There are disparate goals in feeding aquatic life. Status quo maintenance of livestock, maximized/optimized growth, enhancing color, conditioning for breeding, is principal desires of your customers. What foods and formats, and how to deliver them appropriately are you and your staff's arena to promote and sell.
Overall consideration must be given to getting enough useful nutrition in palatable formats to all captive aquatics. For the retailer this comes down to an enormous amount of knowledge about the foods and feeding habits of myriad forms of life and resale possibilities. Varied diets incorporating some fresh, live or frozen material and urging the customer to carefully observe their charges to assure all are feeding are paramount.
There are several important factors that affect fish health; some may be manipulated, others not. Of pertinence here is the enormous effects of proper foods, feeding and nutrition. Fishes and non-fish life are, like us, "what they eat". Improper and more often, uneaten foodstuffs are a large part of "incidental" livestock (and hence hobbyist) loss.
Thankfully there is a very wide range of nutritious prepared foods in the aquaristic interest, and a growing arsenal of useful feeding tools. All retailers are compelled to come to grips with which competing lines to stock depending on their assortment philosophy (e.g. "good, better, best") and customer base.
Nutrition: Important Controlling and Controllable Factors:
Foods & Feeding:
Other authors and myself have more than touched on nutrition in previous pieces. Let's briefly recap. >
(1) Feeding proper foods/nutrients, (2) in palatable formats, (3) at appropriate times and intervals, (4) in suitable quantities is critically important in optimizing maintenance and growth. (5) Some foods, ingredients, especially natural fresh and live varieties have variable nutritious value. A few cogent notes concerning these issues follow.
Proper foods can be defined as ones containing essential nutrients in available, assimilable (by the consuming stock) formulations. Strictly speaking, only some of the premium dry-prepared, formulated food-mixes and pellet foods achieve the former and possibly both ideals. Frozen, fresh and live foods are best supplemented with nutrient preparations or bolstered by the addition of the aforementioned prepared diets. A further hard-earned suggestion is to provide some live plant material in your freshwater systems and live rock (and possibly live sand) in marine set-ups.
By palatable I mean that the food is attractive to the intended livestock, such that it successfully triggers the feeding response. Here two technologies, training and feeding gear come into play. Most wild stocks do not come to the surface to feed; they instead would likely be consumed in the process. Already captive-food-trained livestock are invaluable in getting newcomers to recognize foods and instigate consumption.
What good is having entirely nutritious foods that your livestock likes, and then not getting it to them? Feed amounts and intervals are important. You can study up, experiment and optimize results with almost infinite numbers of mixes of criteria; organisms, foods, formats, times, amounts...
About Live Foods:
Live and prepared brine shrimp (Artemia) is highly inconsistent in its actual food value, as are other forms of wild-collected food organisms. So-called "feeder" goldfish are the prime example of poor nutritional practice; nutrient-limited, too fatty, and all-too-often parasite laden. These foods should never be fed exclusively.
For most of us mere mortals, frequent, smaller than possible feedings, less often than absolutely possible/practical, rotating, mixing in occasional new fresh and prepared foods is about all we can handle.
Feeding Accessories: More Than Automated Feeders
An amazing large difference between the European and U.S. pet fish industry's is the huge amount of money made by the former in sales of feeding gear. Sophisticated feeding sticks, tubes, clips, tongs, floating and clip-on feeding "rings", bells, and a cosmos of powered and manual dispensers are part of almost all hobbyists elsewhere. Some manufacturers like Ocean Nutrition have recognized this market void and now offer a line of feeding accessories.
Automated feeders, for vacation or regular use are also much improved in recent years. Look to stock at least one of the upper shelf models that sports a large-enough storage capacity (and replaceable hopper).
One last mention of a great (finally) innovation in the trade; that of Tetra's non-chalky vacation foods. Much more nutritious with less plaster-of-Paris mess left in the system.
A Brief Treatise on the Value of Feeding for Maximum Growth:
An article of this length and scope should make mention of at least some of the pitfalls of "pushing" growth. So here goes; reasons why you and your customers shouldn't:
1) Allometry: The overall body shape, or better expressed, conformation will be different for an individual grown under different conditions and time frame. A certain desired body plan may not be easily sped up. This is so; fish achieve different shapes with varying growth rates.
2) Life Span: There is evidence that getting too big, too fast to some degree shortens fish (and other organisms') life spans. Slow and not-so-steady growth wins the race, if nothing else than by outliving the competition.
3) Color: intensity/depth and pattern may be compromised, sacrificed through accelerated growing.
4) Cost: Is the growth you're getting worth the bucks in food, feeding, filtration and maintenance?
Vitamins & Other Supplements:
Do you sell these? You should. Not simply because their profitable, but for their direct and indirect beneficial effects. As with similar chemical adjuncts to human nutrition vitamin and other nutritional supplements correct or prevent nutritional diseases, or at worse create no harm.
Properly fed fishes grow throughout their entire lives, though they can "shrink" given food privation and disease. This growth can be maximized through providing the right foods in the right formats at right intervals, coupled with good husbandry practices such as frequent partial water changes. Optimization of food-driven factors is a different matter, taking into account consideration of costs for food, feeding, filtration among others, balanced against loss/gain of color, pattern, body/fin conformation, pollution and possibly reproductive potential.
Foods and feeding are critically important to your customer's fishes. Consider this; a hundred years ago, what was the number one killer of captive aquatics? Easy answer ammonia poisoning, mainly from too much or uneaten/unusable foods. What is the number one killer today? You and I agree, it's still ammonia poisoning from the same cause. Let's help make it something else in the near future.
Do you know how to sustain and enhance your and your customers' livestock's health through proper foods and feeding? You should.
Delbeek, Charles J. 1990. Reef aquariums: nutrition. The nutritional needs of marine organisms represent a
significant challenge for reef aquarists. AFM 8/90.
Fenner, Bob. 1989. Foods, Feeding, Nutrition of Nishikigoi (Koi Carp), Cyprinus carpio and Other Cyprinid "Pond" Fishes. FAMA 8/92.
Fenner, Robert. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist; A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. Microcosm, Vt. 432pp.
Hiatt, Snake. 1998. Major, macro, micronutrients. TFH 7/98.