Mr. Saltwater Tank

Write-Up Wednesday: How I Get New Arrivals To Eat

One of the most exciting parts about owning a saltwater aquarium is acquiring new fish for your system. There are few things more boring than a saltwater tank with no fish in it!

Whether you get your fish at a local fish store, or from a reputable online retailer, the first goal for new arrival is to get it to eat. When the fish eats, it keeps its strength up which helps it fight off diseases as well as helps them transition to their new home.

If I’m quarantining fish for clients or for myself, my process for getting the fish to eat doesn’t change. Here’s what I do:

Step #1: Ask what the vendor feeds. If you can find out what the fish is already used to eating, that is a great step ahead. The fish should recognize the food and start eating within the first 24 hours of arrival.

Step #2: Every fish goes into a quarantine tank. I DO NOT skip this step. In addition to keeping fish diseases out of your display tank, I’m a big fan of quarantining fish to get them to eat. In a quarantine tank there is no competition for food and you can work with the fish one on one. Contrast this approach with immediately placing a new arrival into a display tank where the existing fish already have territories, a pecking order established and they are used to your foods. The new arrival has to figure out who might be a friend, who might be a foe, what part of the tank is someone else’s territory, where in the pecking order it resides and then decide if it wants to eat your food. The quarantine tank removes all of these variables and lets you focus on just the food.

Step #3: Live First. Whenever I can, I acquire live brine shrimp to feed new arrivals. While brine shrimp are not nutritionally dense, live brine jerk back and forth in the water column and entice even the pickiest of eaters. If I can’t get live brine, then I’ll start with frozen brine. As soon as the fish is eating brine or if it hasn’t eaten anything in 2 days, I go to step #4

Step #4: Bring in Larry and his sidekick. Larry’s Reef Services makes a fantastic frozen food called “ LRS Fish Frenzy”. It is comprised of fresh seafood and fish love it. Fish Frenzy also contains PE Mysis shrimp and I’ll mix in additional PE Mysis as I’ve found some picky eaters are more drawn to the shrimp shape vs. a clump of fresh seafood. For small mouthed fish I’ll chop up the Fish Frenzy and PE Mysis to make sure the food will fit in the fish’s mouth.

Step #5: Mix it up. Once the fish is eating Fish Frenzy and/or PE Mysis consistently, I’ll see if the fish is interested in pellets or flaked foods. I like variety in my fish diets and while I don’t feed a lot of flaked foods and even less pellets, I still like the animal to be used to eating a variety of foods. Getting the fish to eat pellet/flakes makes feeding the fish while you are away a lot easier as you can setup an automatic fish feeder and know that the fish will eat the food. If I’m gone for more than 3 days, I’ll call in my fish sitter to feed frozen as I like the variety and not all my fish eat pelleted or flaked foods.

I’ll also introduce nori to herbivores like tangs. While the fish is in quarantine there is no competition for the nori in the clip and I can help ensure the fish has a good experience while eating. I’ve seen plenty of tangs avoid feeding clips or even nori secured to a rock because they were repeatedly chased way by more aggressive eaters.

Step #6: Observe, observe, observe Once the fish is eating a variety of foods, I make sure the fish continues to eat. If at anytime the fish drops off food, i’ll check for diseases, treat as necessary and re-introduce live brine if I have to. Usually I don’t have to go back to live brine as once the fish will eat LRS Fish Frenzy, it will accept the food again.

During the course of my mandatory 30-day fish quarantine, I’ve gotten the fish eat to a variety of foods, gotten it’s weight back up if it came in thin and I’ve cleared the fish of any diseases. The fish can then transition to my display tank and have plenty of body fat to draw on while it settles into the routine of the display tank.

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Comments for this article (7)

  • Shawn says:

    Hey Mark,

    I’ll be purchasing my first tang this week; a Yellow Tang. I always quarantine my fish for 30 days with preventative medication. What type of medication would you give to a Yellow Tang? I imagine a mix of Cupramine?

  • Shawn…cupramine only. Start at 1/4 recommended dose and increase daily until you reach full strength

  • Kathaleen says:

    After I float the fish befor I release the I will put a shrimp pellet or food in the bag ,watch to see if they eat it,they always do then I let them in the tank.

  • Simon Ksiazek says:

    What a great article. I really enjoyed the step by step process you laid out. Well though out and easy to follow. Need more of these write-ups!

  • bruce d waterat says:

    I keep a container of brine shrimp eggs in the freezer where they will stay viable for months, that way, if I ever need brine shrimp, just set them out for about an hour ( this gets them up to room temperature so moisture does not condense on the eggs when you open the container and spoil what you don’t use) and pop some in a hatchery setup…fresh brine shrimp in 18-24 hours. It is also my understanding that the shrimp have more nutritional value when they fist hatch (they still have a yoke sack attached )

  • Bill says:

    Considering the life cycle of ICH shouldn’t the quarantine period be more like 6-7 weeks?

  • Beth Ebel says:

    Hi Mr. Salt water tank.
    20 years ago I had a fish only salt water tank while taking care of injured children in Baltimore. After many years of training and moving, I am now in Seattle and this is my first chance to set up a salt water tank. Hooray!

    I love your website!
    Have a 75 gallon reef tank bur would really appreciate your help with:
    * what controller could I install to make sure my fish/corals are fine when a windstorm takes out the power in the northwest (trees fall down in windstorms and power is out for 12-12 hours)..
    * Any advice on setting up my tank. So far I have several corals (duncan, euphyllia, SPS) and two pink clowns (not hanging out together :(), a yellow wrasse and three pajama cardinals. Everyone is well-mannered.
    * Invertebrates: Duncan coral, two euphyllia, small pink bubble tip anemone (so far the raised clown fish have ignored it); several small zoa frags; several favias. turban snails.

    I’d be very happy to invite you to film here. Just let me know what works.

    Good to highlight ladies!


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