The Dilemma of Rescuing Fish

“rescue” can mean different things to different people, and is not always so black-and-white.

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Long time no see!

A trend in the fish keeping community has caught my attention, one that has a few potential problems in it that I think should be discussed. Let’s start at the beginning. Everyone in the aquarium hobby I think has experienced at one time or another, a store that sells large quantities of fish and doesn’t do a very good job of keeping them, ensuring they are healthy and well cared for, etc. Keeping in line with my own aquarium keeping interests, I will talk specifically here of the betta fish.

Most often in pet stores betta are kept in very small containers, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sometimes their water quality is left to become very poor in those containers, or they are not fed as they should be, or they are caused unnecessary stress, etc. The bottom line is this: some places, but certainly not all, take very poor care of what the pet industry has long looked at as a cheap, expendable pets. Betta, because the males must be kept separate and they live somewhat longer than other types of fish in poor water quality with the aid of a labyrinth organ, often get the very shortest end of the stick. In short, the lower quality fish that are cheap to produce and sell are not worth the trouble to care for at some stores.

This has, understandably, led to fish lovers and betta lovers everywhere embarking on rescue missions to save the fish from their dismal life on a shelf. This is no doubt admirable. The first step in creating change is to become aware of a problem in the industry, and behavior like this signals that people are becoming increasingly aware of bad pet store practices. However, as I mentioned, this is where some grey areas begin.

I think it’s safe to say that the main goal of said rescuers is to save the lives of individual fish. Thinking bigger picture, I hope the goal is also to save all the fish from being subjected to such lazy care and fish keeping practices.

The problem is this, a large percent of people looking to rescue bettas, purchase the sick or unhealthy fish from the stores in order to better care for them.

This is immediately gratifying, in that the fish left without care can be taken home at once and their conditions can be improved. However, on the flipside, it must be mentioned that the act of purchasing a sick fish, has also given money directly to the store that is using bad practices.

Of course, some rescuers have some harsh words for a store, or post somewhere about how they rescued, but I hope I’m not being too skeptical in thinking that the words of paying individual customers are not going to stop a store from keeping fish the way they do, after all it worked—they sold the fish without taking care of it and made a profit. And while spreading the word of how fish are kept in bad conditions is helpful, it also encourages more people to do the same, to go out and buy more fish from pet stores using bad practices, subsequently bringing more and more money into the stores, because they do use bad practices. In the world of business where numbers are sometimes more important than individual voices, this can potentially only make the problem of pet stores incorrectly keeping fish even worse.

So what’s the answer? I suppose it depends on the person. In one school of thought, (school, ha fish pun, maybe…) it’s ok to buy sick and unhealthy fish, because letting fish die while we wait for the industry to change is cruel to the fish in the stores now. In another, the best thing to do is stop buying unhealthy fish altogether and force businesses to keep them healthy, or not make any sales at all. Though I think this gets complicated when thinking of the general public being educated enough on fish to even know accurately the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy fish. I have seen before someone mistake a healthy crowntail for a betta with ripped fins for example.

It seems that a good option would be to approach stores that have unhealthy fish and try and get them to surrender the fish. This means trying to convince them that the fish they’re keeping are unhealthy for one (you should have researched facts) will probably not sell in that condition two (which is tricky, some places know real fish people won’t buy sick fish, some know people buy sick fish all the time and don’t care) and that the fish will soon die if it is kept in its environment three, resulting in a total loss of profit anyway (this is pretty simple if the facts are clear). With a little bit of luck, and trust in the goodness of our fellow man or woman, stores with unhealthy fish will hopefully surrender dying fish to those willing to take them.

The effort of anyone with a heart to rescue should be appreciated of course, but the term “rescue” shouldn’t really be thrown around in all cases. It will take a lot to permanently change the way the stores look at fish. Hopefully it can be done. Having fish easily available to the public is a great way to foster interest in the hobby that deserves growth and expansion in America. Getting stores to also encourage only proper fish keeping practices and sell only suitable tanks and equipment, while providing correct information, well, that’s a whole ‘nother article.

Of course, anyone interested in the moral questions of buying/rescuing fish and other ways they can help create change for all fish for the better, should do as much research as they can. They should reach out to those that have a greater impact on the fish keeping community, and any who just love animals or want to help. Extreme practices are hardly ever the right choice, but there are meaningful ways that change can be created in a positive way from individuals working together to give a voice to an animal without one that is often forgotten.

Betta, and all fish, can make wonderful, loving pets in the right homes. They deserve a chance to get there safely. The questions and issues with buying and rescuing betta fish are never black and white, and people all have their own opinions. I simply wish to raise some questions, offer different views, and get people thinking a little more about what impact their well-intended actions may be having.

One thing is for sure, with a community full of so many good-hearted, determined pet lovers, the future of the aquarium hobby, and the fish involved, will be even better with time.

 

Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)

The big topic: Tank size and why it matters. Part 1- the 1 gallon tank

To be honest, this is the topic I’ve been most worried about writing on, for a very simple reason. In my experience this is one of the single most debated and heated topics on the internet, in terms of betta fish care and keeping. When I was first starting out in the hobby and trying to do some research, I came across opinion pieces that made me feel personally attacked for wondering what my options were.

After a couple years experience, with putting into practice different betta keeping methods for myself, I have finally drawn a loose conclusion for my opinion on tank sizes.

It depends on how well you’re going to take care of said tank.

I do not say this lightly. I know its easy to start off excited about a new pet and ready to give it the best care, and then slowly grow tired of a pet that can’t communicate its feelings very well to you and get more and more lazy with upkeep. Some say that betta fish only live a max of 2-3 years in captivity. Some say with proper care they should live 8-10 years. Seeing as my betta now was quite large and mature when I got him, potentially somewhere around 2 years of age and I’ve had him for almost 3 years, which would make him a total of 5 and he’s not slowing down very much, I lean more toward the mind that they can live a decade or more.

There was a time when I got very busy with other things and I learned firsthand that I had to stay diligent in my betta’s care if I wanted a healthy, happy fish. In this series of posts I will give a brief overview of how I have come to understand tank sizes.

To start I must begin with how I started in the hobby, and that is with a 1 gallon.

The first tank I bought meant purely for keeping betta was a 1 gallon, or it was supposed to be. It said it was a 1 gallon on the box, but ended up holding more like 75% of a gallon (always measure a tank’s compacity for yourself after purchase). A large portion of the fish keeping community seems to settle on this size as the minimum size for betta. I reserve judgement on this as I have heard many stories of people keeping bettas successfully in 1 gallons for years. These could have been hardier tail types, perhaps veil tails that were kept with frequent water changes, I don’t know. All I know it that with my double tail half-moon male betta it was a fine size- for a period of time. After about a year it became apparent that I would need a larger tank.

Anything smaller than a gallon I have to say, I believe to affect the quality of life quite negatively. Simply put, a tank is a fish’s entire world. If they can barely turn around in it, think of standing in a single room your whole life almost touching the walls. It would be very sad. Also to keep water quality in a tiny tank is far, far more trouble than a larger tank.

Why? Fish excrete ammonia in their waste. Now, betta have a very low bio load, they had a small stomach and don’t produce as much poop as say a goldfish, which doesn’t really have a stomach so they are constantly pooping and excreting a lot of ammonia for a large bio load as they graze throughout the day.

Water quality is the key to healthy fish, period. Ask any experienced hobbyist. Fish are pooping in the same water they’re breathing in. It has to be kept clean somehow or they will be very sick.

Under the right circumstance with the right resources, time and effort do I believe a 1 gallon is alright for keeping a single betta (not a giant, a regular size betta), short answer: yes. In Thailand where betta originate and in some mass producing breeders they are kept this way and seem to do fine. However, they are not typically focused on keeping the fish that way their whole lives, they want to sell them.

So, do I also think that there are better ways to keep betta, absolutely. I would say a 1 gallon is a bare minimum IF you are devoting a lot of time to their care consistently for the next decade or so.

My experience with keeping a betta in a 1 gallon went something like this. I got my first betta when I got serious into fish keeping and did research. Simply put, I was in a college dorm and had to have a tank I could physically pick up and move to dump and clean the water back and forth from the communal bathroom. Being fairly weak, I felt I had to choose a plastic 1 gallon.

Some people on the internet said 1 gallon was better than a lot of betta bowl choices out there. Some people, condemned 1 gallons. I saw a lot of negativity saying “go shoot yourself”, “animal cruelty” etc. They said to keep a single betta in a 1 gallon you would have to do a 100% water change EVERY DAY or they would suffer and die breathing their own ammonia. So I did.

My betta died within 7 days.

Here is what I now know happened. My betta came from very bad conditions, in a dirty small cup and one strong possibility is that so much change and new water sent him into stress and shock that killed him.

The other possibility is that not being able to match water temperature well enough and pH and all the other parameters caused him to stress and go into shock that killed him.

Long story short, in my experiences don’t do 100% water changes every day. Some people say don’t ever do 100% changes. In larger tanks I agree. What I ended up doing with my second betta, that I now have had for three years, is a 100% water change once a week while he was in the 1 gallon. (He’s been upgraded from that tank now). As I said that worked alright for me for about a year.

In summary, if you are going to chance a 1 gallon, this strict plan was how I got it to work and my fish not just die.

  • A 100% water change EVERY week
  • during said water changes match the temperature, pH and other parameters as closely as possible before putting the fish back in and let him acclimate slowly each time. I let the water sit over night before putting it in to minimize the wait time as much as possible.
  • Put live plants in if you can keep them alive. I used marimo moss (it was the only plant I found that would live in such conditions) Healthy plants eat some of the ammonia. Dying plants produce more bad things in the water, so be very careful!
  • If you try and use a heater rather than warm ambient room temperature, keep a thermometer in at all times. Only cheap, crappy heaters are made for small tanks. While I’ve heard that some work, it is very easy to overheat and cook your fishy in small amounts of water. Watch it CONSTANTLY for over 24 hours before deciding its alright. Always keep an eye on it.
  • Always dechlorinate water – but that’s the case in all tanks
  • if you use a filter, find one that won’t be too strong a current in such a small space, not all bettas are strong swimmers with the way breeders modify them to have long fins. It won’t be easy. Filters are rarely made for bettas. You may have to modify any filter you do get. Often times even with guards, long, delicate betta fins will get sucked inside the intake.
  • Don’t overfeed. I fed three pellets in the morning and two at night. They have a stomach about the size of their eyes. They can go up to two weeks without food, so skipping one day or feeding small amounts won’t make them starve. Excess food will rot and ruin your water quality.
  • Deep clean your tank at least once a month, meaning take a paper towel or something and rub off the sides and bottom where any gunk builds up. Never use any kind of soap.

 

If you want the truth, I kept my betta in an advertised 1 gallon, with no heater and no filter for a year, keeping up with cleaning and low feeding. I tried a heater once and it got too hot and almost killed him. I skipped a deep clean for two months and he got very sick and almost died. He did survive fairly healthy for most of that year but I did end up moving him to a 2.5 gallon where he did much much better. Then I moved him even bigger and so on. More specifics on that later.

I will talk later on about the other tank sizes in my experiences, diseases, heaters and filters and so on. Until then, do your research.

The bigger the tank the better. A proper filter and heater if you know what you’re doing, is for the better as well. If circumstance forces you into a smaller tank size, the absolute lowest I would go is a 1 gallon (remember tanks are often smaller than advertised- I haven’t gotten one that held what it said it did yet). Keep up with water changes and feed low.

As you will see some bigger tanks can be much easier to care for. No seriously, I’m not just saying that.

No matter what a person chooses to do in regards to keeping their fish, don’t spread hate and violence. Always encourage people to do better and provide knowledge and experience when you can. If you feel something is truly cruel, think first if you are a qualified source with facts to back up your opinion and go about making change in a careful and positive way with help from an authority figure if you aren’t one. Never tell someone they are a bad person or should kill themselves, etc. if they simple hold a different opinion than you or act out of ignorance. Nothing is worth hate to your fellow man, and fellow fish lover.

I’ll say it a hundred times- this is not a cheap hobby no matter the set up. If you stay in it, eventually costs will build up. BUT I think it’s totally worth it. This is a small hobby in America that needs to be spread and encouraged, not made judgmental and hard to approach. Proper aquarium keeping needs to have more awareness.

Although I don’t condemn 1 gallons, and think they can potentially be suitable, I don’t think they are for everyone, and not for the novice or un-serious fish keeper. Trust me there are way better, easier set ups that will have better results and aren’t too much more expensive.

Personally I no longer use 1 gallons. While I admit that they have their place in the hobby and can be alright for quarantine tanks or small amounts of time, I do not use them if I can help it anymore. In most cases I don’t think a fish can live their full life or reach their full potential in a 1 gallon, and problems and disease are much more likely.

For any other aspects you’d like me to cover, let me know! Until then I’m going to keep on this series of breaking down the intricacies of tank size for bettas and why it matters.

Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)