Friday, October 12, 2007

What to Do if Your Fish are Sick

If you suspect that fish are getting sick, the first thing to do is check the water quality. If you do not have a water quality test kit, contact your county extension office; some counties have been issued these kits, and your extension agent may be able to help you. If your county is not equipped with a water quality test kit, call the aquaculture extension specialist nearest to you (see the list at the end of this publication). Anyone contemplating commercial production of fish should invest in a water quality test kit and learn how to use it. An entry level kit for freshwater aquaculture can be purchased for about $200, and can save thousands of dollars worth of fish with its first use.
Low oxygen is a frequent cause of fish mortality in ponds, especially in the summer. High levels of ammonia are also commonly associated with disease outbreaks when fish are crowded in vats or tanks. Separate extension fact sheets are available that explain oxygen cycles, ammonia cycles, and management of these water quality problems. In general, check dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrite, and pH, during a minimum water quality screen associated with a fish disease outbreak. The parameters of significance include total alkalinity, total hardness, nitrate (saltwater systems) and chlorine (if using city water).

Ideally, daily records should be available for immediate reference when a fish disease outbreak occurs. These should include the dates fish were stocked, size of fish at stocking, source of fish, feeding rate, growth rate, daily mortality and water quality. This information is needed by the aquaculture specialist working with you to solve your fish disease problem. Good records, a description of behavioral and physical signs exhibited by sick fish, and results of water quality tests provide a complete case history for the diagnostician working on your case.

Professional assistance is available to Florida residents through the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida; the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Industries and Division of Aquaculture, as well as several private laboratories and veterinary practices. A list of public resources is included at the end of this publication.

If you decide to submit fish to a diagnostic laboratory you should collect live, sick fish, place them in a freezer bag (without water), and ship them on ice to the nearest facility. Small fish can be shipped alive by placing them in plastic bags which are partially filled (30%) with water. Oxygen gas can be injected into the bag prior to sealing it. An insulated container is recommended for shipping live, bagged fish as temperature fluctuations during transit are minimized. In addition to fish samples, a water sample collected in a clean jar should also be submitted. Detailed information on submitting samples is available in UF/IFAS Fact Sheet FA-55, Submission of Fish for Diagnostic Evaluation.