You'll often read in these pages how important it is
to build up a relationship with a good retailer, but if you're new
to the hobby, how do you know a good retailer from a bad one? This quiz
should help: simply read the questions, circle the answer that fits
your retailer, and then add up your score at the end.
Part 1: Livestock
Question 1 -- All stores need to divide up their
stock, at the very least into coldwater, tropical, and marine species.
But good retailers divide up their stock even further, to make it
easier to find and identify the fish you're looking for. How are
the tanks in your tropical fish shop arranged?
- The tanks are arranged into coldwater,
tropical, and marine sections, but there isn't any obvious
separation within them.
- Mostly everything is lumped together, with only
a few special tanks for marine invertebrates and extra-large
tropicals like adult plecs and oscars.
- The tanks are arranged into useful groupings,
so there's a section for community fish, another for cichlids, a
third for fancy goldfish, and so on.
- As well as being arranged into useful sections,
there are sections for species with special needs, such as a
bright-light tank for corals, a soft water tank for discus, and a
hard water tank for African cichlids.
Question 2 -- You should always identify
a fish before you buy it. How well are the tanks in your retailer
- The names and prices are written on the tanks
with a marker pen, but sometimes these labels are smudged or
don't apply to the fish in the tank, so you need to ask one of
the salespeople to translate.
- There are easy to read printed labels fixed to
- The printed labels on each tank give the common
and Latin names, the price, and some basic information like how big
the fish grows as well.
- The printed labels not only have the name and
price of the fish, but include a small photograph that helps you
understand which fish the label refers to.
Question 3 -- How would you rate the
range of species offered for sale?
- Poor: there is only a limited range of species,
and many of those are problematical, e.g., tiger barbs, aggressive
cichlids, and potentially large catfish.
- Average: there is a fair range of reliable
community tank species but there isn't much variation from month
- Good: while the focus is on reliable community
fish, there are also specialty tanks with things like koi, marines,
Rift Valley cichlids, and catfish.
- Excellent: the range of community fish is
solid, but the store is best known for its specialty stock.
Question 4 -- Variety is the spice of
life. How does your retailer rate when it comes to getting in rare and
- My retailer only trades in bread and butter
stuff like guppies and angelfish.
- Most of the time the stock at my retailer is
pretty ordinary, but once in a while there will be a cool new fish or
invertebrate I've not seen before.
- Although most of the tanks contain the usual
stuff, there is usually a liberal scattering of unusual stuff as
well, such as L-number catfish and oddballs like gobies and
- My retailer maintains a special section for
oddball fish, with a row of tanks for African killifish, rare
Corydoras, dwarf cichlids, and other less commonly seen
Question 5 -- Brackish water fish need
conditions that set them apart from marines and tropical freshwater
fish. How does your retailer look after brackish water fish?
- They aren't stocked as such, apart from
mollies and glassfish, and they're kept in freshwater along with
the other tropicals.
- Brackish water fish are sometimes in stock, but
kept in freshwater, although there is a notice that these fish will
need some salt in their water when mature.
- Brackish water fish are often in stock, and
usually kept in slightly salty water along with salt-tolerant
freshwater fish such as cichlids and livebearers.
- There is a dedicated brackish water section,
with the tanks clearly marked as containing fish with special
Question 6 -- Several types of fish are
inexpensive but grow very large, such as giant gouramis, black sharks
(Labeo chrysophekadion), Clarias catfish, and tilapias.
Does your retailer do anything to keep these 'tank-busters'
from falling into the wrong hands?
- Juveniles of these species are mixed liberally
among traditional community fish, and there are no obvious notices or
warnings to inform the unwary.
- Juveniles of these species are in stock, but
there are warnings that these fish will grow big posted near the
- Juveniles of these species are not normally
kept in stock, though there are large tanks containing partially or
fully grown specimens.
- Juveniles of these species are not normally
kept in stock, and giant fish are normally only brought in as special
orders for experienced aquarists.
Question 7 -- If you want to breed good
quality livebearers, you need to begin with 'virgin' females.
Mixing female livebearers with males, even of other varieties or
species, practically guarantees that any females you buy will already
be pregnant. How does your retailer keep their livebearers?
- Males and females of more than one different
species and/or variety are kept together in each tank.
- Although only a single species are kept in each
tank, males and females of different varieties are mixed
- Only a single variety is kept in each tank, but
males and females are mixed together.
- Females of each variety are kept by themselves
without males, ensuring their 'virgin' status.
Question 8 -- It's easy to end up
with too many fish, or specimens too large for your tank. Will your
retailer take in your unwanted stock?
- No, my retailer only sells fish, and has no
interest in my surplus livestock.
- Yes, but only if I've arranged this before
hand, for example if I bought six juvenile cichlids from them in the
hope of getting one breeding pair down the line.
- Yes, my retailer will accept surplus stock, but
I don't get any credit.
- Yes, my
retailer will accept surplus stock, and even gives me credit towards
my next purchase!
Question 9 -- The cleanliness of the
show tanks is a good clue to the amount of effort being expended on
keeping the fish happy and healthy. What are the tanks like at your
- The tanks are messy, and many of them contain
- While the fish appear healthy, the tanks are
scruffy, with remains of dead food and things like decaying plant
matter and fish faeces in some of them..
- All the tanks are reasonably clean, with only a
few traces of uneaten food, fish waste, or dead plant material.
- All the tanks are spotlessly clean, and while
the fish look well fed, there's no sign of excess food.
Question 10 -- Even good retailers will
get outbreaks of diseases like whitespot from time to time. What counts
is what steps they take to prevent it spreading to other tanks,
including those of their customers.
- Many tanks contain sick fish, and there's
no sign that these fish are being treated or isolated.
- Only a few tanks have sick fish in them, and
these tanks are clearly labelled as 'not for sale' while they
are being treated.
- None of the fish appear to be sick, and nets
are sterilised after every use.
- Recently imported fish are quarantined before
being put into the display tanks, and all the fish in the display
tanks look to be healthy. Nets are sterilised between use.
Part 2: Plants
Question 11 -- How are the plants
maintained at your retailer?
- The plants are bunched but not potted, and
scattered about the display tanks exposed only to the ambient room
- The plants are bunched but not potted, either
scattered about the display tanks or kept in one or more tanks of
their own, and exposed to normal aquarium (i.e., fluorescent)
- The plants are potted and planted in gravel or
sand and exposed to normal aquarium lighting.
- The plants are potted and kept in their own
tank and exposed to intense (e.g., halogen) lighting.
Question 12 -- Non-aquatic plants such
as the 'dragon plant' Dracaena, the 'wheat
plant' Chlorophytum, and the 'stardust plant'
regularly sold to aquarists despite the fact they cannot survive
underwater for long. Does your retailer sell non-aquatic plants such as
- Yes, there are a lot of non-aquatics for sale,
and they're not marked out as being unsuitable for the average
- Yes, but only a few, with most of the stock
being reliable, truly aquatic species of plant.
- No, but some marginals with only very limited
value to aquarists, such as Acorus gramineus, are on sale
alongside reliable aquatic species.
- No, the only plants sold are true
Question 13 -- To succeed with plants
takes more than just dumping a plant into some gravel and hoping for
the best. What level of support does your retailer offer the aquatic
- Minimal: only standard aquarium lights and
gravel are on offer.
- Basic: plant fertilisers and high-output
fluorescent lights are available but not much more.
- Good: besides chemical fertilisers and lights,
laterite substrate supplements and carbon dioxide fertilisation
systems are available as well.
- Excellent: advanced lighting systems (such as
mercury vapour and halogen lamps) and undertank / in-gravel heating
systems are on sale for advanced hobbyists.
Part 3: Store & Staff
Question 14 -- What type of store is
your local tropical fish store?
- Nothing fancy, just a few tanks in the corner
of a garden centre or pet shop and without any specialist staff.
- Part of a generalised pet store, but with a
decent sized fish section and at least one member of staff who seems
to be a 'fish expert'.
- A small but dedicated tropical fish shop
selling a variety of species as well as having a fair range of dry
- A large store with lots of tanks and dry goods,
and a great place to find specialties such as African cichlids,
catfish, or reef tanks.
Question 15 -- Knowledgeable staff are a
valuable resource and a credit to any retailer. How would you rate the
staff at your store?
- Terrible; the staff have no interest in the
fish beyond wanting to sell them, and some of their advice is
- Poor; as far as I can tell the staff don't
know anything more than what is written on the tanks, and the advice
they give is not very detailed.
- Average; most of the staff know the basics, but
they're a bit vague when it comes to specialties like fish
breeding, marine invertebrates, or brackish water fish.
everyone seems to know the basics, and some of the people having
plenty of experience of specialist topics like fish breeding and reef
Question 16 -- Information is the key to
keeping fish well. Does your retailer provide customers with any books
or free leaflets to help them choose and look after their
- No, although you can always talk to the staff
or buy a book.
- Nothing specific, but there are some leaflets
from aquarium hardware manufacturers that you can take and read.
- Besides leaflets produced by the aquarium
hardware manufacturers there is a stack of aquarium books marked for
use by customers that they are free to read in the shop.
- There are free leaflets on the major fish types
available for customers to take and read before they make their
Question 17 -- How healthy are then fish
you've brought home from your retailer?
- Poor; several have died quickly, and invariably
new stock is followed by outbreaks of parasitic diseases such as
- Average; only rarely do fish die within a few
days of being introduced, but there have been outbreaks of whitespot
suspiciously soon after introducing new fish.
- Good; new fish don't seem to be bringing in
any diseases, and most live long and healthy lives.
- Excellent; all the fish have done well, but if
a fish does die within a few days of getting home, my retailer will
replace it or sell me another at a discount.
Question 18 -- When you buy the fish,
how are the fish packaged for sale?
- The fish are squeezed into a few small bags and
not wrapped in brown paper.
- The fish are divided out among several roomy
bags and wrapped in brown paper to keep the light out.
- The fish are put in roomy bags topped off with
oxygen, and then wrapped in brown paper.
- The fish are in roomy bags topped off with
oxygen, wrapped in brown paper, and the retailer checks you know the
right way to adapt the fish to the aquarium once you get home.
Question 19 -- Does your retailer have a
- Yes, but it isn't well designed, lacks
information on the current livestock, or makes unnecessary use of
things like Java that interfere with my use of the site.
- Yes, it's simple but has all the basics
covered, such as new stock, special offers, and a map showing how to
find the shop.
- Yes, besides covering the basics it also has
advanced resources such as stock lists, links to informative web
sites, and online shopping.
Question 20 -- Ethical retailers avoid
stocking stock that have been unnecessarily manipulated, as with dyed
glassfish, or giant fish that invariably outgrow home aquaria, as with
red tail catfish. Does your retailer do this?
- My retailer routinely stocks painted glassfish,
tail-less 'butterfly discus', and baby red tail catfish.
- My retailer isn't obviously a member of any
trade bodies or campaigns, but I've never seen them stock painted
glassfish or giant catfish either.
- My retailer doesn't stock painted
glassfish, but once in a while juvenile giant catfish are offered for
- My retailer is a member of the Ornamental
Aquatic Trade Association, is committed to good practise pledges such
as the Practical Fishkeeping campaign against dyed fish, and
doesn't normally trade in giant catfish and other
The scoring system is currently set up
We could shuffle the questions about before
publication, but I wanted to arrange them by 'rank' at first so
you can see my judgement on each question more clearly.
Poor score, mostly As and Bs: 10 x 0, 10 x 1 =
Below average score, mostly Bs and Cs: 10 x 1,
10 x 4 = 50
Acceptable score, mostly Cs: 20 x 4 = 80
Outstanding score, mostly Cs and Ds: 10 x 4,
10 x 5 = 90
[This following bit is the bit to be printed in
So how did your retailer score?
Your retailer has a lot of work to do. A visit to the Ornamental
Aquatic Trade Association web site would give them some useful tips on
improving the healthy and quality of the stock they offer. But for the
time being, not a great place to buy your fish.
Though they may be trying hard, your retailer is missing out on some of
the basics. Any fish bought from a place like this will need to be
quarantined carefully, so approach with caution.
While they may not be at the leading edge as far as the selection of
fish and plants go, your retailer is offering good quality stock and
they can be relied upon to give you useful advice should you need
You're lucky to be have such an outstanding retailer to buy from!
The best retailers choose their fish and plants with care, look after
them carefully, and provided shoppers with useful information on how to
keep them properly. Shop here with confidence.