Why You Should Avoid Having Too Many FishLet me ask you a question. How would you like to spend the rest of your life living in a small room with six or seven other people? You eat, sleep and go to the toilet in this one room. Can you imagine what it would be like after a while? Pretty horrible I would have thought. If that's an unpleasant thought, why would you want to put a fish through this kind of torture for the rest of its life? Overstocking a fish tank can only go in one direction, downhill. How do you know if your tank is overstocked? Well firstly, does it look overstocked? Any intelligent person should be able to take one look at their tank and know whether they've got too many fish. Look at the photo to the right, does it look as though there are too many fish in this tank?
Before stocking any fish tank, it is very important to know exactly how big your fish will get. Would you go out and buy a Saint Bernard dog if you lived in a tiny flat. I would think not, common sense would prevail since most people know how big these dogs get. Now, why should it be different with fish? Do research into how big fish get before buying them.
So what happens if you do overstock your tank? Overstocking a tank won't just mean poor water quality. It can result in stunted growth, illnesses amongst fish, and even aggression problems. Lots of fish mean lots of waste, i.e. ammonia. You may well think you're okay, then one day your tank goes cloudy. This is often the first sign that you may have too many fish. Basically what is happening is your biological filter may be having problems keeping up with the amount of ammonia it has to deal with. Ammonia will start collecting in the tank water, rather than being processed by the biological filter. Occasionally when this happens, free swimming bacteria will start multiplying to consume it which is when you get the cloudy water. You must do a water test when you notice this happening, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH. It is very possible that you will find that you have ammonia present in the water. Nitrite and nitrate may be okay. In situations like this, it's always handy to have a product called Ammo Lock, or even Seachem Prime available to hand. Because ammonia is so toxic, you don't really want to expose your fish to it for too long. If your readings are quite high, 0.5 upwards for instance, it may be a good idea to use these products straight away just so you can give some relief to the fish until you can start doing water changes. What Prime/Ammo Lock does is convert ammonia into a non-toxic form.
People often get confused and worried after using these products. When they test the water, ammonia still shows up. Remember that you still have ammonia present, it's just not toxic. This is where we hope the manufacturers have made a product that works. The biological filtration will remove this non-toxic form. Only when you have a reading of zero ammonia will you know you are out of the woods.
If you are borderline overstocked, increasing the tank maintenance may help stop problems arising. If you now realise that you are in this situation, I would advise you to feed sparingly. Fish don't need to eat a lot, especially when they reach adulthood. Obviously the advantage of stocking correctly means that you have less chance of problems arising, it may also reduce the amount of time you spend maintaining the aquarium.
Fish keeping can become extremely addictive, it wouldn't be difficult to end up with an overstocked tank if you get carried away.