Q: “How Many Fish Can I Keep?”
A: "As Many As You Can Stuff Into Your Aquarium"
The above answer isn't very helpful is it? Most people have enough common sense to know that literally stuffing their aquariums with fish would result in dead fish, but they ask the question anyway. The question is missing some very important qualifiers, like the desired lifespan of the fish, yet new aquarists forget to stop and think about what they are actually saying sometimes. Subsequently, many new aquarists wind up in an interesting predicament: multiple "right" answers. Depending on who is asked, the answer will vary wildly because the question is missing important information.
For example, some websites advocate the inch-per-gallon rule while others advocate "12 square inches per inch of fish." These two guidelines are very different with regard to both underlying principle and the net effect. Additionally, neither one works depending on what is meant when the "How Many?" question is asked; sadly, neither rule covers all aquarium conditions and both rules have shortcomings. One of their most significant handicaps is an inability to place fish in aquariums of an appropriate size. That is, even though both agree that a 10-inch fish can be placed in a 10-gallon aquarium, both omit that a 10-gallon is not actually big enough for such a fish to turn around. This is a huge problem for new aquarists in that almost all of the "rules" are actually guidelines that work only if the conditions are fairly specific (i.e., the fish have to be of the right type, of the right size, and in the right tank).
So what is the solution? How are new aquarists supposed to know how many fish they can keep? The truth is that there is no answer to these questions that is short and easy, despite how simple the common stocking guidelines appear. Stocking aquariums appropriately not only requires a fairly specific question (specifying lifespan, life conditions, basic fishkeeping philosophy, etc.) but also requires a good deal of knowledge and common sense. Therefore, new aquarists should not be asking how many fish they can keep. Instead, they should be requesting information: What factors affect stocking capacity? Are there any good books out there that go over fish needs in detail? Who can I talk to about my specific setup?
Regrettably, few new aquarists actually want to take the time to set up their aquariums based on hours of research. While I loathe this "give-it-to-me-now" mentality that some people have, I cannot ignore the simple fact that fish die when people make bad decisions. I hate to see innocent fish die just because new aquarists happen to be uninformed. I know they are just fish, but people should be responsible regardless of an animal's size or type. Furthermore, an unsuccessful aquarium is like throwing away money in that most aquarium systems cost about fifteen dollars per gallon (depending on size, equipment, and fish). Even if fish are not as important as I make them out to be (and they probably are not), most people can appreciate the prospect of not wasting their hard-earned cash. The net result of these considerations is that I have made, with the help of much more experienced fishkeepers, a device that can give new aquarists a rough estimate of how many fish they can keep based on several qualifiers.
Before anyone uses my device (any version of it), it should be noted that the following guidelines were used to design it:
Since the "How Many?" question is prefaced with the above stipulations, most users will find that my device tends to error on the side of caution rather than possibility. That is, my device will prevent "iffy" situations even if they do happen to work for some people. Furthermore, my device is not the complete answer to all freshwater aquarium questions. Instead, it is designed to primarily handle the "How Many?" question (though it does touch base on many other considerations). Lastly, the device was designed to be used at specific points along the path to creating an operational aquarium. It only gives viable results if certain initial conditions are met before it is used (it is not much help once the user has made a significant mistake).
The device I am referring to is FishsheetA7V1, a spreadsheet that has many features designed to assist new aquarists. Why a spreadsheet? Simple, spreadsheets can be used by most computers that have Excel, can referrence thousands of data points, and are relatively user-friendly (read directions, think about the directions, and answer the questions). Of course the Fishsheet series does have some limitations (which I am trying to work around), yet these limitations are not so severe as to render the concept useless. FishsheetA7V1 contains over 240 different types of fish and has specific data for each one. For instance, it "knows" temperature requirements, minimum tank sizes, and some versions (FishsheetA6) even provides lists of compatible fish (though it should be mentioned that the lists are not flawless).
Link to FishsheetA7V1 and other Recent Fishsheets
Link to User Modifications
Before FishsheetA6 is used, the following timeline of aquarium set up should be reviewed:
To see an example of how to use FishsheetA7V1, click here.