Fish and chips


No, we're not talking about the traditional Friday supper here. Instead we're looking at a subject that's becoming increasingly topical: fish and microchips. Dani Marks explains...

Microchipping is something which has steadily been growing ever more popular among owners, particularly as over the years, animals have become so much more than just pets. They are now family members providing valuable companionship for many and it can be extremely traumatic should a beloved pet be stolen.

Julian Peters, owner of the South East based Arthur Lodge Veterinary Group, has seen a number of cases of lost animals: "A missing pet, whether it be lost or stolen, is a heart-breaking ordeal for anybody. It is a stressful time for everybody involved not to mention extremely worrying. However, there are measures which can be taken to keep your pets safe."

Microchipping is one of these measures. It is a reliable and cost effective way of keeping track of your furry, feathery and even fishy friends. That’s right - fishy! Most people will typically think of more traditional domestic pets such as cats and dogs when it comes to microchipping, however, microchipping is expanding to other more unusual animals, such as Koi.

Some Koi can be worth £10,000 or even more, which makes them a top target for light-fingered pond pickers. Fish burglary is fast becoming an increasing problem, with many recent reports of Koi being stolen from garden ponds.

Koi enthusiasts invest a lot of time and money into their fish as Tony Barns can confirm: "I started to take an interest in fish a few years ago. Over time, I got more involved in my hobby, taking it progressively more seriously. As I began to collect more carp, I realised that I would need some form of protection for my stock, namely against theft."

Microchipping lasts the lifespan of the fish, making it an extremely worthwhile procedure. What’s more, it is simple and pain-free. A tiny device, the size of a grain of rice, is inserted just beneath the skin via an injection. The chip contains information about the owner and once the fish has been chipped, the owner must register their contact details with a microchipping agency, such as PetLog. These details are subsequently added to the database.

Fish can be identified with 100% accuracy if fitted with a microchip. The small chip contains information about the owner and can be accessed by a scanner being placed over the fish.

Julian Peters continues: "It is true that fish smuggling is a growing phenomenon and with Koi rising in value, microchipping fish is definitely something that I would recommend to owners. I don’t know of any negative repercussions to microchipping fish. Technology is truly on our side in this case, especially as it is impossible for an amateur to remove the chip."

Not only does microchipping protect against theft, it can also be used to monitor growth and health in fish as it can be quite hard to keep track of individual fish. This has been a real help for Tony as he explains: "As the fish can be so expensive in the first place, it is important for the owner to feel as though they are developing well. Being able to monitor them gives me that little bit of extra reassurance that everything is going to plan. I would definitely recommend microchipping to any other fish enthusiasts. For something that costs very little, it certainly brings a number of benefits."

Julian Peters agrees: "The chips have proven to be a great help to aid in effective fisheries management, monitoring growth and condition which is extremely important with all types and breed of animals."

Yet another potential advantage of microchipping arises when making an initial purchase. One thing that is important for people new to this hobby to bear in mind is that it is possible that some Koi are on the market illegally. Once the buyer has selected the fish, it is advisable to run a scan on them to ensure that they are from a legitimate source.

As Julian explains: "Buying any animal is a huge commitment and this is especially true for Koi, particularly when you take into account the amount of money that is involved when purchasing some. As such, it is important for the buyer to be absolutely certain that they know everything about the animal before making the final decision.

"The worst case scenario would be to part with all of that money only to find out that you need to return the animal to its rightful owner. Not only do you lose an awful lot of cash, you also end up feeling like you’ve done something wrong. A simple scan for a microchip can solve all of those worries."

Microchipping fish is certainly on the rise and it is clear to see why. If you have fish and are interested in exploring this possibility further, it is best to contact your local veterinary surgery for further advice and to find out where the nearest marine microchipping service is available.

Julian concludes: "I can see absolutely no reason why owners would not pursue this option. It is better to be safe than sorry. If more people seek to microchip their fish, we may be able to halt the rise in theft before it spirals out of control."

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Our ponds: Box of goodies


Nathan Hill and Jeremy Gay use a Gordon Low box welded liner to set up a step-by-step pond for a PFK colleague.

We’d had a pond 'itch' ever since the first sun of the year finally appeared and have been trying to find good reason to spend a day less desk-bound.

We wanted to get dirty fingernails and re-acquaint ourselves with the cold caress of water-soaked sleeves — so we treated our editorial assistant Nicki to a pond installation!

She had been eager to get one ever since she saw us playing with Blagdon’s Affinity pools and wanted something a step up from her own tiny water feature. So we knocked heads together to come up with a solution...

A reconnaissance revealed the perfect spot: a raised bed of bricks wasted with soil and a handful of plants. It was an ideal location in a south-west facing garden.

The spot was close to the house and water supplies and it already had electrical connections put in to supply Nicki’s water feature. All it needed was a liner, water, a filter and some plants.

Nicki got to task digging out the hole while we tracked down a liner — and this was the perfect opportunity to put one of Gordon Low’s box-welded liners into action as we’d been dying to do so for a while.

The hole had been measured at 155 x 75cm/60 x 30”, so we just had to decide on a depth to suit. We established that 45cm/18” would be a good compromise, giving us a water volume of 500 l/110 gal, but not making the pond so deep as to be unmanageable.

Box welds are superb for anyone with an awkward shape to fill and companies like Gordon Low can make them to order.

Given the 90° angles and sheer sides of our pond, we were adamant that we would avoid unsightly creases and folds, as well as not wasting too much liner. After all, a formal pond requires formal lines.

We opted for one of Blagdon’s all-in-one pond filters to avoid the sight of monolithic boxes around the edge of the pond, as well as for ease of use. This choice was fine by Nicki who tells us that the all-in-one is "a piece of cake to work with and easier to clean than my aquarium filter."

Light maintenance
Several weeks on and Nicki loves the result. Her maintenance regime is frequent but light. Rather than letting muck build up she cleans the filter weekly, using pond water to clean the foams.

Planted up and housing three Sarasa comets and a canary yellow goldfish, Nicki is happy. The plants are bedding in and the fish have settled well, fast becoming bold enough to hand feed, despite the presence of cats and dogs!

The only potential setback was remedied early. Blanketweed appeared within the first two weeks, clinging tenaciously to the liner. Nicki removed it by hand and added some more plants. Since then it’s been algae-free!

See how this pond was created in 12 easy to follow steps…

1. The hole inside the 155 x 75cm brick bed was dug down, removing any fragments of sharp stone or glass on the way. A few worms were unearthed and rehomed as we found them!

2. After measuring out the underlay on the lawn it was folded to shape and used to line the pond. We deliberately used a little too much and opted to trim back any excess as needed.

3. The box-welded liner was measured on the lawn and checked over for any signs of tearing or punctures. The last thing we wanted was to install the pond and only then find a leak!

4. The liner was placed into the hole and the arduous task of lining up the edges began. With a custom-cut liner it’s important to make sure that all edges are flush to avoid stretching.

5. The liner was being continually worked into shape as the pond was slowly filled with water. This way any shifts in the supporting soil can be accounted for and any weak spots noted.

6. As we wanted to fill the pond with plants on the same day as installation it was necessary to use a dechlorinator. It’s good practice to use these chemicals early on when changing water.

7. We took Nicki plant shopping, and picked up an Equisetum, Caltha, Lobelia and Juncus marginal plants, as well as a pygmy lily and some oxygenators — plants we felt would provide just the right mix.

8. The plants were then repotted to allow for growth, using larger baskets with hessian liners. The plants were then added, along with extra soil, and the pots topped off with gravel to trap it all in.

9. The liner and underlay were trimmed into shape once we had the weight of the plants holding the corners in place. The edges were later sealed in place using Hutton Aquatic Supplies Gold Label pond sealer.

10. The lily was then repotted and added to the pond, along with the bunched oxygenators. Although some people like to pot oxygenators we chose to let ours float loose for this particular project.

11. The plug was connected to the pump/UV and the unit added. Given the narrow nature of the pond we opted to use a bell fountain which tends to lose less water to wind than a rose type.

12. Several weeks on and plants and fish have been added. The pond has been sealed at the edge, keeping the liner in place. Water was tested before each fish addition to check for ammonia and nitrite.

How much would this pond cost you?
The liner, here supplied by Gordon Low has a retail value of somewhere about £172. The retail price of the Blagdon all in one filter works out at £99, and the plants and fish reach a combined value of around £90 - but buying smaller plants and fish would reduce this.
Total project price: £361.00.

Why not take out a subscription to Practical Fishkeeping magazine? See our latest subscription offer.

Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad.