Home· Freshwater Aquarium Blog·Where is the Best Place to Buy Live Aquarium Fish?

Where is the Best Place to Buy Live Aquarium Fish?

Even though Aquarium Co-Op has a brick-and-mortar retail store that sells pet fish to the general public, we personally choose not to sell them online through our website and instead focus on shipping dry goods and live plants. Therefore, many people want to know where we recommend buying pet fish, especially if they don’t live near our fish store. Each source has its advantages and disadvantages, so in this article, let’s discuss the different options and which may be the right ones for you.

1. Local Fish Store (LFS)

Local stores, whether they are major pet store chains or mom-and-pop fish stores, are our #1 pick because the buying process is very easy. You can examine the fish yourself, check for illnesses, see their behavior, and pick the exact animals you want to bring home. Plus, you get to personally drive the fish home and make sure they get inside their new tank as soon as possible. Oftentimes, you may be able to score locally bred fish, spot a cool animal that you’ve never heard of before, or make a special order to get the specific species you’re looking for.

That being said, pet stores and fish stores can vary in quality level. For example, you may have only one or tons of restaurants near your home, but the deliciousness of the food really depends on the management or head chef. If your local fish store is reasonably good, we definitely recommend that you support them with your purchases because you never know when you need to make a last-minute trip to buy some much-needed medication or replace a broken heater.

Aquarium Co-Op fish store - interior

Our Aquarium Co-Op fish store in Edmonds, Washington specializes in community fish and aquarium plants.

2. Aquarium Club

If you are in an area with multiple fish stores, there may be enough hobbyists around to make a local fish club or aquarium society. In fact, you can check out our map of aquarium clubs around the world to see if there is one near you. (If you know of a club that isn’t on this list, please go to that link to register it so we can add it to the map.) Aquarium societies are great because they are attended by local hobbyists and breeders who often bring their tank-raised fish to auctions for sale. These animals are usually of good quality and are accustomed to living in your local water parameters, which means they may have a better chance of thriving in your tap water at home.

The selling prices can really vary because most hobbyists do not run professional aquarium businesses and may set the cost cheaper or more expensive than the market rate. Also, if you are searching for a particular fish, you may have a harder time finding it at fish clubs because hobbyists won’t always have exactly what you’re looking for. That’s why whenever we breed fish, we try to sell them to the local market and share them with other aquarium keepers in the area because they may be on the hunt for the same species we fell in love with.

Gary Lange, Dean, and Cory at GSAS fish club - CC

Aquarium clubs are an amazing way to meet other hobbyists, learn from experts, and buy fish from each other.

3. Online Retailers

While we much prefer local sources for buying fish, sometimes there aren’t any available and we have to go online. Therefore, we made a list of our preferred online vendors by doing blind tests where people from all over the country ordered fish from different online fish retailers. Full disclosure: we have an affiliation with these vendors where we receive a small commission if you order from their sites and use the discount code aquariumcoop to receive 5% at checkout.

The best stores that get our stamp of approval all had high-quality animals, prompt shipping, and impressive customer service. You will have the most success with your online orders if you contact these retailers beforehand and see how similar your water parameters are to theirs. Another thing to remember about online fish purchases is that you may have to take time off work to make sure you are available to receive the package as soon as it arrives to get the fish out of the bag and into their new home. In the worst case scenario if the animals arrive sick or dead, these online vendors have excellent refund policies and will make things right with their customers to the best of their ability. Online orders are always a little risky, so make sure to evaluate the DOA (dead on arrival) refund policy of any vendor you decide to try.

Cardinal Sulawesi Shrimp

Our preferred online retails not only sell fish, but they also have an excellent selection of snails and ornamental shrimp.

4. AquaBid

We are not affiliated with AquaBid.com at all, but this fish auction site has become one of our favorite places to visit because it feels like an online swap meet for aquarium stuff. Most of the sellers are hobbyists and mom-and-pop businesses, and we often find unique species or color variations that are rarely seen in pet stores. As for quality level, it can be hard to tell since you aren’t able to inspect the fish in person and they have to travel through the mail system to arrive at your home. Along the way, the animals may experience extreme temperatures, bag leaks, or other trauma, and there is no guarantee that they will do well in your local tap water.

To minimize risk, don’t order fish during the hottest or coldest months in the year, and learn about the vendor’s water parameters to see if they are somewhat similar to yours. If you happen to find your holy grail fish, don’t rush to click the Buy button. Instead, find out when the vendor thinks is a good time for shipping and if they would be willing to wait to ship during better weather or to give you extra time to set up a seasoned tank. They may say yes or no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Bottom line: going back and forth with online vendors takes more work than just walking into a local fish store, but it may be worth it if they have your dream fish for sale.

5. eBay

eBay is a more universal auction website that is like an inferior version of AquaBid for online fish vendors. There is a lot of selection, but more commercial companies post on eBay and many sellers use stolen pictures from the internet so there’s no way to know if you’re getting scammed. We’ve had some good experiences purchasing from hobbyist sellers, but we’ve also had some bad experiences as well. One time, our founder Cory ordered some teacup platies for his turtle tank and ended up getting juvenile swordtails, which grow to be much, much bigger in adulthood. Swordtails are a completely different species and he ended up losing money on that transaction.

Think of eBay like going to garage sales or shopping at antique stores where you never know what you’re going to find. If you are really desperate to find a certain fish, you should check all your online sources on a regular basis until you hit jackpot. For instance, Cory was looking for a rare ellipsifer eel at all his usual internet sites, but they are hard to get a hold of because most of them are wild-caught. After several years, he eventually found one on an online African cichlid store he had never used before and was able to bring it home.

Tanganyikan Spiny eel (Mastacembelus ellipsifer)

The elusive Tanganyikan spiny eel or ellipsifer eel

It can be fun to look at all these different sources that sell fish because you may end up seeing some species that you’ve never heard of before and bringing them to your local market. Best of luck with your search for healthy and enjoyable fish, and don’t forget to check out our preferred list of online fish vendors if you haven’t already.

Recent blog posts