It Pays to Put Marine Fish on Hold

Livestock sales tanks at Coral Reef

Livestock sales tanks at Coral Reef

Marine aquarists are always hearing that it’s unwise to purchase fish or other marine livestock on impulse—that they should thoroughly research any stocking decision to make sure the animal in question is appropriate for their system, compatible with their existing livestock, and a good match for their level of expertise. All good advice to take to heart!

Now, allow me to add one more wrinkle to the fish-buying equation: In addition to doing your homework in advance of a purchase, it’s also a good idea to wait a couple days to take home a specimen that has just arrived at your LFS. I know, you’re first impulse when you see that fish you’ve been looking for is to snap it up as quickly as possible before someone else does, but practicing a little more patience and asking the dealer to hold the specimen for just a few days might pay big dividends.

Why wait?

But if you already know the fish you’ve got your eye on is a good choice for your system, what’s the point in waiting any longer to take it home? Here are a few good reasons to consider:

  • Fish that die of “mysterious” causes often do so within just a few days of arriving at the LFS. If a specimen is destined for a premature demise, isn’t it better for it to happen in a dealer’s tank rather than your own—especially if the dealer doesn’t guarantee marine livestock?
  • Though more and more marine species are being bred in captivity, most marine livestock is still wild-caught, and the cumulative stresses of collection and prolonged shipping can really take a toll on fish. A few days spent in the dealer’s tank will give the newly arrived specimen a little time to rest and recuperate before making yet another stressful transition to your aquarium.
  • A holding period will give the new specimen more time to begin eating standard aquarium foods, which should make the eventual transition into your care even smoother. (Nonetheless, it’s still important to verify that the fish is eating before committing to the purchase.)

Lay your money down

Of course, not all dealers will agree to hold fish, and those that are willing to do so can’t be expected to forego other potential sales without some proof that you’re serious about the purchase. Be willing to put down a reasonable deposit to hold the specimen.

The dealer benefits too!

At this point, you might be wondering why a dealer would agree to tie up valuable tank space in such a manner. Well, good dealers understand that customers who succeed in keeping their fish alive are inclined to keep coming back for other livestock and products. In other words, satisfied customers become loyal customers.

Also, just because a specimen is sold doesn’t mean other customers perusing the dealer’s livestock can’t see it and decide they’d like one too. Presumably another specimen will be arriving in the future or can be special ordered if necessary.


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Paul Baldassano says

    That is good advice for 99% of all fish with the exception of one. Pipefish. I love pipefish and always have some in my reef but they need to be fed every day and the dealer is not going to hatch brine shrimp for these fish and they don’t eat chicken wings. They are starved when they arrive at the LFS and need to be fed immediately. I ask the LFS when a shipment of pipefish will arrive and buy them right from the shippers box. When I get them home, I feed them right in the bag and they always eat. If they are in the dealer’s tank for even a day, I never have luck with them. Pipefish never look skinny because their “skin” is not skin but hard plates so even undernourished pipefish look rounded. As much as a pipefish could look rounded anyway sort of like Kate Moss.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Great insights as always, Paul–though I don’t know if I want to live in a world where pipefish don’t eat chicken wings!

  2. I have looked after seahorses for many years, and am told pipefish are similar to care for. Are pipefish very fragile?

    • Hi Nick! Pipefish can definitely be challenging, the biggest issue being their demand for a steady supply of live food, as Paul B touches upon above. Whereas certain popular seahorse species are now routinely captive-bred, and therefore more apt to make the transition to frozen foods, pipefishes are still mostly (entirely? Can anyone confirm?) wild-caught and thus more sensitive and less inclined to adapt to non-living fare.

      That said, given your success with seahorses, I’d say you have a decent shot at success with pipefish provided you research the available species and choose a healthy specimen.

      I don’t know whether you’re a Tropical Fish Hobbyist subscriber or not, but the upcoming October issue contains an article on seahorses and pipefishes penned by Bob Fenner that discusses suitable species, how to choose a good specimen, etc. It might be worth it to pick up a copy.

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