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The Great Quarantine Debate of 2002
I feel the (utterly foolhardy) urge to add my opinion to the recent brush
fire regarding quarantine procedures. Having recently had to destroy 90% of
my fish in response to a stubborn mycobacter outbreak, I have had ample
cause to ponder the issue of disease in the home aquaria. Consider me a
born-again quarantine enthusiast (and advocate).
I've speculated that if every aquarist began practicing quarantine measures,
we could bring a halt to every communicable aquarium disease within two
months. I can already hear you protesting, but consider: when we say
"communicable aquarium disease," we're not talking about "every possible
instance of disease." We're talking about "my fish getting sick." We can't
prevent losses due to transmission from commercial breeder to LFS, but we
can break the chain of transmission from LFS to our homes.
Of course, if your fish are being quarantined under stressful conditions,
then the quarantine will probably do more harm than good. (At least to the
new fish - it will still spare your existing fish!) Thus, anyone who wants
to travel down the quarantine road is beholden to set up a quarantine tank
that's a nice place to live.
Forget the bare-tank-with-sponge-filter. (As far as I'm concerned, nothing
should have to live in a bare tank unless it's undergoing medication.) Set
up a nice tank of appropriate size, and add some plants (I'm sure you've all
got plenty of clippings). Use sturdy, undemanding plants like Java fern and
wisteria, so you don't have to worry about CO2 or super-bright lighting. If
you like, nominate a few peaceful but inexpensive fish to serve as
quarantine tank minders, to maintain the bacterial cycle during those times
when the tank would otherwise stand empty. Otherwise just assume that the
plants will do an end-run around the cycling process when new fish are
As a side benefit, running a pleasant quarantine tank will motivate you to
actually use it. Who hasn't come home tired from the store and decided,
"Forget about digging out that 10g from the bottom of the closet. I'll just
add these guys to the new tank, and hope for the best. Besides, they LOOK
healthy - I'm sure they'll be fine." Every time you do this, you're rolling
the dice - and you're betting on the fate of every single fish in that tank.
It's an understandable bet, and it's one that I've made many times in the
past. But it's not, in a word, ethical.
I hear all the arguments against quarantine, and I sympathize. I would be a
hypocrite if I didn't. In the past, I've introduced thousands of fish
without using quarantine - but never again.