People keep goldfish for many reasons. There are those who simply wish to have a tank of colourful fish in their house for decoration and interest; those who enjoy showing their fish; people who are interested in breeding them and maintaining lines of quality goldfish varieties; people who are interested in gardening and wish to have a pond or water feature in their garden and those who, for whatever reason, simply want to keep one or two fish as pets or for ‘company’.
As varied as the reasons for keeping goldfish, so are the varieties and quality of the fish available. When I use the word quality, I am not referring to the health or condition of the fish, simply to how closely it matches up to show standards. These standards are created and published by the different organising bodies in the hobby, such as the FBAS, and usually include drawings and descriptions of the various recognised varieties of goldfish. Note here that I use the word varieties and not species. All goldfish, irrespective of their shape, colour or features, belong to the same species, namely Carassius auratus. All the varieties of the goldfish that we see today have been selectively bred by man over many generations. We see the same situation occur in the case of domestic dogs. These all belong to the same species, Canis familiaris, although, as we all know, a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours are available.
Those people who wish to breed and/or show their goldfish will be looking for fish that, in their opinion, adhere as closely to the show standards as possible. In the case of breeders, their parent stock will probably come from another breeder, well-known for keeping and breeding the particular variety sought. They will breed from the offspring, selecting from each generation those fish which they consider to be the strongest and best specimens and which appear to most closely match the standards for that particular variety.
People who elect to keep goldfish as pets, to add interest to a room or to inhabit the pond in their garden generally have completely different criteria in mind when choosing their fish. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in this. In these cases, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Show standards mean absolutely nothing if one has no intention of showing the fish in question or of breeding show quality fish. What is usually sought here is a fish which is bright and colourful, healthy and free of disease and, perhaps, with some character. Little attention is paid to whether the fish conforms to any single variety as defined in goldfish standards, or to the body shape or the finnage (unless it be a preference for long, flowing fins which, to some people, give the fish more character and make it more attractive).
We can go back to our comparison with dogs to see that those who wish to show their dogs pick the particular pure-bred variety which interests them. Those who wish to keep a dog as a pet often choose a mongrel or cross, simply because they happen to like it or, perhaps, because they consider that a cross can be a stronger animal, more likely to have a greater resistance to ailment and disease and, possibly, have a greater longevity. While goldfish do not actually have a pedigree, the same situation applies.
Before you purchase your fish, you will need to know where you are going to keep it. It is not a good idea to buy a fish on spec and then worry about where you are going to put it when you get home. Whether it be a pond, a vat or a tank, the water and filters need to be ‘mature’ in order to minimise the stress to the fish caused through being moved and placed in water conditions which probably differ greatly from those to which it has become accustomed.
At this point it is worth mentioning that, in my opinion, it is not a good idea to keep goldfish in goldfish bowls. They are very small and, what is more important, because of their shape, the surface area of the water at the neck of the bowl is greatly reduced and this seriously reduces the gas exchange at the waters surface. The water absorbs oxygen from the atmosphere and this oxygen is essential for the fish to breathe. The smaller the surface area, the less oxygen can be absorbed into the water. For this reason, if you must have a goldfish bowl, it should only be half-filled in order to maximise the water surface area. This does not help the aesthetic appearance of the container. It is far better to have a rectangular, square, triangular or bow fronted tank of a suitable size. You will also find, with a bit of care, you can make such a container far more pleasing to the eye.
If you are intending to add fish to an existing pond or aquarium, then providing there is sufficient space for them (always allowing for the future growth of the fish), there is little more to do. If, however, it is your intention to set up a new pond or aquarium then you will need to do so at least a week and preferably a fortnight before you introduce any fish. It is a good idea to add a little food or a proprietary additive to encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the filter. This will give the filter a chance to mature and the bacteria a chance to colonise the filter so that when fish are added the bacteria are ready to begin breaking down the ammonia produced by the fishes. Always remember that the mechanical filtering properties of the filter cannot remove this ammonia from the water and, although some chemical filter media are available, it is best removed by the encouragement of nitrifying bacteria in the water and on the surface of the filter medium.
Whatever your reasons for wishing to keep goldfish, you will have to obtain your stock from somewhere. Whether you opt to purchase your fish from a shop or dealer or from a private breeder, the basic prerequisites for choosing your fish remain the same. Generally you are looking for healthy young fish which fill all the requirements you have set for yourself. There is no point in buying fish for the sake of it. If the supplier does not have what you are looking for, then do not be tempted to buy something you are not looking for instead. In this case it is almost certain that, when you get home with your new fish, you will regret buying it and wish you had waited until the right one came along. This can lead to a loss of interest, if not in the hobby then in that particular fish and there is a danger that such a loss of interest can lead to your not giving the fish your best attention. It is far better to visit another supplier or wait until the supplier you have chosen has new stock to offer. If you had set your mind on buying a Rolls Royce you would not settle for a Mini. Do not be afraid to talk to the person from whom you are purchasing your stock. He or she has, after all, kept the fish for a time and, unless it is a dealer who is particularly busy at the time you are there, most are prepared to discuss the fish you are purchasing and offer advice when asked.
Wherever you propose to keep your goldfish, it is not advisable to stock to the limit immediately. It is best to add one or two fish at a time which will give the filters a chance to further mature. If you do not do this there is a danger that the filters will not cope with the amount of waste produced by the fish and the water will quickly become polluted and uninhabitable, ultimately resulting in the death of your fish.
In general, a little patience and care taken when purchasing and housing your fish will pay great dividends in the long-term enjoyment and success you will achieve with your hobby.
© Copyright Les Pearce, March 2003.