How to Get Started Collecting Ornamental Fish

How to Get Started Collecting Ornamental FishFrom tiger barbs to guppies, ornamental fish are known as stress reducers. Nothing beats relaxing in front of a large fish tank and watching a variety of marine life swimming gracefully. Then again, what’s even more satisfying is being able to grow and manage your own collection of colorful sea creatures.

Becoming a collector doesn’t happen overnight, though. You need to commit and invest a great deal of time and money to build an impressive collection. Here’s how you get started with this potentially addictive hobby:

Learn about marine fish life

The first thing you need to do is to build a solid foundation for the building of your collection. You don’t need a degree in marine biology to learn about the different types of fish that look great inside an aquarium. You can always join local hobby groups for ornamental fish collectors. Not only will you get to build contacts, but you can also develop a deeper appreciation for this worthwhile hobby.

You can also learn a lot about collecting marine life by reading blogs such as Oceanbites, National Geographic Ocean Views, and the Marine Megafauna Foundation. These provide resources that will tell you how to care for different marine life, as well as help you determine the right species to include in your collection. For added enrichment, you can also check out YouTube channels like Aquarium Co-Op and Dustin’s Fish Tanks that provide valuable tips for collecting and caring for marine life.

Collecting something is an educational endeavor. After all, learning something new about your hobby can help you make the most out of it, whether you are just collecting for fun or collecting for conserving marine life.

Look for a local hobby shop

As you learn about collecting ornamental fish, you also need to know where to get them. You don’t have to cross state lines just to find a hobby shop for aquarists. You can always find local fish stores that sell starters like goldfish, goby fish, and tetras that are very easy to maintain. If you are lucky, you could score exotic finds like red bull points and cichlids’ rarest types. On that note, expect to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars if you want to add them to your collection. It’s always best to find a store that’s ideal for people who want to start out small as a beginner.

Here are some ways you can easily find shops that cater to casual and even serious collectors:

Search online

Typing terms like “fish stores near me” into a search engine like Yahoo or Google can provide you with listings of nearby businesses that sell ornamental fish. You can also check out sites like Yelp, which feature reviews from past customers. This way, you can easily find a store that fits your budget and goals.

Join a local hobby group

There are many groups for different hobbyists, and there’s a good chance you can find one that’s dedicated to ornamental fish collecting. These groups regularly converge to share tips, insights, and, most importantly, the places where you can find ornamental fish for your aquarium. If you’re serious about being an aquarist, you might want to join one of these groups and learn about the best places that sell ornamental fish for starters like yourself.

Look at social media pages

Using social media sites like Facebook, can also lead you towards local fish stores, especially those that don’t get a lot of attention on search engines. However, it’s important to remember that Facebook prohibits businesses from selling pets directly from their pages. If you want to buy koi, for example, you might as well visit their physical stores instead. Be cautious when you are dealing with shady sellers who won’t divulge where they source their fish.

Know what fish to collect

Lovely freshwater fish on a tankAs you continue to learn about marine life, you will realize that collecting fish isn’t a matter of differentiating freshwater fish from saltwater ones. Different fish have different needs, and they won’t be able to live long if you fail to provide for these needs. Not only that, but you will also be tagged for unethical practices in handling delicate species.

If you are just starting out, you might want to avoid certain fish that require certain expertise (and a great deal of money) to take care of. Here are some of them:


Found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, grouper fish are very large and also very aggressive. They can grow as long as 7 feet and can weigh around 400 pounds. A fish that size could gobble up anything smaller, so it’s not a good idea to keep one in a small aquarium with lots of tiny fish that could qualify as a tasty snack. You will need a large enough tank and tons of crustaceans for these monsters to munch on if you plan on having one.

Red Banded Hawkfish

Though tiny, the red-banded hawkfish has the tendency to attack other fish in an aquarium. Keeping it with regular goldfish will definitely result in a massacre, so it’s best to give it a tank of its own with at least 75 gallons of water with enough coral and rocks. On the plus side, they are pretty to look at when they are not harassing smaller fish!

Orange Spot Filefish

They look cute for their size and color, but orange spot filefish are very picky with their diet — so much so that they would rather starve to death than eat anything else. These fish get a large part of their nutrition from Acropora corals, which are just as difficult to take care of in a home aquarium.

These are just three of the most difficult fish to keep as pets. Unless you have the money and time for it, collecting marine life with very specific needs is something you shouldn’t deal with as a beginner.

We can spend days writing about the different aquarium fish freshwater species you can collect. We suggest you start by visiting an aquarium trade or research online. At this point, it will be a matter of taste.

Once you start learning about the different species, you will then figure out which ones you like. We recommend looking into the Koi Fish species if your planning to have an outdoor pond.

Collect ethically

While collecting ornamental fish can be very satisfying, it can also be problematic. Avid collectors will do just about anything to get their hands on rare fish, and often cross ethical and legal boundaries to get what they want.

Additionally, in making sure that the fish you collect are from trusted sources, you will need to ask if the seller has secured the proper paperwork from environmental agencies and federal and local governments. If they can’t provide you copies proving their business’s legitimacy, then it’s best to look elsewhere. You may also report these individuals to the authorities. The illegal animal trade has long been a problem for environmental conservationists and legitimate collectors alike, so doing your part in enforcing marine life laws puts you in the right company.

At the end of the day, ethical collecting is all about knowing which species to breed and providing ideal environments for them, especially for highly sensitive ornamental fish such as catfish and cardinal tetras. Again, education goes a long way when it comes to being a law-abiding enthusiast.

How many species can you have?

Sure enough, around 300 kinds of saltwater fish can live in captivity, given the right conditions. The rest require professional handling by marine conservationists and are endangered. At any rate, you wouldn’t want to take a fish from its natural habitat and make it spend the rest of its life in a synthetic environment. The best you can do is to breed fish that are suitable for captivity. You can always consult experienced aquarists and environmental experts on the right types of fish you can keep or leave alone.

Sadly, not many fish are suitable for captivity, and the best way you can combat unethical practices is to avoid collecting any kind of marine fish whatsoever. But if you really insist on keeping one, you will need to provide them with ideal environments to thrive in. This brings us to the next tip on this list.

Prep your aquarium for the right fish

It’s important to build an aquarium that suits certain kinds of fish. Given that most ornamental fish are saltwater fish, your aquarium has to provide natural features like plenty of rocks and aquatic plants. Providing adequate lighting is also important for coral and anemones. You should also consider your fish tank’s ideal temperature since certain fish can tolerate cold water (like the rainbow shiner) and thrive in warmer environments (like angelfish).

You may also have to place enough sand on the bottom that will make certain fish like the geophagus feel at home. Finally, it should also be the right size, so it complements your home as well as preventing overcrowding.

How do I get my fish tank ready?

There are a few things you should have in mind when it comes to building a marine aquarium for fish. First of all, you should identify which species you would be purchasing. There are many species to choose from here in the United States. We recommend that you try to find a local ornamental fish trade or an aquarium trade near where you live.

Once you know which fish species you’re going with, you now need to decide where you are going to locate the fish tank. The location will determine the size of the fish tank. Select an aquarium tank size according to space you have available. Also, do not forget about the type of species you wan to start collecting.

After you purchase the tank, now it is time to decide what type of floor you will be adding to the tank. Usually, the floor that most indoor aquarium fish tanks have is called gravel. Then comes the best part, which is choosing the accessories for your aquarium. There are many accessories to choose from, including a paludarium, castle, artificial plants, or even a cool SpongeBob pineapple house.

Last for your aquarium is the water filter and the type of water you are going to use. You should take a look online for more details about the water temperature that your fish needs. Make sure you are able to provide the best environment for your fishes.

Can I put wild caught fish from the Ocean in my tank?

There is a huge debate about whether you should have wild caught fish species on your fish tank at home. Before you try catching any tropical fish, make sure you go to your local state department in charge of managing fish and wildlife resources. There are rules and limits according to some species you have to respect.

For example, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or FWC, there is a limit of 20 marine life species per person in a day in the United States. There are some exceptions to these rules for some specific species like the groupers and the seabass. These regulations can vary depending on the local departments.

Instead of capturing a wild caught fish from the sea, try to use an aquarium trade fish shop with tropical fish available.


Ornamental fish trade is becoming popular by the minute. If you want to start acquiring different fish species, you should start by deciding which tank to purchase. Once you get familiar with the fish tank filtration systems, you can choose from many fish variations. You can always find local fish stores that has a wide variety of tropical fish to sell.

Collecting ornamental fish is a costly, yet exciting endeavor. You just have to prepare for it by studying the kinds of fish you want to collect and learning their behaviors and ideal habitats. Rest assured, you can relax in front of your very own aquarium in no time!

Last Updated on 08/09/2020 by Karen Snow

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