Owning and caring for fish is great fun. These beautiful and colourful creatures are totally captivating to watch, bring a slice of the ‘Blue Planet’ right into your home and make great pets for all the family. There are thousands of species to choose from which will give you years of enjoyment watching them in their new habitat.
If you’ve not kept fish before then tropical freshwater ones are probably the best ones to start with. Goldfish are often people’s first thought but in fact they need very big tanks and can live for more than 20 years so they may not be the best fish for your first aquarium.
Another top tip is to buy the biggest tank you can accommodate because it will help in the long run. A smaller tank can often mean more work in maintaining its water quality.
How to set up your First Aquarium
Starting a tank takes a bit of research and time but it’s well worth it in the end. You won’t be able to just walk into a shop, buy a tank, fill it with water and put your new fish straight into it.
You need to set up your aquarium and let it ‘mature’ first – this means growing friendly ‘bugs’ in your filter which are then ready to breakdown the waste produced by your fish when they’re introduced. This is sometimes called ‘cycling’ a tank. If you don’t do this then unfortunately your freshly added fish have a high chance of dying so it’s worth taking a bit of time to get it right. There are several different ways to ‘cycle’ a tank and there are products that will help to speed things up. Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to carry out partial water changes and regularly test the water in your tank, using water test kits, to find out when your tank is ready (matured) to receive its first guests.
Shops selling fish will be happy to give you lots of advice, and often offer free water testing as well, so they’ll be able to help you set up a tank and make sure the water is welcoming for your first fish.
Another tip to remember is that different fish live better in water with differing temperature, hardness and pH (how acidic or alkaline the water is). So again, make sure you understand what suits the fish you want to buy. If you want a community tank of different tropical freshwater species make sure you research which fish like similar pH, temperature and water hardness so they’ll live happily together.
You’ll also need to position your tank on a level surface in your home away from loud noises, sudden movement and sources of vibration, like TVs and music systems, which will stress your fish.
Part of the fun of having fish is finding out about your new pet’s natural habitat and then creating an environment to make it really feel at home. There is plenty of advice in OATA care sheets as well as hobby magazines like Practical Fishkeeping. Your local aquatic shops, specialist fishkeeping associations and online forums/groups will also be good sources of information.
Great Fish for a First Tank
- Guppies are small but fabulously flamboyant.
- Tetras are fish with what looks like a ‘go-faster’ stripe.
- White Cloud Mountain Minnows are very hardy and easy to keep.
- Mollies come in deep black, bright yellow and even Dalmatian spotted!
- Siamese fighters (also called bettas) are the fish version of a peacock with their vibrant colours and fantastic flowing fins and tails. But keep males strictly single – they are not called fighters for nothing!
What to do When you Bring your First Fish Home
Once your tank is set up and matured you’re ready to introduce your first fish. Like any new pet, they need time to settle into their new home. Switch off aquarium lights, avoid bright lights and get them used to the water in the tank. Once your aquarium lights are off, float the plastic bag containing your fish in your tank’s water for up to half an hour so that water temperatures will be the same. Then, open the bag and slowly over half an hour add small amounts of your tank’s water so your new fish can get used to it. Then carefully release them into their new home and leave your aquarium lights off for a few hours to help them settle in. Keep an eye on your new fish during the first week and remember to check your tank’s water quality regularly with test kits.
When it comes to feeding time you need to remember different fish need different food specially formulated for their particular dietary requirements and the way they feed. There’s a huge range of fish food available and much of it is relates to the particular species you have so have a look for the ones to suit your chosen fish.
Remember to remove uneaten food after a few minutes otherwise it will rot and affect your water quality.
Partial water changes will form part of your regular maintenance routine because it helps to remove toxins that build up in water. You will need to treat tap water first because it contains either chlorine or chloramine, added to make water safe for us to drink. Both are toxic so need to be removed first. There are many easy-to-use treatments that can do this, ask your local fish shop for more information. And make sure the water is the right temperature as well before adding it to the tank.
Top Tips When you set up your First Aquarium
- Do plenty of research – never buy fish on a whim
- Be prepared to wait – setting up a tank to make it a healthy place for your new fish takes time
- Go big – bigger tanks will help with better water quality
- Talk to a specialist retailer – there’s lots of fun stuff to learn and a good retailer can hold your hand through setting up your first aquarium
Watch and Enjoy your Fish!
Spend a little time every day watching your fish – you’ll find it mesmerising and it’s a great way to de-stress! But it also means you’ll become familiar with what’s normal behaviour and help you spot any signs of disease quickly. Your local fish shop will be able to help if you spot any signs of trouble.
And one last piece of advice. Never release your fish into the wild. Not only is it against the law it’s also incredibly cruel, because they will most likely starve, die from the cold or be caught by predators.
Find out more
The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association is the ‘voice’ of the UK tropical fish industry and represents the businesses which provide fishkeepers with everything they need to set up and maintain a successful aquarium or garden pond. It also produces lots of useful free care information, from leaflets to YouTube videos, for people who want to keep fish. Look out for retailers which are OATA members and have signed up to its Code of Conduct.
By Pauline Davey, PR & Parliamentary Officer, Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association Ltd (OATA)