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How to move your pond fish safely when moving house.

How to move your pond fish safely when moving house

by Ben Helm*

Moving
house (along with bereavement and getting married) is widely regarded as one
of life’s most stressful experiences. There can be so many unpredictable
variables that appear to conspire collaboratively to complicate the process,
testing our patience to the limit.

Any typical house move will require
meticulous planning to make sure that if nothing else, all of our earthly
belongings can be moved safely between properties. The more fortunate ones
can leave the packing and moving to professionals who have vast experience
at easing wardrobes down flights of stairs and packing the most fragile of
items so that they arrive intact at their destination.

Those of us with children can be faced with
additional challenges (depending on the distances involved) while pets can
add even further difficulties along the way. And if those pets are koi, we
can be faced with making a host of complicated arrangements – Something that
cannot and should not be left to the moving professionals.

Each house move will be unique with respect
to its specific details, but when koi (or any pond fish) are involved, a
number of steps need to be planned to make the move as hazard and
stress-free as possible for our koi and ourselves.

Moving and Stress

Incidents of disease will lag behind periods
of stress. When koi experience unfavourable and extreme changes to their
environment, they will inevitably suffer stress. This could involve a rapid
deterioration in water quality or repeated netting and handling, either of
which are likely to be experienced during a house move. When koi experience
such changes, their bodies react in such a way as to make them more
susceptible to disease and it is our responsibility to plan wisely and as
best as we can.

The move can be split into 3 stages:
Preparation, transportation and acclimatisation, and by managing each part
individually, steps can be taken to keep stress to a minimum.

large fish being carried in sling under frame

Preparation – Before the move

Professional breeders prefer to move koi in
cooler temperatures. The Environment Agency (the government body that is
responsible for the quality of our waters and the life that they support)
prefer to move and survey fish either side of the warmer months rather than
handle fish in the summer time. At cooler temperatures, fish metabolism is
reduced and because they are less active, they are easier to catch.
Furthermore, where the transportation of koi is involved, they are better
off transported in cooler temperatures as their demand for oxygen is reduced
yet the water’s ability to hold oxygen is increased. Consequently, you can
transport more fish, for longer periods in greater safety.

Unfortunately, during a house move we cannot
choose to move our koi ‘out of season’ as our timing is dictated by estate
agents and solicitors. But we can learn a few principles from the
professionals and apply them where possible to our own move for the benefit
of our koi.

  • Feeding. Plan to reduce
    feeding as the date of completion approaches (especially if it is a summer
    move). Koi excretion rates increase with stress, leading to the fouling of
    the transport water. Koi can quite easily go without food for a week and
    this will allow them to evacuate their guts prior to the move.
goldfish in plastic bagWater for transport.
Netting and capturing koi can cause any settled sediment or debris to be
resuspended in the pond (especially in a planted pond). If this water is
used for transporting koi, the suspended particulate matter will make the
water inferior compared with clear and debris-free water.

Water for bagging
should be collected from the pond before netting starts, ensuring that they
get the best water for their journey.

Planning transport.
Professionals that work in the fishery industry transport their stock in
fibreglass tanks (approx 1 cubic metre) that are sited on the back of a
pick-up truck. These tanks allow fish to enjoy a greater volume of water
during transportation as well as the benefits of vigorous diffused aeration.
Unfortunately, unless you have a willing contact in the fishery industry,
this preferred method of transportation is not an option for house movers
and you will have to rely on the way in which your koi entered the country –
in polythene bags. Available from koi dealers, large clear bags and elastic
bands are essential for moving koi.

A helping hand. Netting
and bagging a collection of koi can be a lengthy and risky procedure and
should be carried out as quickly and as cautiously as possible. Chasing koi
around a pond will only stress all fish involved and lengthy periods of time
spent in a bag while other koi are caught should be avoided. If koi are
bagged soon after a prolonged ‘chase’ their rapid respiration rates while
they recover will soon deplete the bagged water of oxygen. Ask a friend who
you can work with in a team to shepherd and net fish calmly and efficiently
one at a time. They can also help with the bagging up and carrying of bags
to and from vehicles.

Transportation – The Move

A useful piece of equipment that can make
life easier for you and your koi is a large floating cage net. Your koi can
be netted at leisure and deposited into the floating cage, and then, when
your bags and assistance is ready, the koi can be lifted swiftly into the
bags, ready to be transported.

If possible, oxygen should be used to inflate
the bags with the majority of the bag’s volume taken up with oxygen and the
remaining 20% with koi and water. Bags should be double bagged to give extra
protection against leaks and placed in either a box or a bin liner to cut
out the light and hence reduce koi stress.

Risks involved in transporting koi

By identifying the potential hazards when
transporting koi, we can ensure that the risk of the hazards occurring can
be kept to a minimum.
 

  1. Damage and abrasions
    to koi during netting. Koi can be spooked quite easily, inflicting
    damage on themselves by swimming into pond sides and pipework. Localised
    damage can often go unnoticed only to develop into an ulcer days later.
    The last thing you want to see is an explosion of loose scales floating
    through the water as you net your koi as this is a sure sign that the
    koi will have damaged themselves.
     
  2. Koi will readily leap
    clear of the pond if chased too vigorously. It is virtually impossible
    to out sprint a fish, netting it from behind, and in trying to do so
    will cause a koi to leap out of the water to escape its perceived
    predator. Avoid at all costs causing koi to race and speed up in a pond,
    but net them head-on by guiding them gently into a net. Two netsmen
    makes this so much easier.
     
  3. Deterioration of water
    quality within the bag. Even though koi will spend tens of hours in a
    plastic bag when exported from Japan, even 5 minutes in a bag is
    stressful for koi and their time spent in a bag should be kept as short
    as possible. Stress increases a koi’s respiration and excretion rates,
    both of which will cause the water in the bag to deteriorate. This is
    why the use of a large transport tank is far better. By assembling all
    of your koi in a floating cage net prior to bagging, you can keep the
    time that koi spend in a bag to a minimum.

Acclimatisation 

To be realistic, moving house is likely to
involve two moves for koi. As most moves involve leaving your old house and
moving into your new house in a day, there is no scope at all for preparing
a suitable pond at the new house, especially as one will probably take 4
weeks or so to start perform biologically. You may, as part of the sale
agreement, be able to negotiate that your koi stay where they are for a
month or so, giving you at least an opportunity to set up a temporary pond
for your koi. This is only practical if you are not moving far and are
allowed frequent, unhindered access to your fish and filter system.  

Alternatively, instead of being transported
on the day of the move to the new house, they could be boarded at a friend’s
pond until your temporary or new pond is in a suitable state to receive koi.

Either way, the new pond should be stocked gradually with your own fish to
allow the biofilter to keep pace with the stocking rate, avoiding the lethal
implications of New Pond Syndrome at all costs. 

An effective method of instantly seeding your
new pond and filter with a diverse and healthy population of autotrophic and
heterotrophic bacteria is to take media from your existing mature filter.
This removes the need to wait until your filter is colonised naturally by
successive bacterial populations.  

fish

Having secured your koi a new home, (whether
an obliging koi keeping friend, or a mature, temporary system), the koi
should be floated on the pond’s surface for 5 minutes for the temperatures
to become equalised. The bags are then opened, necks rolled down and system
water added to mix water the qualities and temperatures further, ready for
their koi to be released. If koi are being added to a new system from a
half-way-house, then only a handful of fish should be added at a time,
following the same acclimatisation procedure. 

Additional fish from your collection should
only be added to your maturing temporary set-up once the water tests show
that the filter is coping with the current levels of waste. The single most
informative test is nitrite as this tends to be more persistent and more
difficult for bacteria to breakdown than ammonia and once your filter can
consistently produce a zero nitrite reading, then you can safely add more
koi to your collection. 

Jumping Koi 

jumping koiBe sure to cover your temporary pond with a
tight net as newly introduced koi do tend to jump during their first few
days in a new pond. Check your koi closely on a regular basis for several
weeks after the move so you can notice and treat any bumps or bruises that
may have developed from the stress of the move. 

Watch out for individual fish that appear to
sulk or lose their appetite as these are likely to be suffering individual
problems. If your koi collection as a whole show similar behavioural signs
then test your water and identify any factors that continue to stress your
koi. Take a mucus sample and view under a microscope to assess the density
of external parasites and treat accordingly.