Friday, June 12, 2009

San Francisco Fish Stores

A couple of weeks ago, we went to San Francisco for the Maker Faire. I you've never been to one, and get the chance to go, I can't recommend it enough. It's an absolute blast, and you can't help but come away inspired.

Anyway, being the fish geeks we are, we had to check out the local fish stores while we were there. In general, we were really impressed. The stores were really nice, and the people were phenomenal. Three particular standouts:

Ocean Aquarium - a freshwater only fishstore, despite the name.


This was a little tiny store in an alley over in the tenderloin run by a husband and wife. I wouldn't want to be in the neighborhood after dark, but as fish stores go, I can't recommend it enough. Every tank had a profusion of live plants in it, and they had some great home brew CO2 injectors. They appeared to specialize in F1's, and they had a nice collection of F1 killies ( luxopthalmus ( lampeyes ), epiplatys annulatus ( clown killie ), some gardneri and spotless australes. He also provided us with some really nice DIY drip acclimators that are remarkably accurate and consistent for free.


They also had a profusion of fancy guppies, rasboras, microras, apistos and some f1 brown discus that were just too beautiful to risk trying to bring them home. Best of all, all of fish were all healthy and in beautiful color.

Aqua Forest


This one was also in San Francisco proper but in a much nicer neighborhood. This is a store for plant geeks. They have a remarkable selection of aquatic plants that you can usually only find on aquabid, or get from someone like TxGal in the Dallas plant club. It's also the 'official' ADA store here in the US. As you would expect, their tanks were all meticulously maintained, well groomed and gorgeous.

The staff was friendly, and extremely knowledgeable, and best of all, more than willing to admit when they didn't have an answer. We're not exactly new to the hobby, so we ask a lot of obscure or complicated questions, and we know that. We don't expect employees to know everything - there is just too much to know, and when you get to the advanced stuff, too many questions about taxonomy and behavior that are in flux. We'd far rather people tell us that they don't know, or aren't sure , than pretend like they know the answer if they don't. In this respect, and a lot of others, they were just amazing. We came home with a LOT of plants.


Fish selection was not as eclectic or unusual as Ocean, but it was certainly nothing to scoff at, and we picked up two pairs of scarlet baddis there. Being a plant focused store, they focused on community and plant friendly fish, so there was no african cichlid section, which we thought was pretty cool. YMMV :o)


Albany Aquarium

This one was WAAAAAAAAAAAY up near Berkley, and was another wonderful store. These guys actually had a nice salt water section, but we liked them alot anyway. :o) We made the mistake of heading up around 4pm, and traffic was a beast. We got there about 30m before close, and ended up hanging around and talking until well after close. They were just really nice, knowledgeable people. They also had a very impressive selection of plants, and we came home with more than a few from there too. They also had a cool pair of goodieds that I really wanted to bring home, but we couldn't make it back up there before we flew out on Monday.

Somehow, I don't have any pictures from Albany. We spend so much time talking, that we just plain forgot!

Anyway, if you're in the area, go check these guys out and support them if you can. We were impressed to find three really standout stores while we were there. By the way, just as a note, do not try to check a fish box on American Airlines. If you're flying American, you'll need to ship them home air freight.

Blue Discus Fry


Discus fry at about 3.5 weeks.

Several months ago, we bought a beautiful pair of blue snakeskin discus from a local guy who was moving out of state. Some time after we moved them into the big tank, they started doing what pairs do, and trying to spawn. The dominant orange pair in the tank weren't terribly impressed, and the new comers always ended up eating the spawn because there was just too much competition, but the blues continued trying anyway.

About two months ago, we decided to move them to a spawner, and give them a real chance. We had some trouble deciding which pair to spawn, since we dont have a huge amount of space for growout, and both pairs try to spawn regularly. We ultimately decided to spawn the blues on the idea that it might be neat to see what happened if we got one of our orange fry, and a blue to pair up.

Previously, when setting up the spawner, we used a siphon and return pump to set up a shared water supply between the big tank and the spawner. This was a great arrangement since it made for super stable water conditions and a really consistent temperature. Since there had been some competition for dominance between our new pair and the old, and those usually involve the competitors releasing suppressive hormones into the water, we decided to put them on a separate water supply this time. We knew that feeding fry can make maintaing good water quality an issue, so we also decided to set up a continuous water change system.

Essentially, we hung a small box on the outside of the tank with a small drain line leading to our drainage sump. On the other end of the tank, we put a tee in the line we use to fill our storage tank, and set up a slow fill line with an inline heater to keep the temperature consistent. The process turns the water over 3 or 4 times per day and we vacuum the bottom once or twice a week. Like any continuous water change system, it doesn't clear out pollutants as efficiently as regular a drain/fill water change because of diffusion, but it still does a great job of maintaining consistent water parameters.

It took about a month, and 2 or 3 eaten batches of eggs, but on the last batch, we put a screen up that let them fan the eggs but not eat them until they became wigglers. This worked remarkably well, and we ended up with a free swimming batch of well over 100 fry. Based on some feedback from breeders we have spoken to, we decided to switch the fry from RO to tap water to provide additional hardness. The water needed to be very soft to get the parents to spawn, but the fry apparently benefit a great deal from the increased availability of calcium and other minerals found in harder water.

Unfortunately, we either did it too early, too late, or there is something very not right about our tap water. When we set up the change over, we slowed the water change process way down, and allowed ~ 36 hours to transition from RO to Tap. Within that 36 hours, we lost half the fry, and the others appeared listless and confused. We confirmed that our inline filters on the tap were working, and that chlorine and chloramine readings going into the tank were 0. Still, it was obviously a bad deal.

We switched back to RO immediately, and in the 24 hours following that, we lost about half of the fry that remained, but things seemed to stabilize. We now have somewhere between 15 and 25 fry left. When we got back from the maker faire, most of them had learned to turn away from the parents and were hanging out near the auto feeder around feeding times. On Thursday of this week, we returned the parents to the big tank. If you've never seen our layout, the breeder we were using sits on a cart that we generally keep right at the end of the 240. The parents can see the fry through part of the glass, and continue to patrol that end of the tank, and run off any of the other discus that spend too much time down there. Luckily, the tank is large enough, and well planted enough that this does not create any real aggression issues.

We would still like to figure out how to raise the hardness for the fry, but have not arrived at a good way to keep the hardness stable with the continuous water change. Unless or until we move to another building, I don't think we'll be moving anybody off of the RO system any time soon.