Aquarium keeping has been a household hobby for generations. It may be hard to imagine it existed before the internet, but the Victorians kept aquaria and hundreds of years before them the Chinese had elevated goldfish care to an art. For every budding aquarist, the challenges of a new tank were a barrier to a hobby that can become a lifelong passion and the most significant of these hurdles is stocking a new aquarium.

Most of the problems we see with customers’ aquaria are to do with water quality and the most lethal of these is the toxic welcome to the hobby that we know as New Tank Syndrome. Most aquarium filtration is powered by bacteria and their absence in the squeaky-clean environment of a new filter means the fish are swimming in their own waste. For years manufacturers have been trying to develop products to resolve this issue and it’s in the best interests of everyone involved that new fishkeepers become old fishkeepers with happy pets. A number of techniques have emerged with varying levels of success, the best of which remove all risk of stress and premature death from the fishes themselves. Whether you fancy yourself as an amateur scientist and decide to spend weeks playing with ammonia or choose the rather more dependable route of using one of a number of tried and tested bacterial cultures, you can now ensure that your first fish avoid the pitfalls. The key thing to remember is that a new aquarium demands patience, however, you do things.

We find the best method is to set up your new aquarium, then allow a week for everything to settle down and check that the equipment works properly. Without fish polluting things, water quality should be good and it’s at this point that a test kit is vital. We’ve been very impressed with the Microbe-Lift range ( and Nite-Out 2 is one of a few products which can smooth this tricky stage in every new system. Adding a daily dose combined with water testing can allow you to introduce your first fishes and monitor conditions, adding small numbers of fish gradually over a period of weeks and never when there’s any detectable level of ammonia or nitrite. Stocking too quickly will overwhelm your young population of filter bacteria and lead to spikes in pollution.

Whichever route you take to arrive at your first fish, we still think that in most cases it’s good to stock your new aquarium slowly and deliberately. This allows a margin of error if the system struggles and gives plenty of time to research your chosen species. It also means that any delays in sourcing your favourites can be factored in too. As you’ve no doubt discovered, there are always more species to tempt you than your aquarium can hold and it’s a lot easier to add fish than remove them.

In terms of choosing which type of fish to start with, the choices are rather bewildering. In the old days of cycling with hardy fishes which could endure pollution, we’d usually recommend Danios ( which are active, peaceful, and compatible with most community fish types. They’re tough enough to forgive a beginner some of the typical mistakes made whilst learning but a bit of research and guidance from staff should make this entirely unnecessary.

Once the water quality issues are addressed, the priority is selecting first fish that will happily accept new additions later on. A member of staff will be able to steer you away from species which are likely to react aggressively towards new additions later on. By mapping out your stocking plan, you can add more territorial fishes when their neighbours will be on familiar ground and better able to avoid conflict. If you’d rather do your research from the comfort of home, our databank can guide you through hundreds of species, some of which you won’t always find instore every day: