Once a new saltwater aquarium is up and running, fully cycled, and ready to receive fish and/or invertebrates, the hobbyist has the choice of buying livestock from a local fish store (LFS) or from various online sources. Both options are perfectly viable, but one choice or the other may be a better fit for you, depending on a variety of factors.
Let’s look at some of the advantages and limitations of each livestock source to give you a sense of what to expect when shopping either venue and to help streamline your decision-making process.
When buying specimens from your LFS, you can always see what you’re getting before making a commitment. You’ll know exactly how large the specimen is, and there’ll be no surprises when it comes to its color and pattern. This last point might be important when buying a species known to exhibit considerable color/pattern variability, such as the coral beauty angelfish.
You’ll also be able to give the specimen a careful firsthand assessment for physical or behavioral signs of disease, injury, or malnourishment, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask the dealer to feed the specimen while you’re there to ensure that it’s eating properly.
Yet another advantage of shopping at your LFS is that doing so allows you to build a personal, one-on-one relationship with the dealer, which may prove to be very beneficial down the road when you need a little expert advice or “hand holding” to get through a problem or when you need a special accommodation, such as putting a desired specimen on hold while you give the purchase more thought.
Shopping your LFS has its limitations, as well. Among them:
- You’re limited to what’s in the sales tanks unless you place a special order, which can make it difficult to fill that specialized stocking list without making substitutions.
- You’re subject to sales pressure and potentially more prone to making impulse purchases.
- You’re limited to shopping during store hours, which may or may not coincide with your schedule.
When shopping online, you have access to a world of livestock vendors right at your fingertips, which is especially helpful to hobbyists who may not live in close proximity to a brick-and-mortar saltwater aquarium store. That means if one site doesn’t have a species you’re after, you can always try another, making it easier to stick with a specialized stocking plan without making substitutions—for example, if you’re trying to create a particular marine biotope.
Also, since you’re shopping via computer from the comfort of home, there’s no salesperson looking over your shoulder and less self-imposed pressure to make a purchase. (“I’ve come all this way, so I should probably buy something!”) What’s more, there are no store hours to worry about, so you can shop whenever it’s convenient for you.
Potential drawbacks to buying specimens online include:
- You can’t always see exactly what you’re getting (with the exception of “wysiwyg” sites), which means you can’t determine the exact size, color, and pattern of the specimen; assess its health status; or observe it feeding.
- You have the added step and expense of coordinating shipping and ensuring someone is present to receive the shipment when it arrives.
- You don’t develop a personal, mutually beneficial relationship with a dealer.
How do you prefer to shop for livestock?
Are you a brick-and-mortar or online buyer? A little of both? Do you have any other livestock-shopping pros and cons to add to what we’ve listed here? If so, feel free to share them with your fellow salties in the comment section below.