So it seems like nowadays everyone and their brother is selling "quarantined" fish. Which begs the question: How can I tell the real deal from vendors who are just using "quarantined fish" as a catchphrase?? Right off the bat AVOID a "half-baked" vendor who tells you any of the following:
- I just observe the fish for diseases. This only works for hobbyists who have plenty of time on their hands to watch a few fish in QT. Prophylactic treatment is a necessary evil for any online business or LFS that quarantines large batches of fish all at one time. There's no practical way of observing dozens of fish for multiple diseases.
- Fish are constantly coming and going from QT. Fish need to be quarantined in batches to avoid cross-contamination. One group of fish goes into QT, treatments are applied, and then the group is moved into non-medicated observation before being put up for sale. Or sometimes certain fish need more extensive treatment (e.g. antibiotics) in a secondary QT system. Point is no new fish should be added whilst the group is undergoing medications/treatments. New fish only enter QT after the former group of fish get moved out; NO OVERLAPPING FISH IN QT!
- No observation period, or I sell fish right out of my QT tanks. No QT protocol/treatments are foolproof. Mistakes can and do happen. This is why an observation period in non-medicated water (for at least 2 weeks) is necessary post QT. To ensure treatments were successful and nothing slipped through the cracks. Extra points if the vendor uses black mollies in observation to aid with disease detection: Black Molly Quarantine
- QT and observation systems are in close proximity. These really need to be in different rooms to avoid cross-contamination. With dedicated equipment, nets, food, etc. for each system. Also, if you see corals/inverts in the observation or retail system (or within 10 feet) the fish are being sold out of be alarmed: Coral/Invert Quarantine Time Frames. UNLESS the vendor has previously quarantined these corals/inverts specifically to provide a more natural environment for the fish to be in.
- The use of disease management tools in observation. The whole point of observation is to ensure that the fish are, in fact, disease-free. Running a UV sterilizer (for example) will suppress symptoms of disease from showing up. That's not what you want! Similarly, no QT vendor should be shipping fish in copper or any other medication EXCEPT Methylene Blue which can aid in transporting a fish.
- My fish are 100% disease-free. OK this is being nit-picky, because even I say it (see above). However, technically speaking there is no way to render a fish completely disease-free. For example, there are no cures for viruses (such as Lymphocystis) in fish. The best you can do is help boost a fish's natural immune system (via vitamins) to help send the virus back into remission. Practically speaking, a parasite-free, worm-free fish with no lingering bacterial infections is the most realistic expectation.
- They should be willing to post or explain their QT protocol to you in detail. Which medications are used, how long the fish are treated for, how long the fish are observed post QT, etc. etc. When buying quarantined fish, knowing all the details of how they were quarantined is very important!
- The medications we typically use are very specific. Copper for Ich/Velvet; Metronidazole or Formalin for Brook/Uronema; Praziquantel or Fenbendazole for deworming. And here is a list of antibiotics commonly used to treat bacterial infections: Antibiotics. ASK what medications the vendor uses and see if they line up with the aforementioned.
- Speaking of medications, their therapeutic ranges & durations are also very specific: Medication Dosing Guide. These are the numbers you're wanting to hear:
- Copper - 0.20 ppm if using Copper Sulfate / 0.5 ppm if using Cupramine / 2.5 ppm if using Copper Power or Coppersafe (4 week treatment, but 2 weeks is acceptable if the fish is transferred out of QT)
- Metronidazole - 25 mg/gal every 48 hours at least 2-3 times.
- Formalin - 150-200 ppm bath for 45-60 minutes.
- Praziquantel - 2.5 mg/L (9.5 mg/gal) twice, 6 days apart.
- Fenbendazole - 12 hour bath treatment at 25 mg/L (95 mg/gallon) twice, 6 days apart.
- Praziquantel (or Fenbendazole) + Metronidazole is usually soaked in food when internal worms/parasites are suspected.
- Ask to see their QT system and observation/retail room. Or ask to see videos of these setups if dealing with an online vendor. Ask to see pictures or videos of the fish they are quarantining for you. A real deal quarantine fish vendor has nothing to hide and will be proud to show off their work!
- The lead time to quarantine a fish (including post observation) is typically between 4-6 weeks. Of course this may vary based on the vendor, but be careful if you're told your fish will be ready in just 2-3 weeks. Unless the fish was already at the facility before you requested it, a 2-3 week QT likely means either the vendor is cutting corners on treatment or is utilizing an abbreviated observation period. The fish may still be good to go, however I recommend observing the fish yourself before placing it in your DT. (Preferably alongside black mollies.) Better safe than sorry. Also, don't be alarmed if the vendor takes longer than expected to quarantine your fish. Sometimes things go wrong in QT, and more time is needed to treat and/or observe the fish. Again, better safe than sorry from the vendor's perspective.
- It takes a certain personality type to successfully quarantine fish on a commercial level. You know the type: Attention to detail, well organized, someone who has their act together. People that are lackadaisical or lack organizational skills are more prone to make mistakes, and that usually leads to disaster when quarantining fish.
- It is preferable for your quarantined fish to arrive to you in reef salinity; that being 35ppt or 1.026 SG. This way all you need to do is float & release (for temperature acclimation) without having to do any sort of drip acclimation: How To Acclimate. If you happen to keep your SG below 1.026, no problem as fish can very easily go down in salinity without having to drip acclimate. It's going up in salinity most fish have a problem with and require drip acclimation for.
- Price point: Quarantining fish is a very labor-intensive and expensive process. I've never worked so hard in my life back when I was doing it, by trying to maintain hundreds of fish in dozens of tank, shipping out, etc. So expect to pay a premium for quarantined fish: 50-100% above regular retail price is the minimum you can probably expect to pay. This may seem like a lot, but nobody is going to want to keep doing this unless they are making money. Be wary of buying "cheap" quarantined fish from a half-baked vendor, because I guarantee you will get exactly what you paid for.
But what if we could head it off now? And what if real deal quarantine fish vendors could help make a positive impact in our hobby? Instead of reading about fish constantly dying, those watching us start seeing that we are making efforts within the industry & hobby to improve our aquarium husbandry. Saltwater aquarium fish start living 5, 10, 15 years in captivity inside healthy aquariums! So please support real deal quarantine fish vendors and also put pressure on WHOLESALERS to sell to them. Back when I was doing it, I had a very difficult time convincing most wholesalers to sell to me because I didn't have a brick-and-mortar commercial location. Like many small businesses I had to start out inside my home in order to reduce overhead, and I never got the opportunity to "take it to the next level". There are many other QT vendors struggling with the same limitations right now, trying to make a difference, but they aren't getting the support they need from the aquarium industry!
Here is a list of real deal quarantine fish vendors I support and endorse through my forum: