should keep me busy for years. :)

Is that what you said before setting up your mbuna tank? :~)
 
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GlennO

Once you’ve done the initial research, which took months, set up the tank and added the proper fish to reach equilibrium as much as possible, there is nothing left to do besides feeding the fish and doing water changes.

Sounds good to me. You could try a high tech planted tank. You'll be permanently attached to a pair of trimming scissors. ;)
 
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Dechi

Is that what you said before setting up your mbuna tank? :~)

Yeah, probably. But the challenge with the Mbunas died fast. I think saltwater will keep me on my toes for a while. And if not, then I’ll just have to suck it up…

You could try a high tech planted tank. You'll be permanently attached to a pair of trimming scissors.
I’ve had a low tech planted tank before the Mbunas. I’m scared of high tech because of the CO2 in the house.

I’m keeping all my equipment so if I want to go back to freshwater, it won’t be a problem.

Plus, I still have a complete 5 gallon and 10 gallon kit, and I’ll also be keeping my saltwater EVO as a QT tank.
 
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GlennO

I’ve had a low tech planted tank before the Mbunas. I’m scared of high tech because of the CO2 in the house.

Is there something I should be aware of? Can't say I've ever heard of any accidents (except to livestock).
 
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LadfromLondon

The only time I experienced the smell you mention was when my filter’s were newly established and the bioload in the tank:tank size ratio was huge.

In what way is carbon harmful to cichlids? I’ve never heard that. I don’t discredit it, but I’m curious since I do and will always use Carbon in non-planted tanks. I’ve never smelt anything using chemical filtration.

Live plants also help with removing smells. I know it’s difficult to keep plants with Mbuna, but you definitely could try a pothos plant out.

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Mbuna-keeping as much as you thought you would. Personally, I believe along with Puffers, these are the most enjoyable freshwater fish to keep.

Although you have already decided to move on from them, I wonder if you would have enjoyed Mbuna more with different stocking? I noticed you typically keep 3/4 of each species and stock a large range of species. I personally have always preferred stocking less species and bigger groups, in all kinds of aquariums. It’s more natural and you see the natural behaviours, such as Acei schooling around the tank.

If you want a challenge before moving to Saltwater, maybe you should consider this:

Instead of leaving the females holding, get them to spit the eggs into a tumbler and raise the fry. Then, rehome the adults and let your juveniles grow out until you can vent them. Then you will have your self-raised true harems. Less groups and bigger numbers = win/win!

Whatever you decide, good luck!
 
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Dechi

Is there something I should be aware of? Can't say I've ever heard of any accidents (except to livestock).

Just my anxiety at having something in the house that could blow up, even if very, very unlikely.

In what way is carbon harmful to cichlids? I’ve never heard that. I don’t discredit it, but I’m curious since I do and will always use Carbon in non-planted tanks.

Unfortunately my brain hasn’t retained the information other than « do not use » and it can lead to disease. It was talked about on cichlids forum and they would link a study that explained it.

If I ever come across it again, I will post it here.

The fish are being rehomed tomorrow so I won’t be going on this forum very much anymore though. The saltwater adventure is taking form.

I agree I could have had different combos of fish but the fish, all of them, do not appeal to me. I know now what I appreciate the most in my tanks : a small bioload of peaceful fish with a diverse aquascape. You get nothing of that with Mbunas.

They’re wonderful fish, and beautiful, but just not for me.
 
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