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What You Should Know
To Keep Your Fish Alive

Dr. Subhendu Datta
Sr. Scientist
Kolkata, India
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To a great extent, the
success or failure of
fish culture is
determined by water

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Water Quality – Why Is It Important?

• Your fish live in it
• Are supported by it
• Receive their oxygen from it
• And excrete in it

Subhendu Datta

Water Quality – Why Is It Important?

• Water quality factors influence and interact
with each other
• What may cause problems in one situation
may be harmless in another
• Influences effectiveness/toxicity of

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Water Quality – Why Is It Important?

• Most disease problems can be avoided
with proper management of water
• This includes maintaining water quality at a
level that provides an environment
conducive to fish health and growth
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Water Quality Variables

• Temperature
• Dissolved oxygen
• Total ammonia-nitrogen, NH3, NO-2
• Alkalinity
• Hardness
• pH
• Carbon dioxide
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Water Quality Variables

• For each 10°C (18°F) rise in
temperature the metabolic rate doubles
• Controls the reaction rate of chemicals
• Influences solubility of gases in water
• Influences toxicity of ammonia and therapeutants
• Optimum temperature for tilapia growth is 85-88 °F
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Water Quality Variables
Dissolved Oxygen
• First limiting factor for growth and fish health
• Solubility decreases with increasing
temperature and elevation
• Respiratory rate increases with increasing
temperature, activity and feeding
• In general the minimum DO should be ≥ 60%
of saturation or ≥ 5 ppm (mg/L)
• > 2 ppm in biofilter effluent
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Water Quality Variables
Total Ammonia-Nitrogen
• Usually the second limiting factor – nitrogenous
waste: feces & feed
•TAN includes ammonium ion (NH4+)
and ammonia (NH3)
• The proportion of NH3 increases with increasing
temperature and pH
• < 0.05 mg/L NH3
• < 0.5 mg/L nitrite-N (NO - )

Percent of Total Ammonia
in the Un-Ionized Form at
Various Temperatures and pH

percent Ammonia
Temperature (ºF) (pH) 7.0 8.0 9.0
50º 0.19 1.83 15.7
68º 0.40 3.82 28.4
86º 0.80 7.46 44.6

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The Nitrogen Cycle

Water plants Food


Algae Fishes

Nitrate (NO 3 ) Urine Feces

Urea Amino acids

Nitrite (NO 2 )
(NH 3 )
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Time Required
for Bio-Filter to Mature
0.8 8
NO 3
0.6 NO2 6
NH 3
Ammonia Nitrites &
(mg/l) Nitrates
0.4 4 (mg/l)

0.2 2

0.0 0
2 6 10 14 18 22
Time in Days

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Water Quality Variables - Alkalinity
• Is the buffering capacity of water –
absorbs acids and/or bases

• High alkalinity prevents wide pH fluctuations

• Maintain levels between 75-120 mg/L as CaCO3

• 7 grams of alkalinity consumed by 1 gram of NH3

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Effects of pH on Various Buffers
Percent of Total CO 2
- =
Free CO 2 HCO3 CO 3


4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

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Water Quality Variables

• Hardness 50 – 100 mg/L as CaCO3

• pH 7–8

• Carbon dioxide < 20 mg/L

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Water Quality Variables
Total Dissolved Gases

Supersaturation caused by:
• leaking water lines
• air leak on low pressure side of pump
• source of water
• mixing cold and hot water
Recommended total dissolved
Datta pressure <104%

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Water Balance in Freshwater Fish


Ammonia Large quantities
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of dilute urine


• Poor water quality

• Environmental conditions

• Improper handling

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Most Fish Diseases
Are Stressed Mediated

Stress is a physiologic state caused by a procedure,
environmental condition or other factor which interferes with
the fish’s ability to maintain a “normal” state. It extends the
adaptive responses of an animal beyond the normal range or
which disturbs the normal functioning.
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Low Level Mortality


O Acute
L Usually the first sign of water

0% Time

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Loading Effects

Number of fish which can
successfully live and grow
in a given amount of water
depends on:
• DO level
• Metabolic rate of the
• Amount being fed
• Pathogen load
• Water exchange rate
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Management Recommendations

• Maintain water quality within suggested guidelines

• Maintain fish loadings at optimum levels of 1/4 to
1/3 lb./gallon (1/2 lb./gallon maximum)

• Monitor water quality on a regular basis/keep good

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Management Recommendations

• Low DO: increase aeration; stop feeding
• High CO2: increase aeration; add air stripping
• Low pH: add sodium bicarbonate; reduce feeding
rate; check ammonia & nitrite
• High NH3: exchange system water; reduce feeding
rate; check biofilter, pH, alkalinity & DO
in biofilter
• High nitrite: exchange water; reduce feed; add 6
ppm chloride per 1 ppm nitrite; check
biofilter, Subhendu
pH, alkalinity
Datta & DO in biofilter

Good Stuff To Know
• ~ 300 square feet biofilter material per 100 lbs. fish

• Add 0.125 to 0.167 lbs. baking soda/ 100 gallons to
maintain alkalinity

• Add 0.275 to 0.413 lbs salt/100 gallons to maintain
chloride levels of 200 – 300 ppm

• Do not make any rapid changes to any WQ
parameter, except to increase DO
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• SRAC Publications:
• Hach WQ test kits:
• LaMotte WQ test kits:
• Equipment Suppliers:
• Eagar, Inc. 1-800-423-6249

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Subhendu Datta