Salty Q&A: Highly Rated LFS Falls Short

Highly Rated LFS Falls ShortCaribbean Chris and I get lots of excellent, thought-provoking questions from Saltwater Smarts visitors that we believe might be of general interest to other salties out there. So we thought it would be worthwhile to begin posting some of them here in Q&A format. Of course, you’re always welcome to join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comment section below or sending us your question.


I was visiting an LFS in another part of the country while on a business trip. The store is highly rated on various social media sites, and I was impressed by the diversity and apparent health of the livestock in the first 10 or so display tanks that I viewed. Then, in the course of viewing the next 10 tanks, I saw three tanks that had at least one livestock specimen dead or clearly diseased in the tank (with other, apparently healthy livestock still in the tank). As a newbie, should this be a huge red flag for me that a store like this is not a great source of healthy fish?” – submitted by Robert Bruce


Thanks so much for your question, Robert. I think the situation you observed may be a red flag, which is why I list “healthy livestock” among my “Eight Traits of a Good LFS.” As I see it, the apparent health/physical condition of specimens offered for sale says a lot about a dealer’s level of concern not only for the well-being of the livestock, but also for customers’ future success.

The biggest concern is, of course, whether the specimens died or are dying from an infectious disease rather than due to improper acclimation or some other non-contagious cause. If that’s the case and the store’s tanks are all on a centralized filtration system, you have to assume all the specimens being offered—including those seemingly in good health—have been exposed and may succumb later on (i.e., while in your care).

I always find it baffling that some dealers leave deceased specimens in their sales tanks when doing so sends such a powerfully bad message—sort of like a deli leaving spoiled luncheon meat that’s turned off color in their display case. After all, it’s neither difficult nor particularly time consuming to give the sales tanks a visual “once over” a few times throughout the day and net out any dead specimens that might be discovered.

Now, that being said, I think it’s also important to understand that your experience with that particular LFS could have been a “one-off.” Even the best LFS has bad days or occasionally employs staffers who are less conscientious than others when it comes to livestock care protocols and/or simply maintaining good front-of-house presentation. Also, you have to keep in mind that when stores get really busy, the staff can get so preoccupied helping customers that other chores get neglected. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality.

So I like to think in terms of broader trends when choosing where to shop. Admittedly, this would have been difficult to assess in the travel situation you describe, but if an LFS generally offers healthy livestock, dispenses good advice, and tries to employ conscientious staffers, the odd misstep won’t necessarily dissuade me from spending there. On the other hand, if general indifference seems to be the store’s modus operandi, then I’m apt to “vote with my feet” and shop elsewhere.


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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. Jeff,

    Another great write-up about a subject dear to me, finding healthy marine fish. While most LFSs do their best at offering healthy fish, some seem to care less. Hobbyists, like Mr. Bruce, must become diligent fish inspectors when out to purchase a new fish. It’s imperative they learn the “markers” of stress and diseases. Once they are familiar with those markers they will be better at identifying fish worthy of purchase.

    This automaticly leads us into a discussion of the absolute need for quarantine tanks. To quote you, Jeff, “introducing livestock to a display tank without quarantining it first is a surefire recipe for failure.”

    This means all livestock regardless of the “reputation” of the LFS where purchased. All LFSs get shipments of livestock and all receive fish, corals, etc, in a state of stress. They are all stressed! It’s the LFS’s acclimation procedure, “tank system”, “feeding” habits, and dedication to their livestock that will make the difference in how many survive. Then it’s up to you the end “buyer” to take up the cause of keeping it alive. REMEMBER – It’s still in a state of stress when you buy it and that state of stress will increase as it is bagged, taken home, and acclimated.

    Fish, especially, need a minimum of thirty days of comfortable low or no stress surroundings to become stress free. They need to “learn” what we offer as food is all they are going to find. Think about this, flake or pellet foods, live or frozen brine shrimp, Mysids, Krill and other offerings we may give them, are not found on the reef. They need to “learn” to eat all over again and this sometimes doesn’t go well. They need time to adjust their taste buds. Best done in QT. You want them eating heartily when introduced to your DT.

    Jeff and i are huge proponents of QT for a reason, it’s the only way to guarantee the health of your fish. This doesn’t mean the fish in your DT will never come down with a disease. BUT, it sure cuts down on the likelihood of an outbreak. With the right equipment in QT and DTs, disease is almost nonexistent.

    I wrote an article here in Saltwater Smarts about my take on buying healthy fish and keeping them healthy. Here’s the link –

    Then, if your interested, here is an article on my web site about “Spa Quarantining” instead of “Hospital QT” –

    Maintaining a healthy reef aquarium can be challenging but it not impossible. Evidence of that is spread wide through the multitude of posts on the Internet. It’s been said, if you want to be successful, follow the successful, do what they do.

    Happy Reefing,


  2. Ben Mitchell says

    The picture looks like Elite Reef in Denver at a very early stage, hopefully that’s not the LFS in question. All of the fish and coral I have bought there are still alive and doing very well. It’s one of the cleanest, well kept LFS I’ve ever been in. That being sad, I usually go to Keys Island first:)

    • Hi Ben! The photo is just supposed to represent a generic LFS. Robert didn’t reveal the name or location of the store in question.

  3. Being on the business end of the hobby I have talked to customers so many times about dead fish in store aquariums in fact its just a part of the business, and all stores and wholesales deal with it. That being said a store should have a daily routine and there are times when fish are just missed because of where it is in the tank and the water current moves it from behind the rock or what ever for a customer to find. Also a store is many times stuck with what they get shipped to them and I always did everything in my power to save the fish even if it took several weeks and it died anyway and usually in the middle of the day when I was the most busiest.
    Jeff you are spot on a customer should always know the store and staff and if you see something that you think is just not right then ask questions like there maintenance,feeding,where they get there fish,is there a quarantine,time. ect and A really good knowledgeable store shouldn’t have a problem with you asking.

    • Thanks Dave! This is a valuable perspective, and I can completely relate. Back in my retail nursery days, we would sometimes get so busy in the spring that the sales floor would look like a war zone. But we had to focus on immediate customer service first.

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