There’s something soothing about gazing at the gentle, graceful movements of a fish gliding through water.  Some studies indicate that watching these finned creatures even lowers blood pressure.  If you’re considering this pet for the very first time, doing some research and planning would be greatly beneficial to you and the fishes!  Here are a few considerations to get you started:


Freshwater or saltwater? Most people entering a pet store in search of fish are immediately drawn to the saltwater section because, generally, the marine habitat is more colorful.  Saltwater aquariums are not recommended for beginners, however, as they are much more difficult, time-consuming and expensive to maintain.  The thriving saltwater aquarium is a completely balanced ecosystem that requires specific lighting, plants, rocks and marine creatures; each one of these elements depends on the others for survival.  There are many freshwater fish that are just as colorful, and their care will serve as a learning experience for the emerging hobbyist.


How big and what kind of an aquarium do I need?The answer to this question depends on the number and type of fish you’d like to keep.  Remember that most fish are taken from large bodies of water so you don’t want to confine them to a much smaller space.  For some, a simple fish bowl will be appropriate.  For others, a pond may be required.  A 40 – 120 litre tank is ideal for the first time fish keeper, and the most widely accepted guideline is “4 litres of water per 1″ (25mm) of thin bodied fish.”  Don’t forget to allow for variations in adult-size of fish, water surface area and how many litres have been displaced by substrate and/or decorations.  An acrylic aquarium has the advantage of being lightweight, while a glass tank is more resistant to scratches.


What other equipment is needed?

  • Lining the bottom of the tank with a substrate serves both an aesthetic and practical purpose. It makes the aquarium more appealing to the eye and provides a breeding and feeding surface for the fishes. Whether to use gravel, stones, sand or another material (as well as the depth of those layers) depends on the size of the tank and whether it will house fishes, plants, etc.
  • A water filter, proportional to the tank size, will successfully remove excess food and decaying organic matter from the water.
  • A water heater keeps the aquarium temperature constant (as measured by a thermometer) regardless of outside conditions and is absolutely necessary for warm water fishes.
  • A water pump will propel a certain number of litres of water per hour through your filtration system. The size of your pump should be determined by the tank size and the preferences of the particular fish you intend to keep – some species may not like too much water flow.
  • A water test kit can be used to measure levels of chlorine, ammonia, hardness, nitrates, nitrites and pH which are critical to proper balance and the lives of your fishes.
  • Florescent lighting is very inexpensive and long-lived.
  • Fish food – only feed what they can eat in a few minutes.
  • A vacuum or siphon to clean debris from gravel.
  • A net for scooping up fish if necessary.
  • A glass scrubber for cleaning the tank – CAUTION: Do NOT use any type of detergent – use water only!


How much work will it be? Regular maintenance will keep your aquarium clean and your fishes healthy.  You will need to feed the fishes daily, as well as inspect them briefly for signs of stress or disease.  Also on a daily basis, ensure that the filter is working correctly and monitor water temperature and appearance.A “partial water change” should be done once a week, and a more thorough cleaning once a month.


With the right basic equipment in place, you’re ready to “go fishing!”  Whether they’re to be placed in a small fishbowl or a large pond, always inspect the fish; sunken bellies or eyes, clamped fins, laboured breathing, unusual swimming and external blemishes are all indicators of disease or parasites.  Most importantly, match the fish to the environment you’ve chosen – and have fun!