Stocking the Pond
by Edward C. Taylor
March 31, 2011
There are a variety of concerns that pet stores must consider, in order to be successful at selling pond fish.

The arrival of springtime means the pond season is under way. Across the country, people are spending more and more time outside in their yards, on their patios and looking at their ponds, and any pet shop that has a pond department should be fully stocked with all the paraphernalia required by these pond enthusiasts. Depending on the store’s geographic location, a retailer may have already started acquiring livestock for the season. There are many things to consider when selecting the fish a store is going to stock for pond sales, but the single most important consideration is, “What are the limitations of the store?”

Since pond sales are seasonal for most stores, the amount of square footage devoted to livestock must be somewhat restricted or, at the very least, flexible. The best solution is to have space that can be converted into a “time-share” for fish, at the appropriate time. Permanent facilities are a luxury that few stores can afford, so the answer for most of pet stores is to use preformed ponds and vats. These can be kept in a storage unit until needed, but it is going to take some time to get them set up and properly filtered. It’s important that a retailer give itself plenty of advanced preparation, because it will want to be the first store in the area to have salable fish.

What fish should be stocked for ponds? This is a silly question that no one really needs to ask. The answer is, of course, obvious to everyone–koi and goldfish. But is that the end of the discussion? Aren’t there more fishes that can be kept in home ponds? Actually, there are plenty of fishes beyond carp that would be a good fit for casual pond owners, and these species have real value in giving each pond its own unique appearance, biologically speaking.

There is, however, a lot more to goldfish and koi than meets the eye–especially the untrained eye of most recreational pond owners. Of course, people know what they like, but do they know what they should be keeping?

While ponds make great homes for many types of goldfish, not all goldfish varieties do well outside. The elaborate strains are frequently more susceptible to environmental fluctuations and have trouble competing with more athletic types. With this in mind, my first recommendation is to segregate the pond goldfish from the aquarium specimens in the pet store, and suggest to customers which environment is best suited for each type.

The other pond fish–the koi–is not meant for aquariums, even though it can certainly be kept in one. Just like goldfish, koi are genetically manipulated to produce a pleasing blend of body, fins and color patterns. All of these traits are best viewed from above, and that is the classic approach to keeping them. Koi can grow to three feet in length after many years, so virtually no tank is ever going to do justice to the fish. Goldfish, on the other hand, rarely exceed 12 inches in length, so aquariums are not that heinous for their exhibition.

Special Concerns
There is a serious problem with a carp virus being found in specimens coming from Europe and the Middle East. Asian countries have banned the importation of fish from these areas. If you remember the angelfish virus from several years ago, you know how damaging this disease could be if it reaches the general ornamental carp population. Now, more than ever, pet stores need to be able to trust their koi and goldfish suppliers. Retailers should try to be certain that their suppliers are not using bloodstock from the affected areas. Of course, koi can be inoculated against this virus, but that is not something the average pet shop can afford to do. Only professional koi breeders have this luxury.

Finally, there is a huge temptation to load up with koi at the beginning of the  pond season. This is a serious mistake, since a pet store’s pond fish facilities have likely been either shut down or on minimal maintenance for months. These systems need time to mature and generate the proper level of biological filtration that can support a heavy fish load. A gradual buildup of numbers is, by far, the safest and most effective technique to reach maximum safe load. If a retailer is intent on carrying really expensive Japanese (or Chinese) koi, it is important to keep these fish completely isolated from domestic stock. Sterilize all equipment, or even better, use dedicated buckets, nets and filtration media.