By the time you get a fish home it has been through a lot of stress and possibly exposed to many pathogens. One of the main purposes of the quarantine aquarium is to hold the fish in a tank that allows for easy observation in isolation from other fish. If the fish should show signs of parasites or other infections you can medicate with no risk of infecting the fish in your main aquarium.This is also a great time for the fish to get used to processed food without having to compete with tank mates that most likely are aggressive feeders.
Setting up the quarantine (Q) tank:
The first thing you need to do is decide how big the fish are gonna be that you plan to hold in the Q tank. Adult fish do not seem to adapt very well to captive life, they seem to have a hard time recognizing processed food. I suggest you only purchase juvenile fish and most of them will do fine in a 20 gallon tank.If the tank will be in an area like the living room you may consider something larger with a nice stand. The Q tank does not have to be high tech and as a matter of fact I have found the lower tech the better.
The standard equipment will be a glass aquarium with a hood, light, submersible heater, filter and something for the fish to hide in or behind. My favorite method of filtration for the Q tank is the Marineland Emperor power filter. You can seed the bio-wheel by putting it in the filter or sump of the main tank for a week or two before you use it. It would be best if you had a couple of bio-wheels so that you will always have one with plenty of bacteria. With this method you do not have to keep the Q tank running all of the time. If you see a fish at a store that you must have you can request that they hold it for a day.Go home and fill up the Q tank with fresh made salt water. Once the water is well mixed, at least 12 hours, and the temperature is right you can install the “seeded” filter. Do not underestimate the importance of adequate hiding places. The fish must feel secure, you can do this with pieces of PVC pipe big enough for it to swim through even better is to decorate with a few pieces of live rock taken from the main tank.If you plan to get algae eating fish a rock or two with good algae growth will provide a grazing site. No substrate should be used.
Before running off to pick up the new fish run water tests on everything you can. Pay close attention to the alkalinity and make any adjustments necessary. Salinity should be 1.023-1.025 and temperature about 78º-80º. The new fish will need to stay in the Q tank for at least 20 days. The 20-day period is to ensure that the fish has no hidden problems. It will also give any parasites time to complete their life cycle.It is a good idea to have some AmQuel on hand in case you get a bit of ammonia.During the Q period it is important to have a regulated photoperiod.I suggest light timers with a 10-12 hour on period. The light cycle regulates hormonal production that helps regulates daily bodily functions.Food should be soaked in one of the many vitamin supplements available. I have had great results using Selcon or Kent Marine Zoe for the algae eaters. After the Q period food should be enriched with vitamin supplements once or twice a week.I have also had great results using Garlic Extreme from Kent Marine as a food additive.Garlic Extreme really seems to irritate parasites and boost the immune system. We use the Garlic on our food every time we feed.
If all goes well and the fish is parasite free for 20 days we can begin the process to get it into the main tank.If during the Q process your fish develops any parasites you must medicate. My preference is to use copper and my brand of choice is SeaChem Cupramine.I have had great results with it.If you do use a copper medication you must also use a copper test kit.Make sure that the test kit you get will measure copper in the recommended dosage range. Along with the copper I like to drop the salinity to 1.018. After the fish is clean I suggest another week before starting the acclamation process.
Now that we have a clean healthy fish it is time to introduce it to the future aquariums water. If the Q tank is 10 gallons or less I suggest a complete water change with water from the future tank. If you are using a larger Q tank change as much water as you can. This will introduce the fish to the natural fauna of its future home away from the stresses of a new environment and aggressive tank mates. I like to leave the fish in the Q tank at least a week after the water change. If the fish develops any parasites you must go through the medication and water change process again.
Putting the fish in the main tank should be the same as when you introduced it into the Q tank. NO float, NO mix, just a quick catch and release with the aquarium lights off. I feel that acclamation is one of those things that “we” have been doing forever and has never been questioned, until now. When I started in the pet shop business several years ago I floated fish bags for 10-15 minutes and then put the fish through a slow acclamation process. Bothered by the rate of fish losses in the first few days after a shipment I looked for a better way. Initially I tried every method suggested to me. I kept notes and found little improvement with the different methods. Finally I tried the no float no mix technique and had wonderful results. It has been several years with 4 shipments of fish a week and I still think this is best for the fish. Invertebrates like shrimp, crabs and starfish do need salinity acclamation. The only reason we can bag fish is that CO2 from respiration lowers the pH. At a low pH ammonia is non-toxic.When you open the bag you allow CO2 to escape, the pH will start to rise and this will allow the ammonia to become toxic. The longer the acclamation the longer the fish will be exposed to high ammonia.When transferring fish, temperature and salinity acclamation in my opinion is simply not needed. Water temperature and salinity on the reef will change twice daily with the tide. The temperature swing can be over 10º with the tide change. Fish are routinely exposed to temperature changes as they ascend and descend.
To catch the fish I prefer to use a cup or a bowl to corral the fish into, I feel nets are to abrasive and should be avoided. First remove all the decoration from the Q tank and put the container in the corner. With your hand, on non-venomous fish of course, corral the fish into the container and transfer it into the new tank. At this time you should have no medication in the water so you can just pour the fish and the water into the main tank. This should be done after the main aquarium fish are well fed and the lights are out. When you take the fish home from the store you should never introduce the bag water into the tank if at all possible. After all of this it is not uncommon for the fish to pick up a few parasites after being introduced into the main tank. If you manage a good system with good water quality and offer a quality vitamin enhanced diet the fish should be able to shake it. If your fish should develop parasites in the main tank I suggest feeding one of the special medicated foods for parasitic infections. I have had good results with the Tetra brand.