What you should ask when buying aquatic livestock


Over the years the way fish and other aquatic livestock are sold has changed significantly, and for the most part thing have got better....however, as with all things, there are still improvements needed.

I have personally seen and experienced some very questionable practice and I feel that, after reading some of the threads here, a little guidance on what you - the customer - can ask and do to improve things further.

This applies to the huge chainstores, the small family run lfs, private sellers through sites like eBay and commercial online sellers. It really makes no difference where you buy your livestock, the homework that you should do before parting with your cash is the same around the world. This is especially important to newbies who go into the shop filled with ideas and good intentions only to be let down by that person by the cash register.

Questions you should always ask before parting with your cash....

Where have the fish come from and how long ago?
The reason we should ask this is because its important that if the fish are imported, you should find out how long they travelled, how were they acclimatised, how long they were quarantined before sale, has there been any obvious health issues, ask to see copies of the import paperwork.....if they are farm bred, ask about the bloodlines, are the breeding aquariums and methods humane, ask to see paperwork that breeders should have from the government/federal authorities.

Everything in the livestock trade is licenced, if a seller is hesitant or refuses to show you their credentials, walk away. It is your right to see that the animals you want to buy have been treated correctly and that the seller is legally permitted to sell them and have the necessary checks done by animal welfare and local authorities and that their paperwork is all up to date.

What is the seller's husbandry and maintenance routine?
Ask how the fish are cared for instore. How frequently are the aquariums maintained - how often and how much water is changed, when are the aquariums tested for water quality, what sort of tests do they do (strips or liquid), before choosing a fish always ask for a water test to be done as that is an indication of how truthful they are being about their husbandry and maintenance. Bad test result, walk away.

If buying online you can still ask pertinent questions and request things like time/date stamped photo's of the fish and water test results. If an seller is hesitant or refuses to do these simple things, walk away.

What has the livestock been fed and how often?
Aquatic livestock has specific diet according to species, so ask what the fish are being fed, how much and how often. Ask to see the food that they use, is it good quality, is it the right food, are they under or over feeding.....nothing worse than buying your fish and have it bloated and sick due to a bad diet or a fish overfed to cover ill health (believe me, it is done more often than you might think)

What is the packing and shipping process?
When we buy livestock, regardless of whether it is in person or online, the livestock has to be carefully packed. Ask to see how they do this....do they double bag, what is the percentage of oxygen to water, do they use water from the aquarium or treated fresh water....if buying online, ask how many heat packs they use, ask what sort of box they use. Is the livestock fasted or fed before packing. If you are in the shop and your liestock is handed to you in dirty water, demand that it is changed, if the shop refuses, walk away.

Couriers used must by law be licenced to carry livestock, certain types of livestock can come via standard mail carriers but the bulk of it has to be carried by livestock licenced couriers....ask to see their licence. All courier companies should be more than happy to show you copies of their licence to carry livestock, if they refuse, find one that will.

DOA Policy
All livestock suppliers have their own individual DOA policies. Most will give 7 to 14 days "alive guarantee". This is especially important for online sales of livestock since travelling in a bag, inside a box on a truck is stressful, there is no getting away from that, it is stressful for the livestock so having a minimum 7 days should cover you for shock/stress losses. Any company offering under 5 days DOA policy, walk away because they are only interested in making the sale and not the welfare of the animal. All livestock suppliers should have their DOA displayed, all livestock suppliers should let you have access to their DOA policy and answer any questions that you have about that policy, if they refuse or you can't find it and they are unwilling to help you, walk away.

Reviews & Recommendations...a pinch of salt?
Sadly in the day and age of the internet social media review there are suppliers who do their own reviews to get those all important 5 stars, it happens and it is very easy to be sucked in by it. Word of mouth is far better, seeing livestock in their home away from the supplier is even better still. So always take an online review or recommendation with a pinch of salt, don't be too trusting.

By doing the above you can in your own small way help to improve the lives of our beloved aquatic livestock before they get into your aquarium or pond. By not being afraid to ask questions, request documentation and proof that the animals are cared for properly before sale, the chances of a long and healthy life once with you are improved greatly. It may seem overwhelming but as aquatic livestock keepers we have a responsibility to ensure that suppliers raise the bar on their husbandry......never be afraid to ask questions and do not be intimidated into completing that sale, if it feels off or the supplier is not willing to answer questions....WALK AWAY.


Some good tips there pagoda, nice one. Depending on the particular species, id also ask for some specific parameters such as ph and hardness to help with acclimation. Not always necessary but useful to know (if the seller knows themselves of course!)
  • Thread Starter


carsonsgjs said:
Some good tips there pagoda, nice one. Depending on the particular species, id also ask for some specific parameters such as ph and hardness to help with acclimation. Not always necessary but useful to know (if the seller knows themselves of course!)
Exactly, and by asking questions you soon discover if the supplier actually has the experience needed to not just sell livestock but to care for them correctly before point of sale.

As a newbie you are basically depending on the supplier to know what they are doing and to know which livestock can share the same aquarium when you get them home.....if the supplier cannot or is hesitant to respond or they seem unsure then ask to speak to the manager (who hopefully will know what they are doing) or just walk away.

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