Category Archives: Basics

The Basic Aquarium video series.

Packing Fish for Shipping – Part 5

This is the last part of the series on packaging and shipping fish.  These videos are dedicated to the locking-wall styrofoam inserts for boxes.  I was turned on to these tongue and groove cut boxes a few months ago, and after working with them for a while I am sold.  These boxes are great.  Sourcing insulated boxes can be a pain, especially if you are shipping a lot of fish.  Solid foam boxes are best, but they are also expensive to purchase, plus the cost of getting them to you.  It is hard to keep the price down unless you order them hundreds at a time.  These locking panels are also expensive to ship, but their up-front cost is lower.  When the boxes are not assembled they take up a little less space than when assembled, so they are a little less expensive to ship.  But the biggest advantage, for me anyway, is to finally have a consistent packaging option that is the same every time.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Basics, video posts

Packing Fish for Shipping – Part 4 – Kordon Breathing Bags

This episode in the shipping series has two parts, packaging fish into Kordon Breathing Bags (which we usually call ‘Breather Bags’ in the hobby) and then packing the filled bags into boxes.  I am purposefully not going into a LOT of detail here because I do not use Kordon Breather Bags for shipping anything that will be in transit for less than 48 hours.  And since I rarely ship any fish slower than overnight, I do not see much use for Kordon Breathing Bags.

The Kordon web site has all the information you need to learn how to properly use their product.  I use their methods for packing, especially for double-bagging, and have never had problems with using the product.  The advantages are many:

  • constant transfer of carbon dioxide out of the bag and oxygen into the bag, thus reducing acidification of the water in the bag
  • eliminating sloshing of fish
  • saving space in a box

But there are also negatives:

  • fish waste or dead fish fouls the water much faster, so fish must be more carefully purged before packing
  • the added weight of filling a box with breathing bags costs more to ship AND puts the box at risk of breaking as it tumbles through the mail system (when a heavier box drops its mass is more likely to cause the box, or the bags inside it, to break)
  • they are more expensive
  • it is harder to ship spiny fish
  • the bags sometimes seep

I use Kordon Breathing Bags when I need fish to survive packing for more than 48 hours.  When I travel to other countries, Breathing Bags make it possible to keep fish alive for weeks and get them home safely.  I believe that Breathing Bags have revolutionized hobbyist collecting expeditions, and the explosive discovery of new species entering the hobby can be attributed, in part, to Breathing Bag technology.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Basics, video posts

Packing Fish for Shipping – Part 3 – Heat Sealers

The use of a heat sealer when packing fish can prevent some problems (such as fish getting trapped in corners) and make is possible to pack more fish in a smaller space.  They are not very expensive… I paid about $60 for my sealer through the Internet, including shipping.  Over the years I have tried many different applications, but now I use it for only a few specific things.  Do you NEED a heat sealer?  Probably not.  But it is a nice thing to have around….

The video was long, but there is one more tip I want to share about using heat sealers:

1 Comment

Filed under Basics, video posts

Packing Fish for Shipping – Part 2

Bagging the fish properly is the first task in shipping fish.  I hope that it was clear in the first video that the resulting packaging is a little different than what happens at a store, or what we do if we are taking fish to an auction or a swap.  When we bag fish for short, controlled transport the bags are usually larger and tighter.  For shipping through the mail the bags need to be a small as possible and have some flexibility.  The package will undergo some rough treatment in transit, and a bag with a lot of water and/or does not have flex in the sides of the bag is more likely to pop.  The fish should also be triple bagged, with two bags around each set of fish and then all the bags inside a liner bag.  Absorbent material (I use newspaper) should be inside the liner bag.

The second and equally important part of the shipping package equation is the shipping carton.  It needs to be strong and as water resistant.  An insulated styrofoam liner inside a cardboard box is the way to go.  Solid styrofoam liners are absolutely the best choice, but they are expensive.  Free boxes can be found with the right contacts in a drug store, hospital or university science lab, but when you are shipping a lot of fish the endless search for boxes gets old.  Many of us resort to cutting foam panels to fit boxes, which is a good option, but also time consuming.  This video will introduce you to a new technology in foam panels:  tongue and groove routed foam that snap together to make a more solid panel-sided foam liner.


Filed under Basics

Packing Fish for Shipping – Part 1

This video is the start of a new, short series on packaging and shipping fish.  I get a lot of requests for advice on shipping.  I also have a new type of insulated box that I want to show off.  This first video is dedicated to bagging the fish and packaging them to survive the rough and tumble experience of being shipped.  We will not get to the actual shipping box until the next video, but I shot them both at the same time, so the wait will not be long.

Disclaimer…  There are many, many ways to package fish for shipping.  My method has proven successful for me over a wide range of conditions and situations.  There are many shippers just as successful as I am, so if you are getting advice from one of them, and do not like the way I do it, my feelings will not be hurt.  I cannot guarantee that if you use my methods of packaging that your fish will make it through the mail without any problems.  Not even the carriers will guarantee the safety of live fish that they are handling.  That should tell us something about how the boxes are handled….


1 Comment

Filed under Basics

The Basic Aquarium – Installing Equipment

The Basic Aquarium part 3 covers the assembly and installation of the equipment on our 20-gallon kit.  The parts to this kit are an Aqueon Quiet-flow power filter, a heater and a standard fluorescent hood.  The only difference between this and other kits will be the details of how specific pieces are assembled.

I have had a few readers ask me how these videos can be used to help new hobbyists who may not know about my blog.  I have created a page which will include only the blog posts in this series, so if a club, pet store or anyone else wants to direct people to just these videos, use this link:

Please feel free to use that link however you wish.  The purpose of this series is to help new hobbyists, but it cannot be a benefit unless they see it!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Basics

Basic Aquarium – Part 2

Preparing the New Tank

This is the second installment in the Basic Aquarium series.  It covers preparing the tank before setting up the aquarium, and adding a basic gravel substrate with a few structural decorations.  The first part of the video will show you how I paint the backs of my tanks.  There are a lot of different ways to make a background, and it is important that you do something to cover the back of your tank.  It helps to create areas in your tank where fish can find a quiet refuge.  The aquarium will look a lot nicer too…

Leave a Comment

Filed under Basics

New Series – The Basic Aquarium

There is a scary statistic in our hobby… less than 10% of the first-time aquarium keepers stick with the hobby for more than a year.  Fortunately, that number has not changed a lot in 20+ years; but it is not a retention rate we should be proud of.  No matter how you try to explain the causes of the problem, the end result is that most of the failures are due to inadequate support for new hobbyists.  Either they are not getting good information, or they are not getting the right information when they need it the most.

Aquarium equipment manufacturers are fully aware that most of the aquariums they sell end up collecting dust in garages, and have been trying to find a solution.  Their strategy has been to apply the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid) to their products.  I applaud this philosophy, because I know that one of the most frustrating factors in taking up any technology-based hobby is figuring out how the equipment works.

The aquarium hobby started to become very complex in the 1990’s, and stores were cashing in on a new customer’s willingness to buy anything that they were told they ‘needed’.  What should have been a simple purchase of a tank, top, filter, heater, substrate and dechlorinator turned into a budget-busting expense that included everything from extra lights to vitamin drops.  The fault for that lies with the retailers, and the manufacturers knew it, so they came up with a way to try to make the hobby easier:  the aquarium kit.

Hooray for kits!  I think they are great.  New hobbyists can get all the essentials they need in a box, add a few extras (like substrate and a few decorations) and be reasonably assured that they will at least get the aquarium up and running successfully.  The kit has made the advice new hobbyists get more consistent, and it has lowered the price of getting started in the hobby.  I buy kits whenever I need an aquarium that will not end up plugged into my central air supply system in the fish room.  A 20H kit, usually on sale at a big box store, is less expensive than purchasing the parts separately.

This video series, titled The Basic Aquarium, will include videos on topics that I think a lot of experienced hobbyists take for granted.  They are aimed at new hobbyists, so if you know anyone who may benefit from a crash-course in aquarium set up and maintenance, please direct them to these videos.  The opening installment describes a basic aquarium kit.  Future episodes will show how I go about setting a tank up, decorating, planting, acclimating fish and even how to do a water change.  WARNING – the videos depict how I do things… I am not going to attempt to make a video that shows all the different methods.  I consider these videos as a starting point for new aquarium owners, and my hope is that they will give new hobbyists a basic understanding of how an aquarium works.

I would like to thank my friends at Aqueon (a division of Central Aquatics) for their generous support of this project.  I have used Central Aquatics products (Aqueon (formerly All-Glass), Kent Marine, Coral Life and Oceanic) for many years.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Basics