Spare the Net for These 5 Fish Types

Large bruisers, such as Miniatus grouper (Cephalopholis miniatus), are best wrangled without the use of a net

Large bruisers, such as Miniatus grouper (Cephalopholis miniatus), are best wrangled without the use of a net

Moving a marine fish from one tank to another is a straightforward process. You grab a fish net of appropriate size, scoop out the specimen, and release it in its new home. At most, you might have to work with two nets, using the second net to gently herd the fish into the first. Easy peasy, right?

Ah, but don’t reach for that ubiquitous green net just yet! For some fish, transfer by net isn’t an ideal alternative. Here are five fish types that are best moved using different means:

Type 1: Spiny/spiky and venomous

Fish sporting venomous spines, such as lionfishes, scorpionfishes, and rabbitfishes, should never be transferred by net for two very good reasons. One, that flimsy mesh is no match for those sharp spines, so they can easily poke through and possibly penetrate your skin. Two, if the spines get entangled in the net and the specimen begins to thrash about, the spines can easily be broken or torn from the fish.

Rather than being netted, these types of fish should be transferred using a suitably sized rigid container (such as these food containers).

Type 2: Spiny/spiky but nonvenomous

As we all know, it’s not just the venomous types that have spines or spikes that can become entangled in nets with potentially injurious results, either to the fish themselves or to their owner. Examples include the various angelfishes with their backward curving opercular spines, the similarly equipped maroon clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus), and tangs/surgeonfishes with their scalpel-like caudal spines.

Transfer using a rigid container as with type 1.

Type 3: Puffers of all kinds

A puffer that is netted and lifted out of the water may inflate its body with air and then have difficulty expelling the air afterward, potentially with fatal consequences. Some puffers, such as Diodon holocanthus, also have spines all over their bodies that stand erect when they inflate, so they fit in the second category as well.

Transfer puffers using a rigid container as with types 1 and 2.

Type 4: Slippery, slimy characters

The various moray eels come to mind here. Not only are they excellent escape artists, but they also produce copious amounts of slime, making them quite slippery. Thus, netted specimens can all too easily wriggle right out of the net and onto the floor.

The best technique for moving morays is to capture them in a heavy-duty plastic bag (with water, of course), which usually requires removing everything else in the tank and significantly lowering the water level in the tank ahead of time.

Type 5: Big bruisers

Some fish, for example certain groupers, may be too big, boisterous, and heavy to be transferred safely and effectively from one tank to another using a fish net. When moving tankbusters, a better option is to lower the water level in the tank, remove any rocks/décor, and either herd them into a large, heavy-duty fish bag or rigid container (such as a bucket) or actually move the fish by hand using a wet towel to cover/calm the fish. Of course, if the tankbuster also happens to be equipped with sharp teeth, the latter method may not be your best option.


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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. I have caught all of them with a net it does take some practice and a few tricks of the trade..

  2. The real trick to catching the problem fish is GO SLOW.. you are the one controlling the catch don`t let the fish start freaking out. When catching Spiny/Spiky fish always use a net with the smaller mesh usually they are the white nets. I always use 2 nets in what ever I catch one to heard and one to catch. Keep the net level so you are underneath the fish and slowly lift it up out of the water this way the net stays open and the fish will not roll and get tangled up. I will use as large as net as possible to do the catching and a smaller one to move the fish around.This works also with spinney puffers.
    With other puffers I will use 2 nets both the same size about 1 1/2 to 2 times larger than the fish and I will put the nets straight up and down and try to immobilize the fish by raping it up in the net and also flip it over when it comes out of the water so the fish can not move if you have gone slow enough the fish will not freak out.I also use this when catching Slippery and slimy characters and Big bruisers by flipping the net over I really never even have to touch them at all.It takes some practice and skill but I rarely ever have problems even with the Pictus Catfish.

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