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Late to the forum party, with neagative news and new knowledge.

James Croney

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I am excited to post my introduction on the AQC forums. Hello to all the nice fish people I have met in previous chats on youtube and elsewhere! Also hello to any mean fish people who would like to become nicer fish people by observing this community's behavior. 😉 I'm pretty new to the 'online fish stuff' cyberfold but one of the reasons I stuck around was not so much because of the interactions I had with the community, but the interactions I observed other people having within the community (on youtube livechats at least). I saw a naturally tolerant focused space, willing to nourish the collective knowledge of the people who participate in it. This is good, and rare. Maybe it's because there is a curated set of topics that are 'safe' lest you warm up the ban hammer. "Talk fishy stuff or go home" seems to be a bit of wisdom passed around here. I like these things, and am a bit nervous to see what happens too late at night on the Off Topic section, and other areas on the "fringe of fish". But this also brings me to the point of saying hi, sharing some text, and hoping to offset any reduction in the density of helpful information in this brave new form of a fish forum.

I suppose the best way to convey this is with a story...

There is a high-volume tank setup using multiple IBC totes in my back yard. These are typically used in aquaponics to hold larger volumes of water than fish tanks. Mainly because people who eat the fish don't want to watch them the same way as people who love them as pets. But also, Imagine the cost of a 1155 gallon fish tank... Ouch. I should also say for character purposes that I land in the middle between pet and food. I think its perfectly acceptable to love and care for the food that you eat, so that it can be the best food it can be. The intended philosophy of the setup is "balanced systems enhance each other". Aquaponics seemed like a great place to start with that kind of thinking, so that's why I have big plastic things in my back yard instead of traditional tanks.

I'll go into the system details in another post. I wanted to focus on some terrible disasters I have managed to create for myself and pass around some information that, well, would have helpful had I learned it before I had to learn it this way. The base things about my setup to know for context for now:

  • Some edible above-water plants (lettuce, herbs, etc)
  • Greenwater (very green)
  • Daphnia
  • Fancy guppies
  • Blue nile tilapia
  • White nile tilapia
  • Guppy grass
  • Water lettuce
  • Ramshorn snails
  • Pond "pest" snails
  • Scuds
  • Detritus worms
  • ..Whatever other water critters the wind blows in.


All the trouble started when I thought I was being clever. My friend gave me his old swimming pool. It was one of those Walmart specials, 800 gallons or so. I couldn't pass up all that free tank real estate! I should have. I called the pool my new "fish grow out tank" and was impressed with myself.

The next problem was when the fish I was growing out had babies. It happened in what felt like a week of giving them all that extra room. Thousands of fry swimming around two or three distinct spots in the pool. I imagine three mother tilapia were keeping their distance from each other. Again, green water so I have no idea what it looks like 'in the tank' beyond an inch or two of water depth. The green water was good for the fry as it protected them from being excessively eaten/seen by other larger fish. The fry also seemed to eat the little bits in the green water, as their poop was mostly green. When the fry were big enough, I netted them out carefully and put them in one of the open totes to raise them to be bigger fish. -- You can't catch all the fry this way... So I left some snacks for the bigger fish. Crisis averted! Breeder skillz unlocked! First successful brood making it out of the tank and living. Life was good for a few weeks.

The pool ring on top pops one night. Waste and refill 300 gallons of water, but no losses of fish etc. I water change by watering my 'normal garden', but that isn't a huge space compared to the water volume. Patch the inflatable pool part with aquarium silicone, fill in water as normal: straight from the garden hose, but trickled so as to blend in with the other thousand+ gallons.

Repeat holes in the pool top. Three or four times. It happens at night a lot... what is going on? Finally figure out that the tilapia are popping the inflatable pool top. Dangit! Need to think of new outgrow tank solution soon so I don't keep waking up to water everywhere in the backyard. Thinking on it. ... weeks pass. Pool pops again. *sigh* Patch the pool but this time its different. The plastic is very very brittle. I'm surprised it hadn't given out completely already. It was either some complex long reaction with the aquarium silicone and this particular plastic or the intense Arizona sunlight, but the popped pool was pooped.

I decided I should move the tilapia from the pool back to the IBC totes. Again, thinking I was clever, this would give me a chance to sort them in order of small, medium, and yum. I ate my first two fish from my setup. This is is a golden highlight, despite my epic failures I will get to soon and minor frustrations I have omitted, this was a milestone.

I noticed the plants were doing well, but not as well as they had been... Ok, so test.

  • PH
    • AM: 6.5
    • PM: 7.5
  • Nitrates: 160+
  • Nitrites: 0.5
  • Ammonia: "Ideal"

Seems fine for a system that wants excessive amounts of nitrates for plant growth, and a high PH (acidic) in the morning for optimum nutrient exchange with the plants. (In traditional indoor aquariums the nitrates would be much lower) Hmm, ok. After some time nitrate levels went up even though the plants weren't growing. My test needs adjustment... but how. Oh, a good number of unexpected fry, now weeks later and larger had made their way into every possible container and were nibbling down the roots of my plants! There is no test strip for this. The larger fish seemed to leave the roots alone, but the little ones loved it to the point of distressing the plants. Plants have trouble growing without roots. Problem identified. While netting out the smaller fish back into the 'small fish tank' I noticed the bigger fish looked 'slow'. Not unhappy, they had clear eyes, were eating, etc. Just a little 'lackluster' maybe. Ill keep an eye on it... I figured that they were still unhappy from their move from 800 gallons to 350 gallons (over three totes). There was enough space between each fish and the gallonage math I did made sense to me... But a mistake I made is not considering how the fish felt i think. Call it the farmer's forgetfulness, but these things just got a super downgrade on their living space collectively. One person only needs so much space to live mathematically, but imagine 200 people accustomed to a large space being cramped into a three-story apartment building where not only was their space smaller, but now their paths cross with another person every time they look around. Even the green water that was getting greener and greener was no help to relax them from seeing each other. But I wasn't really aware of how bad this would get. As far as I thought, the plant roots would grow now, the plants would 'pick up the slack' and the system would normalize all 'aquaponics wizard' style.

Fish are eating less now. I notice a bit or two of uneaten food. Very strange, they usually eat it all, or at least there isn't enough left over that the snails don't take care of... So this means that even with the snails there is now excess food. Hmm... Soon it was clear the fish were eating abnormally less. At this point I start to realize green water is good, but I need to see my fish for other reasons -- like health. They were still coming to the surface to eat, but were not excited to eat even though I knew they weren't eating a lot. As a last hope of something good, I thought maybe females were not eating because they were holding eggs in their mouth and that would mean they eat less... That story let me sleep comfortably at least.

I notice a fish with a cloudy eye swimming. Can't catch him, but saw him once or twice over a day. Test the water.

  • PH
    • AM: 6
    • PM: 8
  • Nitrates: 80+
  • Nitrites: 0
  • Ammonia: "safe"

The PH is swinging far too wildly. Green water makes your ph swing a lot, kindof like a battery charging and discharging from the sun. In the mornings its acidic and in the evenings its more basic. Tilapia like 8 or even 9. Fish don't like 6, but fish especially don't like 6 then 8 then 6 then 8. The transitions in PH is almost more stressful than being at the "wrong PH" I would say. Given the PH is swinging this wildly, I thought i could help buffer it with some alkaline stuff like baking soda or wonder shell (plug). I did baking soda first, and then failing that a wonder shell. Still didn't stabilize. I had at this point driven up my hardness and alkalinity and nothing changed, which was not supposed to be the case. I could only think that all that green water must have been actually swinging and suspending that PH across the entire tank. That's a lot of energy exchange! It was thinking over this I noticed the green water had what looked like a very very fine green chalk powder in it. "Well at least the green water is doing good..." but I also knew I had to figure out a way to dial it back because it reminded me of smoke in the air.

Water PH continues to swing wildly while I wait for my green water clean up team to arrive in the mail -- Daphnia. I kept them inside a 5 gallon bucket that I kept inside the tank. It kept the main daphnia colony safe while keeping the temperature the same as the tank water. I made sure to take in as little water as possible from the shipping water. I drained and strained the daphnia but they were still a little wet putting them in  the 5 gallon bucket. When the daphnia came to the surface in the morning I poured more water into the bucket, allowing some daphnia to fall over the brim of the bucket. This way I could preserve and feed a colony inside the bucket while sending daphnia out into the greater wilds of my tank to eat down some of this green water and populate. Ok, multiple things went wrong, but I'm on the right track here. Now to get back on the rails and get the plants growing again.

Cloudy eye'd fish has a friend who also has a cloudy eye now and they are swimming funny. "Something is wrong, and getting wronger." Keep testing water, no reduction in the PH swing or other bad news. Eject! Massive water change freakout. I drained probably 400 gallons of water into my yard and slowly let the hose fill it back up over the next two days. I then did this again a few days later. figured if anything, chlorine will be a less-than-ideal antiseptic for the fish and the 800 gallon water change will flush out most of the bad scary things I'm blindly running from by changing water. Green water is a bit more clear now from the water change.

About a week later I find a dead fish, stiff. Not dead long, but for sure not alive. I have a little private moment to myself and plant him under the banana tree. I also noticed cloudy eye and his friend got better, or maybe one got better and i just buried the other. Either way, it seems my sick fish count is zero now. A few days later I see three fish swimming funny again, and its the same thing that cloudy eye had caught. I decide to net them out alive and see whats wrong. They were swimming so badly it was easy to catch them in the net. Their eyes are slightly clouded but not puffy. Fins are not damaged like finrot, but have little bloody spots around the base. It looks like it itches. Fish do not like it being touched around their fins, more so than normal. My hunch is bacteria, and some youtube videos loosely confirm that. I'm equipped with a few fancy dip strips, but not a full lab here. Guessing my way through google, I stumble on some really good links that I will share at the end.  They didn't reveal the solutions to my problem though...

Even more fish are swimming funny, and green water is approaching its previous green-ness at a very fast pace. Daphnia have not taken hold in the system yet. More fish are sick. Then more fish. Then lots of fish, then even more fish. It was a very terrible week for my tanks and I'll spare you the details here, but I was left with about 50 'strong fish' plus a few hundred fingerlings that had grown to the length of a credit card. Strangely none of the bacteria or sickness hurt the younger fish. In my optimism I thought that this could be a system regulation, now all the fish have room, now there is less stress, and I have the strongest fish left. Wrong. Even the strong fish started to get slow now, and I feared the process was about to happen again. It was.

I was going to fight it. I realized netting these fish out into a quarantine tank was going to be more of the same stress on them, so decided to dose the whole tank with iodine. ... Which you have to be very very careful with. It will kill a human if they drink it, but it is an antiseptic that well, is within budget. In some far eastern countries they use it in fish farms, but not sure about other regions. So now I am a doctor, ok? (joke) I apply the iodine to the sump tank slowly, a few small squirts every 6 hours or so of daylight. This seemed to go well. I noticed the snails did not like this, and had a small snail die off but nothing larger than weather changes bring. The fish seemed more active, but that was likely due to iodine cleaning the gills. Hopefully it more of a tickly burn, and judging on their swimming it wasn't extreme. Whew... ok, this might be over. Nope.

One morning many fish are dead. This time its the small fish, and their symptoms are different. I clean out the group of them. They all appear to be freshly dead, except one young fish that was dead for maybe a day or two longer. Ok, so maybe this is just a fish that died and got others sick? Hmm... Over the next few days a second massive die off happened with this second sickness. The eyes got cloudly but also bulged very far out. Again, turning to the internet I found information linked below for streptococcosis, which seemed to match everything I had seen in the second die off. I begin to fear that my iodine sterilization worked too well, and disrupted the bacterial balance that was preventing even worse things from infecting the fish. As it happens, most of the terribly scary diseases are present in the water already. The outbreaks happen when the fish are vulnerable enough to become infected, or conditions for the bad diseases becomes optimal. Seemed to me that killing off a lot of bacteria with iodine made the conditions more favorable to the bad diseases, but not sure. All I really know is that now my little fish are sick.

In what felt like less than a week the outbreak had killed all but a few of my little fish. I'm down to about 20 fish total. The second sickness was far more acute and terrible than the first. Something tells me fish don't get streptococcosis unless there is something terribly terribly wrong with their environment.

The daphnia at this point have caught up, and with the reduced fish waste, the green water is looking slightly less green. The remaining fish seem stable and healthy. As the water continues to clear, it becomes brown-ish. I believe this is because the green water ran out of nutrients (fish poop) to sustain itself before the daphnia could consume it all. Hopefully the scuds will eat it now as it falls to the bottom and mixes in with the other muck.

In all that, I would like to pass on these points in the context of the story above:

  • When in doubt, test the water.
  • When the water test does not reveal your problem, question your assumptions about why you are testing.
  • Green water makes the PH swing acidic (low) in the morning and basic (high) at night
  • Green water provides an optimal environment for fry, but has other downsides.
  • Visual inspection of fish is required unless there is extreme skill is involved.
  • Large PH swings can stress fish, but some stress is ok.
  • The math for happy-fish-per-gallon only applies if the fish are not previously accustomed to larger volumes.
  • Bacterial infections do not indicate 'lots of bacteria' in the water, but rather that the fish have become stressed enough to become vulnerable.
  • Fingerling fish seem to have a higher tolerance to bacteria and other disease than fry or or adult fish.
  • Reduction in the amount of food eaten is not always bad, but should be seen as a heavy indicator for other sickness.
  • Over-correcting an unbalanced system will catapult fish stress into the danger zone.
  • Be careful of the types of plastic/glues that are used. Some may react in strange ways over time.
  • Just because some information does not reveal a solution to your specific problem does not mean it is bad information.
  • Pregnant humans may want to take caution when fish keeping, as the baby may be vulnerable to certain fish diseases.






Finally, I'm happy to answer any questions, or observe any corrections but please direct message me as this is an introduction thread. Feel free to reply with all the hellos, howdys, hi-yas, and other greetings though. 🙂

Edited by James Croney
Re-added tags.
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Is your hypothesis that the fish originally got sick from being in a psychologically crowded spaces after having been in a larger space?

I wonder that if you had instead culled some fish (or obtained more IBC's) if it would have turned out better for you - even though the "math" was right. Because you look at those giant farming operations it seems like they sometimes have more fish than water! But these fish came from free swimming space.

In your summary you mention plastics and glues - but no mention of it in your write-up. Is that something you came across in your readings? Or something you suspected was an issue amongst issues?

Also you mention pregnant women - whenever you put your hands or arms in a fish tank you should wash immediately afterwords with soap and hot water. There are some horrible sicknesses humans can contract. I recall a story of one woman getting an almost flesh eating like disease. And while rare I think its a simple thing to do (washing up) to prevent a horrible situation that could dramatically alter your life.

Are you rebuilding your colony and have you decided on how much stock you will maintain?


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