I would like to start a new series of articles that will highlight all of the bad fish stores, online aquarium retailers, and saltwater products that really give this wonderful hobby a bad name. Whether a local fish store is in poor condition or an aquarium product is extremely misleading, we’ll do our best to point them out as we come across them.
Most pet stores don’t do a single thing perfectly, or even moderately well, as they try to spread their reach across just about everything from cats and dogs, to fish and reptiles. These stores are usually found in small towns that don’t have a large population of aquarium enthusiasts, but they try to appeal to these potential customers to have more avenues for revenue. Aquarium hobbyists visit these stores because they don’t know any better, don’t realize there are other choices out there (requiring a little longer driver perhaps), or simply visit the store out of curiousity. For many, the mere fact that the store has saltwater livestock draws people in like a fly to a bug zapper. Much like the bug zapper though, visiting the store my leave you burned.
The saltwater aquariums at these hole in the wall pet stores are usually beyond dirty. The glass is usually covered with diatoms and algae, the tanks are full of fish that have seen their better days, and a majority of the corals are dead, dying, or covered in Aiptasia. Even the display tanks, if present, are typically full of algae and dying corals.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop at the poor quality livestock and aquarium conditions. The staff is usually as inept. Employees don’t know how to care for livestock and don’t even know the workings of the most common of aquarium filtration. A reader recently told me a story where their reverse osmosis unit basically bit the dust and they were in desperate need of water to make up a new batch of saltwater. The person made his way to the fish store and began asking the employees about their RO unit. They asked how old the TFC membrane and pre-filters were, how much water they went through, and what the TDS of the output water was. The girl working the fish room literally asked if he was speaking English. The aquarium hobbyist was shocked to say the least, so he grabbed his buckets and left.
On a more recent visit to a different store, another reader overheard the manager of the fish section telling a customer how difficult it was to keep Montipora digiata, and that he hasn’t been able to keep them alive in his year-and-a-half old aquarium at home. I don’t personally mind a fish store employee over exaggerating how difficult it is to care for SPS and other types of corals, but I believe he truly had issues with these corals. Most Montipora are very easy to care for, and if the manager of the fish department couldn’t care for them in his home aquarium, he probably has no business managing a fish store.
All of this being said, these stores do have some positive experiences. On trips I’ve made to terrible fish stores, I overheard some of the fish room employees grilling customers on livestock care and aquarium equipment. This person obviously knew what the livestock needed to thrive and wanted to make sure customers had the appropriate setup to care for them. I also want to point out that I do realize fish store tanks are much harder to maintain than home aquariums. They are constantly changing as livestock comes into the store in large amounts, and maintenance isn’t always performed when needed.
Hopefully we’ll have more articles like this to contribute. I’m also hoping they help hobbyists spot problems at fish stores that were previously overlooked. If you have horror stories from your local haunts that you would like to contribute, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story.