Many people who own fish tanks or ponds may have a regular cleaning service help with their maintenance. But how do you know a competent service from a dud? Your fish will thank you!
Can they name all the components of your system?
This is a simple and easy test. Do they know what each component of your system is called and what it is supposed to do?
If no, hire someone else.
Do they understand biological filtration?
More than just the components of filtration, biological conversion of ammonia to nitrite to nitrate is crucial for all aquatic systems. It is an essential skill that maintenance companies understand this cycle so they do not disturb it.
If no, hire someone else.
Do they test your water parameters?
Given our gospel on water quality, this one better be a no brainer. If they use test strips, give them a chance to be a legitimate test kit. And once they test the water, they better be able to conceptualize what is wrong and how to fix it.
If they don’t test your water or refuse to, hire someone else.
If they are scheduling a “clean out,” with removing fish, do they know about pH spikes?
We see this all too often. Yes, sometimes it is best to clear the deck, get all the fish out of the pond/tank and blast it clean. Then fill it back up, treat the water and toss the fish back in. But while your fish were in their holding tank, something deadly could have set in.
Depending on how long your fish were in their temporary holding tank, how many fish you have and how much water they have, your pH could have dropped significantly. In these holding pools, often without aeration or filtration, fish respirate, causing an increase in carbon dioxide levels resulting in a slow pH shift downward. The end result is your fish in water of 6.0 and your pond at 8.0. Tossing the fish in could result in instant death.
If this concept is completely foreign to your maintenance company or they have no way to test pH or compensate for pH levels (i.e. water changes), hire someone else.
What is their sanitation protocol?
Good maintenance companies should have more than one client. Between clients, how do they sanitize their equipment to make sure disease is not passed between tanks? This is critical if you want a disease-free system. They must be specific about the concentration of the disinfectant and the time. If they use a bath solution for a long period of time, how often do they change it out? Here are some examples of good maintenance regimens:
- 10% bleach for 10-20 minutes
- Remember: bleach degrades in sunlight!
- 1% Virkon for 20 minutes
- 15% Lysol for 20 minutes
- Mostly good for mycobacterium
Why do they use a certain cleanser? If “that’s the way they’ve always done it,” give them a week to come up with a better answer.
If they refuse to tell you, are vague on the instructions or say it’s “against company policy to share that information,” hire someone else.
Do they “treat fish” on the side?
BIG RED FLAG. Any maintenance company diagnosing or treating fish is violating veterinary practice laws. Don’t let them feed you the line that there is “no one else to call.”
The American Association of Fish Veterinarians is actively recruiting more veterinarians for assisting in the treatment of fish. They have a helpful Find a Fish Vet function on their main website. If you are in one of the rare states that do not have anyone to assist, contact your local small/large animal veterinarian. They can consult with ANY VETERINARIAN to come up with diagnostics and treatment plans. Our veterinary office consults with dozens of veterinarians, even internationally. There is NO EXCUSE to not consult a professional.
If your maintenance company says they can “save you some money and do it themselves,” you will lose more money in the long run and possibly your fish.
A good maintenance company will have referrals for their local aquatic veterinarian. The veterinarian can then cross refer the competent maintenance company. It’s what our office does and it works great.
Given the amount of maintenance companies around, it is impossible for us to assess them all. To be honest, most of them don’t measure up. If you find a good one, give them referrals!