I always knew it was coming. I never expected to stay in that apartment - in fact, I stayed there much longer than I ever anticipated doing so. Last week I was finally forced to confront the problem of moving with fish.
As far as moves go, this one was relatively simple. We didn't move across the country - we didn't even move across town. We just moved a block down the road. We also had the opportunity to stretch the move over a few days, which made relocating the fish even easier. The down side was that I was moving a 55-gallon planted tank with substrate that hadn't been disturbed in about five years. This meant that I had thick, highly anaerobic substrate to move.
Step one was setting up a destination tank to temporarily house the fish in my new place. For this I used a 27-gallon tank without substrate. I set this up as soon as we got access to the new place. In a case like that, it's impossible to cycle a tank, but using an established filter and filling it with plants should help to alleviate that problem. I also made sure that it was very well-lit - plants that are growing are able to make use of a lot more nitrogenous waste products (ammonia, nitrites or nitrates) if they are growing. I could also have added gravel and decorations from the old tank (since they should support a healthy biofilm) but I chose not to.
The biggest challenge was emptying the old tank. The plants, rocks and driftwood were easy enough to remove, but doing so disturbed the substrate and re-suspended a lot of muck, making it difficult to see the fish I was trying to catch. Catching most of the fish was fairly straight-forward - wait for them to rest near the front of the tank and then catch them (using two nets, of course). Since they were only travelling a short distance, I placed them in a small plastic tub which I floated in the tank. I filled the tub with plants to provide cover for the fish. I floated the tub to avoid the problem of panicked fish jumping out of it - if they jumped, they would have been back in the aquarium, not flopping around on the carpet (or worse yet, cat-treats). The plant cover also should have reduced stress (and the urge to jump).
After catching what I could, I gradually lowered the water level, catching more fish as the water depth fell. The most challenging fish to catch were the kuhli loaches, which are both fast-moving and very shy. Once the fish were out, I piled the substrate to the back of the tank and scooped it out, trying my best to minimise the amount of water I was taking with me (since water adds weight to the already heavy gravel). This process also made it easier to scoop out the remaining water. Only when all of the gravel and almost all of the water was removed from the tank did I finally move the tank.
When you're move a tank, make sure you empty it as completely as possible. Aquaria are designed to handle a lot of weight (several hundred pounds)
- Plan your move. This whole process would have been a lot more complicated if we had completed the move in a single day.
- Gravel (and other substrate) is heavy dry and even heavier wet. If you can remove it long enough in advance before the move and let it dry out completely, all the better.
- Rationalise things. Do you need all your tanks? Are there fish that you can give away to friends or sell back to pet stores? Do you have old equipment you are not longer using? Think through what you need to move.
- Make a plan for how you're going to move your fish and plants. A short move is possible in a small tub, but a cross-country move, one that might take several days, is another matter entirely. How are you transporting your fish? Will they have enough air for the move? Are you mixing potentially incompatible fish? (Fish that can coexist in a tank with plenty of space may not be able to coexist in a small container.) What is the temperature going to be like where the fish are? Are you going to be able to house your fish when you get to your destination?