Take Care Of Your Fish
Know their characteristics, how to care for them and what they eat. Any knowledge you can pass on to your customers is important for the well being of the fish.
Once you have gone to all the work of collecting your valuable resource, treat them with care and respect. Give them a more than acceptable system to live in, top water quality (proper water parameters i.e. nitrate, pH, ammonia, etc.), care, maintenance, and start feeding them even if you are only going to be tanking the for a short period of time. Stop feeding them to let the fish clean out their digestive systems for a minimum of two or three days prior to shipping. Four days for larger fish. One of the hardest parts of keeping a fish healthy from your system to your customers is care and nutrition. Most of the fish we ship are already learning to eat tank fed foods, so half the battle for some fish that can be difficult to get to eat in captivity is already won. The longer you wait to feed collected fish, the higher the chance of them not wanted to eat becomes a problem for your customers. TAKE CARE OF THEM!
Going One Step Further
Protection and preservation of fish not only occurs in the ocean, but in how you handle and ship your fish too. You should be only shipping PERFECT, healthy fish. That means NO frayed fins, missing scales, fin burn (from ammonia damage), whatever! Fish that we collect that may have gotten minor injuries (i.e. net abrasions, fighting with other fish, etc.), medication treatments are given to help aid healing, along with proper nutrition needs. Once the fish is healed up and still healthy, we'll ship it. If the fish is showing signs of extreme stress and is not adjusting well to tank life, we release it back into the wild. Never release a non-endemic fish into waters where it does not belong.
If everyone had the attitude of "oh well, so the fish isn't in good shape and it will live for awhile, I'll just get some more later", this perpetuates a demand for more fish and the cycle of depleting our ocean resources continues. There should be no reason for a high DOA loss rate. Fish can survive with proper care and handling from start to finish, including the shipping process, and can live long after you have placed them in their new aquarium home. If a customer says "I want the fish packed really tight with as many fish as you can cram in a box", just say NO, I won't do that to the fish!
Proper and adequate packing procedures should be followed allowing the optimal survival rate for arrival. This means plenty of bag room and oxygen, and cleaning the fish out before shipping. Fouled bags from excessive poop takes its toll and can contribute to DOA's, or sick fish after they arrive. We have less than a 1/2 of 1% DOA rate, and expect no more than this.
Airline schedules for delivery of the fish to their destination should be kept, if possible, to a non-stop or one plane change route. Most fish can be delivered in 24-36 hours, with it being up to 48 hours or more for long distance destinations (i.e. International). ALWAYS pack your fish for a minimum 48 hour trip, assuming that anything is possible when dealing with the airlines. Even non-stop flights can have their glitches, so ship your fish prepared for possible delays. If it is going to belong than a 48 hour trip, pack them accordingly.
What You Can Do To Help
If you are a fish collector and do not practice a sustainable harvest method of collecting, start! For those of you that are wholesalers, retailers, or fish shop owners, be aware of where your fish are coming from and only buy from responsible, top quality fish suppliers. Don't expect any less!
For you as a consumer, demand that your local fish store gives you the finest quality fish they can find. This means inspecting the fish thoroughly for frayed fins, cloudy eyes, missing scales, burnt fins, etc., and that you see them eating before you buy them. If enough people stop buying junk fish from junk suppliers, the junk suppliers will either have to provide a better quality fish or stop selling them all together. The problem over a short period of time will become self eliminating from the junk supplier down to the junk collector if you just say NO, I won't accept anything less than a PERFECT specimen. Amazingly, if every Aquarist in the world did this the industry would be forced to clean itself up, or perish. The price of specimens might (probably would) increase slightly, but wouldn't it be worth it at twice the price? Think about it. Would you rather watch a new specimen spiral to the bottom of your tank, or swim happily in a secure environment for many years into the future?
John H. Tullock and The American Marinelife Dealers Association (AMDA) has been listing suppliers for years that they consider certified or qualified, that follow responsible fish care practices. John and AMDA have been strong advocates of the establishment of the Marine Aquarium Council for years, which has finally been formed. The goal of MAC is to ensure a sustainable future for the marine aquarium industry, organisms and habitat through market incentives that encourage and support quality and sustainable practices. Many of these practices are like the ones we have discussed in this article.
It's really too bad that more fisher persons, whether ornamental or commercial food types, have not been conscientious enough to figure out sustainable harvest methods for themselves years ago! If you keep taking too much it will eventually not give back anything, and this is something we feel applies to ALL aspects of life.