House prices continue to rise at an incredible rate and the competition for the next rung on the property ladder is so fierce that many are sold as soon as they are advertised. Consequently, the housing market has never been as buoyant with many homeowners looking to trade up to bigger and better houses. All well and good, but what if you have a pond full of fish that you want to take with you?
A typical house move will require meticulous planning to make sure that if nothing else, all of our earthly belongings can be moved safely between properties. The more fortunate ones can leave the packing and moving to professionals who have vast experience at easing wardrobes down flights of stairs and packing the most fragile of items so that they arrive intact at their destination.
Those of us with children can be faced with additional challenges (depending on the distances involved) while pets can add even further difficulties along the way. And if those pets are pond fish, we can be faced with making a host of complicated arrangements – Something that cannot and should not be left to the moving professionals.
Each house move will be unique with respect to its specific details, but when pond fish are involved, a number of steps need to be planned to make the move as hazard and stress-free as possible for our fish and ourselves.
Moving and Stress
Incidents of disease will lag behind periods of stress. When fish experience unfavourable and extreme changes to their environment, they will inevitably suffer stress. This could involve a rapid deterioration in water quality or repeated netting and handling, either of which are likely to be experienced during a house move. When fish experience such changes, their bodies react in such a way as to make them more susceptible to disease and it is our responsibility to plan wisely and as best as we can to keep stress to a minimum.
The move can be split into 3 stages: Preparation, transportation and acclimatisation, and by managing each part individually, steps can be taken to keep stress to a minimum.
Preparation – Before the move.
The best time for moving pond fish is during cooler temperatures. Being cold-blooded, fish metabolism at these temperatures is reduced, they are less active and easier to catch. Furthermore, they are less likely to pollute their transportation water than if they were transported in the summer months.
Unfortunately, during a house move we cannot choose to move our fish ‘out of season’ as our timing is dictated by estate agents and solicitors. But we can learn a few principles from the professionals and apply them where possible to our own move for the benefit of our fish.
Feeding. Plan to reduce feeding as the date of completion approaches (especially if it is a summer move). Fish excretion rates increase with stress, leading to the fouling of the transport water. Fish can quite easily go without food for a week and this will allow them to evacuate their guts prior to the move.
Water for transport. Netting and capturing fish can cause any settled sediment or debris to be resuspended in the pond (especially in a planted pond). If this water is used for transporting fish, the suspended particulate matter will make the water inferior compared with clear and debris-free water. Water for bagging should be collected from the pond before netting starts, ensuring that they get the best water for their journey.
Planning transport. Professionals that work in the fishery industry transport their stock in fibreglass tanks (approx 1 cubic metre) that are sited on the back of a pick-up truck. These tanks allow fish to enjoy a greater volume of water during transportation as well as the benefits of vigorous diffused aeration. Unfortunately, unless you have a willing contact in the fishery industry, this preferred method of transportation is not an option for house movers and you will have to rely on the way in which your pond fish entered the country – in polythene bags. Available from aquatic stores, large clear bags and elastic bands are essential for moving fish.
A helping hand. Netting and bagging a collection of pond fish can be a lengthy and risky procedure and should be carried out as quickly and as cautiously as possible. Chasing fish around a pond will only stress all fish involved and lengthy periods of time spent in a bag while other fish are caught should be avoided. If they are bagged soon after a prolonged ‘chase’ their rapid respiration rates while they recover will soon deplete the bagged water of oxygen. Ask a friend who you can work with in a team to shepherd and net fish calmly and efficiently one at a time. They can also help with the bagging up and carrying of bags to and from vehicles.
Transportation – The Move.
A useful piece of equipment that can make life easier for you and your pond fish is a large floating cage net. Your fish can be netted at leisure and deposited into the floating cage, and then , when your bags and assistance is ready, they can be lifted swiftly into the bags, ready to be transported. If possible, oxygen should be used to inflate the bags with the majority of the bag’s volume taken up with oxygen and the remaining 20% with fish and water. Bags should be double bagged to give extra protection against leaks and placed in either a box or a bin liner to cut out the light and hence reduce fish stress.
Risks involved in transporting pond fish.
By identifying the potential hazards when transporting fish, we can ensure that the risk of the hazards occurring can be kept to a minimum.
a. Damage and abrasions to fish during netting. Fish can be spooked quite easily, inflicting damage on themselves by swimming into pond sides and pipework. Localised damage can often go unnoticed only to develop into an ulcer days later. The last thing you want to see is an explosion of loose scales floating through the water as you net your fish as this is a sure sign that the fish will have damaged themselves. b. Fish will readily leap clear of the pond if chased too vigorously. It is virtually impossible to out sprint a fish, netting it from behind, and in trying to do so will cause them to leap out of the water to escape its perceived predator. Avoid at all costs causing fish to race and speed up in a pond, but net them head-on by guiding them gently into a net. Two netsmen makes this so much easier. c. Deterioration of water quality within the bag. Even though fish will spend tens of hours in a plastic bag when exported from overseas, even 5 minutes in a bag is stressful for fish and their time spent in a bag should be kept as short as possible. Stress increases a fish’s respiration and excretion rates, both of which will cause the water in the bag to deteriorate. This is why the use of a large transport tank is far better. By gathering all of your fish in a floating cage net prior to bagging, you can keep the time that your fish spend in a bag to a minimum.
To be realistic, moving house is likely to involve two moves for your pond fish. As most moves involve leaving your old house and moving into your new house in a day, there is no scope at all for preparing a suitable pond at the new house, especially as one will probably take 4 weeks or so to start perform biologically. You may, as part of the sale agreement, be able to negotiate that your fish stay where they are for a month or so, giving you at least an opportunity to set up a temporary pond for your fish in your new house. This is only practical if you are not moving far and are allowed frequent, unhindered access to your fish and filter system. Alternatively, instead of being transported on the day of the move to the new house, they could be boarded at a friend’s pond until your temporary or new pond is in a suitable state to receive them. Either way, the new pond should be stocked gradually with your own fish to allow the biofilter to keep pace with the stocking rate, avoiding the lethal implications of New Pond Syndrome at all costs.
An effective method of instantly seeding your new pond and filter with a diverse and healthy population of autotrophic and heterotrophic bacteria is to take media from your existing mature filter. This removes the need to wait until your filter is colonised naturally by successive bacterial populations.
Having secured your fish a new home, (whether an obliging fish keeping friend, or a mature, temporary system), they should be floated on the pond’s surface for 5 minutes for the temperatures to become equalised. The bags are then opened, necks rolled down and pond water added to the bag to mix the water qualities and temperatures further, ready for the fish to be released. If your fish are being added to a new system from a half-way-house, then only a handful of fish should be added at a time, following the same acclimatisation procedure.
Additional fish from your pond should only be added to your maturing temporary set-up once the water tests show that the filter is coping with the current levels of waste. The single most informative test is nitrite as this tends to be more persistent and more difficult for bacteria to breakdown than ammonia and once your filter can consistently produce a zero nitrite reading, then you can safely add more fish to your collection.
Be sure to cover your temporary pond with a tight net as newly introduced fish do tend to jump during their first few days in a new pond. Check your fish closely on a regular basis for several weeks after the move so you can notice and treat any bumps or bruises that may have developed from the stress of the move.
Watch out for individual fish that appear to sulk or lose their appetite as these are likely to be suffering individual problems. If your fish as a whole show similar behavioural signs then test your water and identify any factors that continue to stress your fish.
How to move your pond fish in 7 steps;
Decide on your method of transportation – Transportation tank or bags?
Where are your fish going? A friend’s pond or a temporary pond at your new address? If necessary, source a supplier of a temporary pond and filter system.
Net your fish with help, bag them up and transport them.
Float and release fish in a mature pond
Monitor water quality and change water when appropriate
Inspect fish closely for bumps, abrasions and external parasites and treat if necessary.
Secure pond netting over the new pond to prevent fish from leaping out. (Especially keep an eye out for Orfe).