Want Healthy, Spawning Fish? Feed Them Properly!

Feeding fish in your saltwater aquariumFeed your fish. They are hungry. That may sound obvious, but most fish in captivity are starving to death because we are so fixated on water parameters. It’s fine to worry about water parameters, but you still need to feed your fish. Yes, water parameters are important and it’s fine to worry about them, but if you want to keep fish along with your corals, they need to eat correctly. You can deal with the corals later.

They’re fish, not iguanas!

Most of us are spending so much time trying to keep those colorful corals that we forget about our fish. If your fish are not spawning or looking like they want to spawn, they are hungry or not getting the correct food. Flakes, pellets, and lettuce are not the correct food unless you have an iguana. Iguana’s love lettuce and maybe flakes, but I am speculating.

Of groupers and moose

After you feed your fish, feed them again because in the sea, fish eat all day long—or at least they try. I know most of us can sit down to a big meal of pasta, meatballs, mozzarella, nice crusty bread, and maybe a beer or two, and that will fill us up for a few hours. I also realize some people can eat that four or five times a day. Those people don’t own a mirror…or a scale. But most fish don’t have the type of stomach that can store huge amounts of food unless they are some type of grouper. Groupers can eat a moose (a small one) and be fine for a week until another moose comes along—though they do sometimes have trouble with those antlers!

[Editor’s note: Please don’t feed moose…mooses?…to your grouper! Keep in mind that PaulB sent this disturbing post from his padded cell at the institution, where he’s not allowed sharp objects.]

Aside from groupers, the majority of fish need to eat several times a day, but if we feed them correctly, they can get along on one meal a day. However, if they are going to eat only one meal, make it a good one. Forget about the silly water parameters and feed the fish. If the parameters are screwed up, change the water or take up golf. First think about getting the nutrition into your fish, then, if you have time, worry about the water quality because most of your fish can’t read the test kits anyway. I don’t even have test kits, but that’s just me.

Underfed fish get sick!

If your fish ever get sick or exhibit spots, they are not being fed well. Okay, stop laughing unless you have been keeping fish longer than I have (if you have, you may also know Noah, as he and I started in the hobby together by scraping barnacles from beneath the Ark). Fish that are fed correctly do not get sick—okay, maybe the occasional headache or the “heartbreak of psoriasis,” but that’s it. The immune system of spawning fish is so powerful that it will repel and kill parasites, flukes, flounders, and just about everything else. Don’t believe me? Feed your fish anyway.

The Soupy Sales system

Properly fed fish will be in spawning conditionDo you quarantine? Okay, that’s up to you, but even if you do, you still want your fish to be immune from just about all illnesses just in case your quarantining procedures were designed by Soupy Sales. Don’t know who he is? Google him.

There is a reason I have never posted on any disease forums. Well, I did have that shoulder operation, but I am talking about fish disease forums. My fish don’t get sick. No, never. I don’t mean in the last six weeks or even six years. I am talking decades. A decade is ten years. I do have some medications that I have not used in many years. The label on one reads, “Keep in a cool chariot.” That’s how old they are. I also have a hospital tank. It was made out of the right front fender of a 1955 Oldsmobile, and that was the last time I needed it. One of my fish was sick, but he got over his headache the next day.

Blackworms, clams, and more moose (moosen? meese?)

How is it possible that my fish never get sick? Because I feed them correctly and often. What do I feed them? Live blackworms and clams. Except for the pipefish, who order takeout, that’s about it.

Why worms and clams? Good question! Because worms and clams are a whole food. By “whole,” I mean all the parts of the animal are in there, not just the muscle like you are feeding when you give your fish squid, shrimp, octopus, or scallop. Those foods are fine for you to eat but not your fish. They need guts. Even when a grouper eats a moose, it eats the entire moose. When a great white shark eats an accountant who is at a convention in Hawaii, it eats the entire accountant, including his pocket protector and glasses. It doesn’t even spit out the bones. When a fish eats another fish, did you ever see it spit out the bones, scales, ears, or eyelashes? I didn’t think so because a fish needs all the parts of its prey, not just the muscle. Besides accountants don’t usually have much muscle to begin with.

So to sum up, feed the fish correctly and then think about water parameters. If you want really beautiful coral, keep fewer fish, but feed them correctly.


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About Paul Baldassano

Paul Baldassano has been in the hobby since the 50s and holds two aquarium-related patents. His current reef aquarium was set up in 1971. He is also an avid SCUBA diver and Vietnam veteran.


  1. Matt Bowers (Muttley000) says

    Paul, I wholeheartedly agree that nutrition is the most important thing, and often the most commonly overlooked. Would love to see more posts on your various live food cultures here.

  2. My local fish store doesn’t carry moose, could you recommend a good supplier?

  3. Paul Baldassano says

    Platypus or Emu also work, but they are not as good as moose or aardvark

  4. Mr. E-van D. Dessasau, III says

    Seamonkeys are a whole food why are they considered a poot choice? LOVE your writing!

  5. Paul Baldassano says

    No, ping pong balls are also a whole food but don’t feed ping pong balls, besides, they float. Live worms, clams, and mysis are whole foods. Mysis are not quite as good because it is a tiny animal and much of it is shell, and their shell is not made of calcium so it doesn’t do much for nutrition. Maybe it keeps them from being constipated but I really don’t know. Mussles and oysters are also great foods but I normally eat the oysters before my fish have a chance to complain. The best foods are foods with one ingredient such as worm, clam or mussel. If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients on the food package, your fish don’t need them.

  6. I was wondering if dead black-worms would do even half the trick after being juiced up with fish oil.

  7. Paul Baldassano says

    Sorry, I just saw the post about feeding sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are adult brine shrimp, If you raised the brine shrimp yourself they would be a decent food. The ones you buy in a store have not been fed since they were collected a few weeks before you bought them so now they are on the Atkins Diet. They would be all skin and bones, if they had skin or bones. They are basically very undernourished with nothing in their guts and no “meat”. Sort of like a Supermodel.
    You need something that has been fed and is healthy like a worm. You also need something with live bacteria in it’s gut.

  8. Paul Baldassano says

    Dead worms would be OK if they just died and were healthy before they died. Maybe they had a massive heart attack or got run over by a Nissan Altima. Fresh would be better then frozen as some of the bacteria would be dead after freezing but even dead they are better than most foods. The best foods have live bacteria in their guts

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