This is one of a series of articles that will
appear here giving an insider's view of how the
"fish biz" REALLY works.
If you clicked here because you thought there
was a box of something available for $15, PLEASE
leave the site ASAP!
Most island sources of fish
or corals charge a box charge of $8-$12 just for
the box! This reflects the cost of getting a box
back out to "Tuamotu," not just the box.
But, that is not what this is about. This is about
the care your fish get in transit, which can make or
break whether or not they live. The key factor
is $15 a box. That's what determines life or
death for your fish WAY to often! $15 a box.
I know you think there are a bunch of fish handling
experts out here in L.A. watching the every move
of an acclimating fish, just like you and I do,
but the truth is, it often comes down to $15 a box.
The fish that come into the U.S. from the Pacific
(except Hawai'i) have generally been bagged for
nearly 24 hours when they reach the West Coast.
One of two things happens here. They will be
acclimated and then either put in tanks in a
wholesale facility, or immediately reshipped out
to a wholesaler or store east of here. If they are
put in tanks here at a wholesalers', they are
called wholesale fish. If they are re-shipped out
immediately after acclimation, they are called
"trans-shipped" fish. Many stores buy trans-shipped
fish, because they are cheaper than tanked,
The retailer takes a bit of a chance on a few more
DOA's to get cheaper fish, so he can offer them for
less to you. If his supplier is good, he can save
money, and get good fish, if they are handled with
the proper care here when reacclimated and repacked.
The main benefit of trans-shipped product is that
a hundred local stores haven't been to the wholesaler
first thing Monday morning to "pick all the cherries"
before out-of-state store orders are packed for
shipping. He gets the same boxes that the wholesaler
gets, without other buyers picking the best stuff first.
There are only about a dozen big wholesale
places in L.A. where most Pacific fish enter the
U.S.; there are a hundred trans-shippers.
So, I think it is safe to say, at least half of
the stores in America carry fish and corals that
were trans-shipped via Los Angeles.
Now we get to the meat of "$15 a box" .... like any
business, labor costs are high. In the fish biz,
the most common labor is minimum wage type.
Few, if any, of these people have ever kept
a fish tank or read a fish book. They get $15 a box
to acclimate and repack each box of trans-shipped
fish or corals. Most places have a group working
as fast as possible to change as many boxes
as possible, as quickly as possible, so when it's
all done, at $15 a box, the group splits the money
and made decent money for their time. Fair enough.
The flaw in this is that how fast you can do it
is the driving force, not the welfare of the animal.
When it comes to acclimating a fish, particularly
one which has been in a bag for 24 hours and will be
for 24 more, speed should be the least concern,
except for getting it out of the bad water in
the bag and starting acclimation! How long or
fast they acclimate has nothing to do with it.
It's more about the money that is made by the
repackers at $15 a box. The animals' needs are
of absolutely no concern whatsoever.
Of course, there are some places that just pay the
minimum wage and not a per box rate. I've seen these
places often acclimate in a manner that would make
you cringe. Taking fish out of a bag and putting
them in a box with new water running as fast as
possible, like a hose at full blast, "to change
the water quickly," or to "create current," with
total disregard for differences in the pH of the water.
Again, the fish doesn't come first, it's still all
about how fast it can get done without regard for
what is best for the animal. There are many things
like this that are done while handling the animals
in the fish biz. How can you tell a business owner
how to run his business though?
It is what drove me to be a "little guy" on my own.
As a hobbyist first, the animals mean too much to me
to ever not put their needs first. I often acclimate
my trans-shipped fish overnight! Unheard of in the
industry. But, I would say losses are next to zero
if it wasn't dead in the bag when it got here. It
will ship better if given time to acclimate and
get out of the bag, swim around, see daylight, etc.,
for more than an hour ... before it's reshipped.
Of course trans-shipped fish are only sold to stores
in volume, they are not available to the hobbyist.
But, since many of the fish many of you are buying
in your local stores are trans-shipped, I thought
you'd be interested in how it actually happens.
Life or death is too often determined by $15 a box.
In all fairness, I do know one place that puts
carbon dioxide in the acclimating water to reduce
the pH to something near what the fish are in
(after 24 hours of excretion (ammonia) in the shipping
water, it is very acid) before starting acclimation.
This, so you can flush the bad water immediately
and as the C02 dissipates, the oxygen content rises
and the pH comes up slowly with it, and you greatly
reduce the chance of pH shock.
I'm not trying to indict any segment of the
fish biz, but the fact is we could do a way better
job of handling the fish. We could have fewer
losses. Fewer DOA's and longer lived fish.
Surely, we could trim a couple or a few percent
off current mortality levels if a higher standard
of acclimation process were required (like it is
in the fantasy land where I am King.)
This should extend to the store and hobbyist,
where it shall be against the law to acclimate
floating in the bag and all fish are dripped properly!
(Please see our article on fish acclimation.)
While there are lots of little things that cause
a percentage point of mortality here and a
percentage point there, they all add up.
Every one that we can do something about,
we ought to.
There's no excuse for fish abuse!