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Best gauge for how many fish in and aquarium?

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The eternal question.  My golden rule is 1 fish per gallon... or no wait, 1" of fish per gallon... or no wait, it's there is no set special way or rule. Every tank is different. 

I like to try to pick out the stock I want to keep and then make an aquarium that is well suited to handle the bioload. Or, if I already have the aquarium setup, I try to pick what it can accommodate. 

I still have to adjust, sometimes I don't have to maintain it very much and can add stock. Or I will have to maintain it too much and have to remove stock.  I think you just kind of get a feel for it with time. Setting up your 1st aquarium involves a lot of guessing. Setting up your 100th, or 1,000th, etc, not so bad.

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In my 10 gallon aquariums I usually put in a pair of Apistos. I have 11 discus in a 500 gallon. So that works out to something between 5 - 50 gallons per fish. Like @MickS77 and @Mr. Ed's Aquatics said, it is based on bioload and what is good for the fish.

How many fish per aquarium does it take to achieve happiness?

The fish are much, much happier if they are uncrowded, and in the end happy fish are what makes me happy.

@Patrick M. Bodega Aquatics you mentioned having a way. What is the way you do it?

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For me, I actually do a little bit of what you all discussed. I take the basic ( and untrue, I know) 1 inch per gallon rule. I then incorporate variables like filter size, aggression, max fish size, cover, how many gallons will be taken up from other objects, if I have real plants, and the shape of the aquarium. I am aware that I probably make it overly complicated but it usually works okay. I guess the main fact is yes, I kinda do use the 1 inch per gallon but with everything else I incorporate, I feel like I dilute it to a more acceptable ration. Thanks for asking! Let me know if anyone disagrees because I am always open for suggestions.

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