Goldfish bowl, memory like a goldfish, and so many other cliches and trite sayings. They declare societies views of goldfish. They’re the first pets people get their kids to make mistakes with, they’re the fish we see on social media with children holding a baby goldfish a couple of inches long, crying that their pet has died. People laughed about the story of a child taking his goldfish to bed with him. The fish died incase you were wondering. To top it all we give them away as prizes, the cheapest prize. Oh you didn’t win the stuffed toy, here take a goldfish instead.
Ask a child what a goldfish looks like and they’ll open and close their mouths in pale imitation, showing you the signs of a fish suffering from ammonia poisoning.
We walk into shops with banks of goldfish, watch the children as they point and shout at the fancy fish with their comically rotund bodies and fancy fins. The bright colours and over exaggerated features. But we walk away, we know that those fish aren’t very good quality, that the exaggerated shape means that as they grow they may suffer from buoyancy issues. That some may will need operations to live a healthy life, and we will be faced with a choice of spending thousands of pounds on an unhealthy fish, or to euthanise them before the suffering gets too much.
Better we buy a healthy goldfish if we want one. Better we spend the extra, even if it’s just £5 or £10 more to get something that has a better chance, and will grow up to look how we want it. We, the fish keepers that will buy a 500 l tank for an adult goldfish, are not the keepers buying the cheap goldfish from the general fish store racks. We’re spending our money with specialist stores.
Instead they’re sold to people who mean well, who would risk their lives to save a dog or a cat, who don’t have an exotic or specialist pet because they don’t have the space or experience. People who have no idea about the nitrogen cycle, people who will buy a 60l tank as that’s so much bigger than the goldfish bowl they saw as a kid. The same people I have to speak to every day and gently break it to then that they are being cruel to a living feeling animal, that they do own a specialist pet with specialist needs.
What does a goldfish need.
Space, that’s the crucial one. Adult fancy goldfish (not even the pond goldfish) can hit 30cm long, and are swimming grapefruit with fins. They have the turning circle of a small ocean liner, and produce about the same amount of waste as a small dog. They’re also a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and need things in the tank for them to do, and company.
I’d go for a 600l tank, you’re looking at dimensions of about 6 foot x 2 foot x 2 foot. For that size you will probably need huge externals, or a sump. You will need to keep the temperature in a sensible range, so depending on your house you’ll need heaters. Decorations, and plants will help to keep them going, and a sandy substrate as they’re buggers for eating gravel. Good quality food is a must as with their shortened body their organs, including their proto stomach and intestines are altered.
You will be doing 40% water changes a week more once they’re grown, and even with a tank that large you shouldn’t get more than 5 or 6, and watch out for girls and boys. There’s no easy way to tell the difference between male and female until they are ready to breed, but males can and will chase females to death.
Does it sound like I’m trying to put you off getting goldfish, no, far from it. But given you’ll spend upwards of £1000 in equipment, and give up 12-15 sq feet in your home, as well as a couple of hours a week in maintenance, let’s make sure your fish are going to thrive from the offset.
Choose well bred good quality fish, and choose a variety that doesn’t have exaggerated features. One of my personal favourites is the Bristol Shubunkin. Bred to be viewed from the side, rather than above as a lot of goldfish varieties are, a healthy fish that has a great swimming ability. There are a whole load of others out there, but expect to pay around £20-£50 for a 2-3 inch standard grade fish. High grades will cost more.
Take a couple of months to do a fishless cycle and that way the microorganisms in the filter will be ready for your messy, messy new pets.
Or go back to that 60l tank and enjoy a smaller tropical set up that will thrive. Bettas are colourful and can be great pet fish, they will interact and yes beg for food, or a paradise fish, maybe a breeding pair of dwarf cichlids, or a shoal of 6 pea puffers. But learn first about the nitrogen cycle, and consider planting the tank up before you get fish, it will look better and is better for the fish.
Shops please stop it.
Fine you’re going to point out that goldfish are a mainstay of the hobby, that if you don’t stock them they’ll go elsewhere and get one, that you’re not having thousands of pounds worth of stock that no one will buy. You will carry on selling goldfish to people with 60l tanks.
Really, that’s what our hobby is? A disposable pet sale? If you’re not swayed by the ethics, then lets try the numbers.
We all know one of your main costs is overheads. The cost of the fish is only a small part of your sales price. But you sell the customer a 60l ish tank at about £100-£150. Either the same day or a few days later you sell them a couple of goldies. What’s that going to set them back £8, maybe £10. Add on some cheap food, a net, some dechlorinator, and maybe the bill is £25.
Now let’s see the hobby as a little different. Instead of a first disposable pet you are looking at the longer term customer. The one that wants a beautiful slice of nature in their living room. The person who cares about animals. You don’t just say no, you tell them why, that keeping goldies in a small tank is cruel, that the nitrogen cycle will cause suffering, that these are animals that feel pain. Some will walk out. But a lot will stay.
Now you have a customer. They want a pretty tank, the same £100-£150 price tag, and buy a bag of plant substrate, a nice bit of bog wood, ten plants in pots, and a bottle of plant ferts and some dechlorinator. What’s that now, they’ve spent £80-£100. In a couple of months they come back and buy some fish, maybe a nice betta, and a few snails, or some killifish, or a pair of unusual gourami. Again that’s about £20-£30. Whilst they’re there they upgrade their light and they’re talking about a CO2 kit. Just wait because they might want a new bigger tank in a few months.
No not every customer will do that. But you need a lot fewer of the second than you do the first type of customer to have the same amount of profit. If you’re next statement is that your customers won’t buy that sort of stuff then might I suggest getting a decent salesperson or two on staff. In a time of struggling shops surely a way to improve profits, improve the hobby, and improve fish welfare is a good thing.
Still want to sell a couple of goldies to your customers? Well they may well die in a few weeks, or have to be put to sleep after they get buoyancy issues, or your customer might go on line and talk to other fish keepers, and we will tell them about fish less cycling and what those goldfish need. Online stores, this one included, will sell them the soil and the plants, and the upgraded light, and when they go to purchase those new fish they’ll look elsewhere.
These are all my thoughts, but above parrot fish with their deformed lab grown shape, long finned fish or even dyed fish, I think goldfish are the shameful side of the hobby, that we put on show for all to see. We as a hobby are so much more than this. Let’s prove it.
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