Weekly Newletters on Fish, Happenings, & Ideas
By Rama Sabbakhan
Whether it’s a dozen rosey reds added to a predator tank or dry flake foods sprinkled into your community aquarium, that burning question that everyone wants to know. WHAT THE HECK DO I FEED MY FISH? Now I’ve heard some outlandish entrees. Everything from dog food, cucumber squash, even McDonald Chicken Nuggets. I won’t even touch anything from McDonalds, don’t know if I’d want to feed it to my livestock. I’ll share with you my top five feds.
#5- Cobalt Flake Food. Pretty new to the hobby but Cobalt stock is steadily rising in the fish hobby. I haven’t used this food long but my customers who have bought this food said they saw changes in their fishes color in under a week of use. It appears to be a good product and I will be keeping it on my shelves.
#4- Live Blackworms. Some say you shouldn’t feed this food exclusively. It can carry parasites and can also spoil your fish. I say its perfect for wild fish, sick fish, and fish that are just picky eaters. My motto, if they won’t eat wiggling Worms, they won’t eat anything.
#3- Frozen Bloodworms. Again, probably not the most nutritional but still irresistible to fish. I carry lots of discus and when live blackworms can be expensive and cumbersome to keep alive, frozen bloodworms are essential to keeping my picky eats fat and ready to sale.
#2-New Life Spectrum- Used to be my #1 but it got bumped down by the slimmest of margins. Thera A with its garlic supplement is irresistible to my fish and readily accepted by all species. Even my shop Arowana loves it. Only downside is that it can have a thick residue that can stain your water if too much is put in the tank.
#1 Xtreme Foods. What can I say, this food is the bomb!!! Fish love it, its very nutritional and has several products that are geared for specific species of fish. What’s best is that it doesn’t stain your water. Even the cichlid formula with extra protein. Fish have been showing phenomenal color and count on seeing that green X label at the front counter during your next visit.
by Rama Sabbakhan
Support Your Local Fish Store
It’s a war going on. Bad Economy vs Local Fish Stores. Its not looking good for LFS’s as they are dropping like flies. Our Aquarium stores that have been around for decades, with worlds of knowledge and experience are becoming extinct. There are medium to large businesses still holding their ground and the emergence of adaptable smaller and sometimes mobile operations such as yours truly, that are trying to not let the hobby we love become a distant memory. No actual blood has been shed, hopefully not, but it does leave a hurtful void inside.
There used to be a time when gas was $1 something and you could spend the day riding around your city to find the fish you were looking for. Now, filling up your tank requires a second mortgage and if you want to ride around to different stores, look forward to driving from city to city, possibly even into the next state because shops have closed shop. There are many reasons why LFS are disappearing, from the emergence internet sales, breeding, and stores lack of customer service and demands. The main reason that I will touch on is lack of support from our constituents. Some which can be warranted, some sincerely missed.
Even though I sell fish, for some odd reason I still like going to fish stores. Maybe its just the experience that we all enjoy that remind us of our child like joys of wonder and intrigue. Having seen so many stores close, you’d think that the remaining stores would welcome customers with warm arms. So untrue in my experience. For some odd reason, I’ve been to a few stores lately that were more than shrewd, with staff that didn’t care to learn about their fish or the desires of the customers. I can only boil it down to less profits = less pay = low morale employees. But this is not fair observation of every shop. There are a good number of stores that cater to the customer and take the time and effort to making sure the store is clean and stocked with not so common fish at not so costly prices. Sadly, the first shop that came to mind was Tropical Fish World in MD which ironically just closed their doors for good last month. Seems like the good one perish while the bad ones find ways to survive.
I’m no General but I ask that you, the consumers of the fish trade, do the right thing and support your local pet stores. At least the good ones still standing. Yeah, you may be able to get a fish online for half the price, but shipping is $50 and up and you run the risk of either getting a colorless baby fish or something different than what you expected. This isn’t meant to steer you away from ordering online because sometimes there are great deals. This is meant to create awareness that if you don’t support your local pet store, you may one day realize that that passion you had to go to a store and seeing a fish you never saw before and picking out that perfect pet may be replaced with going to petsmart and picking out some nice guppies or ordering a Malawi Cichlid with a online picture that has beautiful shades of green, yellow, purple, blue and getting a drab grey one inch something. Yeah, it may cost you a few extra bucks. You may even have to wait a little longer time to get that fish ordered that you wanted. There is an African Proverb that comes to mind. It goes “Peace is costly but it is worth the expense”. Invest time and money in your local fish store. Help us win this war and I guarantee, you more so than the stores will be the ones to reap the benefits.
by Rama Sabbakhan
Wild Fish to Aquarium Fish
As I was brainstorming for an article to write for the newsletter, I had a hard time thinking of an eye-catching article to start this hopefully prosperous new year. I was writing a response to a customer who bought a rainbow wolf fish that hadn’t been adjusting to its new home and past away after a week of purchase. This customer explained that their water conditions were good and the tank had been established. They medicated the tank and turned up the heat. They asked if there was anything thing I would have done differently. I told them one there was one thing and it lead me to this topic for my first 2010 newsletter; the history of your new fish.
Before I begin, I want to put out that I am still learning the hobby and business side so there is more growth to come. What I do know is that your fish may have done more traveling than you may have ever thought about. From the hobbyist side, we see our fish and from all we care to think about, they come from the petstore. Before I became a business and sold fish, I never bothered to even think about this. From the business side, from what I've learned, these fish usually have had an interesting journey. There is a good number of fish that come from fish farms right here in the good ole U S of A. There are a handful of states with weather nice enough to breed and house tropical fish in farm like settings. Most I believe are from Florida. Most times these fish farms keep fish that breed easily to distribute to petstores at cheap prices. Stores like Petsmart, Petco, Walmart get a lot of their fish from these places. Most of these fish will be very common and rather inexpensive, such as livebearers, African mbuna, and the like. These fish farms do carry unique and hard to find fish but the common fish are hardier and easier to breed so they will be the fish that you see flooding you mainstream petstores.
Surprisingly, these aren’t always the cheapest. If you can buy in bulk, exports from other countries like Columbia, Brazil, Thailand, China will have fish at unbelievably cheap prices, albeit you may have to buy minimums of around $1,000 per order and shipping prices which are very high. That’s where the middle men come into play. The wholesalers. They buy large orders of fish from fish farms, local breeders, and other exporting countries which are generally the source of it all, Where the Wild Things Are.
The exporters have fish collecting year round, through different types of seasons (rainy, dry, low). Also fish exportation is capped to prevent overstocking and wiping out populations so that Rainbow HiFin Wolf, Fire Eel or Roseline Shark, the fish that are hard to breed and stock in FL, may be only available a couple months of the year.
There’s much to know about the history of fish but I will only cover the basics, as that’s all I’m qualified to explain. If you’re asking about how this article is related to my customers complaint above of his fish mysteriously died, think about this. This fish may have been caught on Monday, placed in a antiquated holding tank until Tuesday, shipped from Peru to Columbia on Wednesday, exported to Florida on Thursday, shipped to wholesaler in New York on Friday, picked up or shipped to petstore in Virginia on Monday, sold to customer on Tuesday and placed into bright tank and asked to eat dry flake food after eating gourmet from the Amazon less than a week ago. Fact of the matter is its survival of the fittest. Some fish make it, some barely make it, some make it to final destination and croak from the slightest of stress. I’ve been a hobbyist longer than I’ve been in the business. As a hobbyist, I took pride in my Discus tank, never losing one fish. My first big order of discus from wholesaler I lost 11 out of 15 beautiful discus in one night. I thought I did something wrong. Thought my filter was bad, the water not decholorinated enough. Looking back in retrospect, I don’t think it was my fault and though I blamed my wholesaler for selling me bad fish, I can’t blame them either. Its just the nature of the business. Its why the fish in their native countries may cost $2 but by the time you check your bank account, you’ve had $60 taken out. There is overhead markups for a reason. Fish are sensitive beings just like any other animal. They may be hard to figure how to keep alive, but if you understand their past and present, it will only extend the length of the future they’ll have with their owners.
by Rama Sabbkahan
Aquarium Hobby Social Networking
Talking to my customers, it surprises me how many people starting off in the hobby lack knowledgeable resources. One of the most successful tips in my opinion is to get tips from more than one credible source. There is vast variety of aquarium societies and networking. I’ve attached a list of websites that can be helpful to you in your hobby.
by Rama Sabbakhan
Affordable Fish Keeping
In today’s economy, people have been honing in on the true meaning of frugality. If you didn’t know how to save a few dollars in the past, some have been forced to not waste unnecessary money. If you are adamant about keeping or setting up a fish tank you’re in luck. There are ways to maintain a valuable tank and still keep costs down. If you’re ready for the cost cutting challenge, roll your selves up and lets get into it.
First off tank. Gotta start somewhere. Buying used is sometimes a risk if you worry about damaged or leaking aquariums. Though this is a concern, it’s most often well worth the savings to buy used. On average, buying a used tank should save you at least 50% more than a new.
Tank accessories. In addition to buying used, one can also save by being creative and thrifty. If you prefer the more natural looking tank, sand is most often more atheistically pleasing than gravel and fish usually prefer it better too. If you buy aquarium labeled sand it can cost you over $20 for just a 10lb bag. Cheap tip is to buy play sand, pool sand, or commercial grade sand. Most of these can be purchased at a common Lowes or Home Depot. Play Sand will be the cheapest and will cost about $3. Further extending a saving, if you check by Lowes, sometimes their sand bags will be punctured during transport. They will put the bags in a thick paper bag and mark it down. I’ve paid $1 for close to 50lbs of sand. Pool sand and commercial grade sand will be fine white sand and look very nice if you like bright tanks and it will only cost you $5. It’s harder to clean but at this price can easily be replaced. One 50lb bag is enough to cover 3 inches in a 55 gallon tank.
Decoration. There are two discounts that I usually use when getting aquarium rocks and driftwood. There’s cheap and then there’s free. The cheap way is going to your local landscaping company and buying slate and stones for pennies a pound. I’ve paid as low as 5 cents a pound for large purple, green, or brown river stones. You can also get different types of stones, slate, and petrified wood at substantially cheaper prices than you would at a local fish store that may charge you say $4-$10 a pound. What a gyp. Another method is my favorite. Free. Rivers, lakes, woods, oceans all are loaded with goodies for your aquarium. If you find a low part of the river with a strong current you can pull up your shorts and go in on a hot day and put on some nice smooth rocks. On a summer trip to the ocean, if you find a bay you may be able to pull out some nice driftwood pieces that would run you over $50 if you purchased out of a store. On these beautiful autumn days I travel to the mountains to see the colorful leaves, pick apples from the orchids, and also find pieces of slate. I recall getting a massive piece that has to be over 75lbs that I have in my 55 gallon
Lake Malawi tank. Word of warning however, take extreme caution where you get your rocks/driftwood from because it can be heavily contaminated. You can soak your finds in boiling water mixed with bleach, sun bake, and then heavily rinse and dechlorinate them before you put it in your tank.
The possibilities for saving money on this hobby are endless. You don’t have to destroy your bank account to build a beautiful fish tank. Stay tuned for Do It Yourself (DIY) newsletter coming soon. You’ll be amazed on what you can make yourself.
by Rama Sabbakhan
With the last name ‘Sabbakhan’ I thought I’d seen the worst butchering of a name but rival to that is one of my favorite fishes. Cichlids, pronounced “sick” “lid”. Though many mispronounce the name, they all agree that its one interesting fish. Cichlids are a very unique and known mostly for their parenting abilities. They come in all shapes and sizes and are distributed all throughout different regions of the world. Some are aggressive, such as the Flowerhorn or Butterkoferi Tilapia which usually can only be kept in a tank by themselves. Some are timid and best kept with like company, such as the majestic discus which is known in the hobby as “The King” based off their stunning colors. There is pretty much a cichlid to meet anyone’s desires. If you’re community based fish keeper and prefer variety in your tank you can’t been dwarf cichlids which boast some of the biggest colors and personalities, such as German Blue Rams or Apistogrammas.
I won’t delve into detailed specifics and origins of Cichlids but rather will discuss personal experiences and opinions of these boisterous creatures. For instance Geophagus, a fish largely unknown in the hobby to beginners is such a fascinating fish. It’s a mouthbrooder. If you were unfamiliar with this type of fish, you’d watch in horror to see this fish consume a whole swarm of baby fish, thinking that they’d been made a quick snack. But if you watch closely, you’d see the parent fish spit their babies out once they feel danger has passed. These fish actually ensure their offspring’s survival by taking uncharacteristic measures to see their fry make it through the most vulnerable times in their lives. Unlike livebearers, which birth their babies live and leave them to fend for themselves, Cichlids in most cases watch over their babies until they are old enough to care for themselves.
There are two main classifications of Cichlids. New World and Old World. New World originates from the Americas while Old World are from all parts of Africa. Many hobbyist, new and old have their preferences. A further breakdown, from the New World you have Central American Cichlids, which are usually more aggressive and in most cases can tolerate less than ideal water qualities. South American Cichlids are in my honest opinion more docile than their Northern counterparts and prefer softer waters, usually requiring more care in the quality of water. There are also a few species of commonly kept cichlids from North America. The Old World is typically classified between the different major lakes which most cichlids are found, including Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika. There is also a wide selection of fish found in West African basins such as Congo, Nigeria, etc. My personal favorite Old World are from Lake Tanganyika. These fish in my opinion are the closest you’ll get to salt water color and charm. There is a National Geograhic documentary found on youtube that will have you sold on these fish. www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmvtweE5abc
In closing, as they say your dog sometimes takes after its owner, I believe cichlids can have personality and intelligence to grow on their owners. When I get home, my dog that stays in the backyard, peeks his head out a crevice in the fence, trying to get my attention so I can come play with him. My discus showtank is in my living room. As I perch up on my couch to relax and watch tv, 12 large colorful fish will huddle together in a group and just sit and watch me, waiting for me to come over with food so they can get their bellies full. In this lifetime you only live once and there are many things to see and encounter. Speaking from experience, if you haven’t kept a cichlid, you’re missing out on encountering on of this world’s most beautiful creatures.
by Rama Sabbakhan
CYCLING YOUR FISH TANK
One of the first questions I ask customers setting up a new fish tank is whether they have cycled their fish tanks. This is an important step in maintaining healthy fish setups, if not the biggest. What is Fish Cycle, why do you do it, and how is the questions I’m always asked. In a nutshell I’ll try to break it down. Basic logic tells you fish need clean water, which is true. But clean water is easily contaminated. Fish food, fish waste, even dead fish will cause high increases in ammonia and nitrates. Clean water or the tap or bottled doesn’t contain the beneficial bacteria needed to break down these elements. Cycling your tank means to properly establish the beneficial bacteria needed so that your fish don’t die from toxic water.
Cycling a tank can be performed a number of ways. The basic and commonly used approach is to use non expensive fish to start the cycle. Cheap hardy fish like Danios or livebearers are often used. You’ll set the tank up and used fresh dechlorinated water. The nitrites will spike very high and will be toxic to most fish but most cheap fish can take the low quality water for some time. This process will take 6 weeks to build the bacteria necessary for an established tank. If you are impatient like I am, you want an nice tank setup and you want it now. Luckily there are shortcuts. Beneficial bacteria builds on any hard surface. Its on the glass, on the substrate, in the filter. Its everywhere in your tank. One quick way to jump start the cycling process is to transfer the beneficial bacteria to the new tank. The best way IMO is to take a filter from an established tank (or filter media) and transfer it with the new filter and tank. Another way is to take the gravel, rocks, driftwood from an established tank and insert it in the new tank. I also like to take at least 1/5 of the water from an established tank and put it in new tank. INSTANT TANK.
There are chemicals and products that advertise live bacteria in a bottle but I’ve always used what works best for me and haven’t used any of those products. Many people setup new tanks and wonder why their fish don’t last very long. If you take the proper steps in setting up your tank, you can make you fish, and your money last for a very long time.
Newsletter 10/02/2009 (Fish of the Week)
by Rama Sabbakhan
Stingrays, I know you’ve seen them and if you’re as intrigued as I was by these graceful creatures, then I know what you’re thinking. How cool would it be to own a stingray? Creatures so unique and thought to be dangerous makes them appealing yet restricted. If that’s what ran through your mind I’ll say your halfway right. Stingrays are unique and appealing, but dangerous? I’m here to lay this misconception to rest.
First off let me start by saying that I sell rays and have personally owned them in the past. I’m currently planning to build a 1200+ gallon indoor stingray pond which will house and breed many varieties of rays. Rays are quite personable creatures. Bold enough to eat food from your hand yet shy enough to flee rather than confront danger. And what about that deadly venom that they have? You know, if I had a nickel for every person that asked me if I heard about Steve Irwin getting killed by that stingray, I’d be over $20 richer. The stingray that killed Steve Irwin was a saltwater Bullray. They have stingers that can reach almost a foot. Needless to say, it was a large wild ray that felt threatened by a human. It was a very unlikely occurrence and even rarer death. Though stingrays use their venomous tail as a defense mechanism, they are not cold blooded killers like sharks.
Having a ray is a lot like having a pit bull. They do have the potential to inflict serious pain but if treated well and cared for it effectively, they will not see you as a threat nor will it seek out to harm anyone or anything it doesn’t view as food. Even when I net these guys they never appear to be seriously threatened. If hurt or startled a ray will likely swing its tail in self defense. Having a stingray is a matter of prestige. At least it was for me. Before my now large collection of tanks and fish, I remember that one tank I had with discus, rainbowfish, and my sweet ray. I recall her “J-Lo” booty. An expression hobbyist use to refer to a well fed stingray. When rays eat a meal, their stomachs, which are essentially on top near the beginning of their tail, will swell substantially. She would hover around the tank so gracefully looking for food. A well kept stingray is a pleasure to watch feed because they are greedy little animals. Once they tire from scavenging, they will submerge themselves under the gravel or sand (also a cool site to watch).
Your next big issue is compatibility with other fish. I was told way back when while researching for my first ray purchase that stingrays will eat any fish big enough to be swallowed. I was stubborn and put the ray in a community tank with fish small enough to be gobbled whole. Now the ironic part. My stingray, who some see as big bad beast was actually killed by a couple of 2 inch Bolivian rams who realized while I was out one weekend that stingrays taste good. They chipped at her disc non stop. When I came home I saw her tattered body, and the blood thirsty rams coming back for more. Unfortunately, after moving the ray to another tank she succumbed to stress and later died. She was more than a fish to me. She was like my little pet dog who was happy to see me, or better yet happy to know she was about to get some good eatin’when she saw me.
Getting back to freshwater rays and the matter of how dangerous they are, let’s get into some facts. Sting rays have a bacterial protein matter in the barb of their tails that cause infection. Stingray stings are similar to bee stings, not really in levels of pain but in relation to the reaction of the individual’s body affected by a sting. Some may have allergic reactions other may not and will recover quicker. With all of this being said, having stingrays from my experience is a risk worth taking. They have some level of danger attached to them, but with safekeeping and diligence, they can be enjoyed and help further lure you into this hobby knowing that you have something more than your neighbors boring goldfish. You can take pride in being a stingray owner.
Size- Hystrics are the smallest rays and are usually under 1 foot in diameter full grown, Retics get around 1 foot in diameter, Motoros about 18-24 inches in diameter
Tank-Minimum based on width and depth and not so much on gallons. They need room to swim. 75 gallon tank is decent dimensions for a small ray but will need bigger tank once grown.
Compatibility- Non aggressive fish too big to be swallowed and not too big to swallow your ray. Discus are good candidates. Similar sized Arowanas make a cool monster tank with rays.
Maintenance- Keep water warm 82-84 degrees and keep water clean, they are messy feeders. Feed them worms, cut or whole small fish, and/or market shrimp.
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