Moving a Large Freshwater Fish Tank
(Without killing any fish!)
I have kept tropical fish for most of my life. During that time I have had the occasion to move with a 55 gallon fish tank three different times. The longest move entailed a 3 hour drive to get from my apartment in New York to our new house in Pennsylvania. Employing the same strategy each time, I successfully relocated my aquarium and all of its inhabitants safely to their new location over the course of a few days. Let me tell you how I did it.
My aquarium setup at the time consisted of a 55 gallon tank with an Aquaclear 110 HOB filter and an Eheim Classic canister filter. I had a standard fluorescent light hood with plant enhancing bulbs. The tank was occupied by 8 Buenos Aires Tetras, 6 Rosy Barbs, 6 Pearl Gouramis, 1 Red-Tail Shark, 1 small pleco and 7 Pepper Cory catfish. A large piece of driftwood, 2 very healthy Amazon Sword plants and several bunches of Anacharis were also in the tank when it was moved.
Planning and Preparation
This key step began a few weeks before the actual move. We had decided on the aquarium’s location in the new house. I used 2 twelve gallon Eclipse tanks that I had for a staging area for when the fish arrived and set them up on the floor close to the tank’s eventual location.
I had been saving and collecting empty 1 gallon water bottles for several months and had 20 of them. Over the course of 10 days I did 3 water changes and saved the water from the tank in my gallon bottles. I took a road trip to the new house 2 days before the move with the water and filed my two eclipse tanks filled with 90% aged water. I topped them off with fresh water, turned on the heaters and filters and the tanks were ready to receive some temporary guests.
One concession that I felt had to be made in the interests of completing this move in one day was to use mostly new substrate in the new location. This saved a lot of gravel washing and some valuable time. So I had 60 pounds of new substrate rinsed and ready to use stored nearby.
Many options had been considered for transporting the fish. Choosing against large plastic bags because of the oxygen deprivation factor I finally decided on using an old, solid plastic, picnic cooler. It sealed tightly and could be carried by two people once it was full. It had a capacity of 10 gallons and we wouldn’t need to fill it completely. I drilled 12 holes in the top for airflow. Now we were ready to roll.
Taking Down The Aquarium
On the morning of the move I began by taking down the filters, taking care to keep the filter media wet and in a plastic bag. These will be used at the new location to maintain the biological filtration and not shock the new tank. I am also taking about 5 pounds of the current substrate to get the new base started.
Now, with the help of my trusted assistants, my wife and son, we started emptying the tank. Using my siphon we filled the cooler about 3/4 full and then started filling the gallon bottles again. As the water level dropped in the tank I took out the plants and placed them in the cooler. The driftwood and rocks went in a bucket and now it was time to get the fish.
With the water now in the bottles and cooler the tank was only about half full. This made it easier to capture the fish and I started with the gouramis and got them safely one by one into the cooler. They swam down under the floating plants as I concentrated on the other fish. I started catching anything I can and soon had all the fish in the cooler. We closed it up and taped down the cover and put it into back seat of a car.
Moving quickly we finished emptying the tank and removed as much of the gravel as we could before picking up the tank and taking it outside. We gave it a good rinsing and loaded it into the back of an SUV.
Setting Up The New Aquarium
We drove to the new house with the fish securely strapped-in on the back seat. We had the water and all the other media and equipment and after a 3 hour drive arrived at our destination.
First I took the cooler and put the fish into their temporary tanks, putting the gouramis and cories on one tank and the rest in the other one. We then placed the aquarium and stand in its new location and filled it with the clean substrate. I mixed in the 5 pounds of older substrate I had gathered, concentrating it where my plants would go.
Now I filled the tank with the 20 bottles and the water that had travelled with the fish in the cooler. I put the filters into place using the old media and had them ready to go for when the tank was full. The tank was now half full and contained substrate so next I put the plants and driftwood piece in place.
Starting with the tank containing the smaller fish I began introducing the fish to their new home, which was the same as their old home. After finishing with the first tank I used its water to continue filing the main aquarium. I followed the same process with the second small tank and after its liquid contents went in we were almost full. A few extra gallons of fresh water were next and then the filters and heater got turned on.
I have had a 100% success rate with this procedure and have never lost a fish during a move. I think the key is to bring as much old water and biological media that you can to quickly ramp up the tank to its former state. This reduces the stress on your fish and leads to a smooth transition. Good luck if you are attempting to move with your tank. Following these basic tips will allow your fish to have a safe journey to their new home.
by AQUARIST GUIDE