What you need to know about returning a fish

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Sometimes a healthy fish added to your tank one day might not be alive by the following morning. We help explain where you legally stand…

A dead fish is a delicate matter for both retailer and fishkeeper, if only for the level of emotion it evokes. A fish is a living organism and it’s easy for situations to flare when an aquarist feels that such a death might have been avoided.

Spare a thought for the retailer, too. It can be equally disheartening to sell a fish cared for over many weeks, only to be indignantly reunited with its corpse the next day.

It’s important for both sides to show some emotive restraint when trying to resolve the issue, as tears and shouting will always be counterproductive.

What can you do?

Establish if you’re making a complaint within a reasonable time frame. If you’ve bought a fish and it’s dead within a day or two, this is reasonable.

However, if you’ve bought an elderly fish such as a two-year old Siamese fighter and it dies six months later this is not as reasonable. On examination it is highly unlikely that a refund or replacement would be given.

If inside a reasonable time frame, contact the store immediately. Don’t wait until the next time you’re free.

Keep your receipt safe! Although the paperwork isn’t the be all and end all of a returns policy, it’ll make things smoother.

In absence of a receipt, you can prove you purchased the item in other ways. Some people like to use a bank or credit card statement, but these aren’t always foolproof, especially if the store sells lots of things at the same price. Witnesses can be useful and there may even be CCTV footage of the transaction.

Keep the corpse. Place it in a bag and ideally freeze it at the first opportunity. Without a fish to replace there’s no obligation on the part of the retailer to replace it!

Test your water immediately and take a sample from the tank straight away. Half a clean jam jar’s worth of aquarium water will be more than enough for any self- respecting retailer.

The first question you will be asked is what the water conditions are in your tank. If you don’t know you don’t have a strong case. Equally, if you don’t know but refuse to provide a water sample then it’s unlikely that any retailer will help you.

If testing reveals your water parameters are unsuited to the fish you purchased, or if you added it to a tank where ammonia or nitrite was rife, then you need to accept that you were responsible. Only if explicitly informed by the retailer that the fish would be fine in your conditions do you have grounds to hold them accountable.

Disease dilemmas

Probably the most common problem is for a fish to fall ill days after purchase. It’s also one of the greyest areas.

If your fish is taken ill after being purchased you must immediately report this to the retailer.

Most cases of whitespot and other infections can be put down to a combination of factors, with stress the most likely cause. Catching, transporting, acclimatising, and introducing to new tank mates and different water conditions all combine to weaken immune systems.

The customer once needed to show that the fault was present when the fish was purchased, but now the onus is on the retailer to show fish were healthy when sold.

Look at the tank from which the fish was taken. If it still contains examples of the type purchased, and they have the same disease, you have good grounds. If that tank is full of healthy, vibrant fish, your case is weakened.

If it can be shown that the retailer sold ill stock, and that has caused problems, he or she has a duty of repair.

Many retailers will give you a bottle of medicine if a problem of questionable origin arises — but that’s not accepting liability. Don’t confuse this with an admission of blame.

Consider when complaining...

Any purchase you make has to be fit for purpose. That means that it has to match the description of what it is and does.

If you buy a Bronze catfish advertised as 5cm/2” it needs to be just that. If it’s a Peppered cory, or if it’s 3cm/1.2”, then it doesn’t match the description under which it was sold.

It should also have all of the correct parts. Unless you’ve specifically requested a fish with a missing fin, or only one eye, then it should have all of its faculties. If not, then it’s not fit for purpose.

If you choose to purchase a fish with a fault, then you cannot decide it’s not fit for purpose later on.

Also note that any warranties given in a store do not override your statutory rights. If a store says that it will only offer to refund a fish within 24 hours of purchase, this does not negate the usual laws surrounding transactions.

A retailer can go above and beyond basic statutory rights, but cannot replace these rights with something else.

So, if I buy a fish and there’s a problem with it two weeks down the line — say I notice for the first time that one of my shoal is missing its pectoral fin — then I may still be entitled to a replacement.

What’s my next step if there’s a dispute with the retailer?

There may be a rare occasion when a retailer outright refuses to replace a dead fish. All may not be lost though...

If you still feel aggrieved by those at the store, first speak to your local citizens advice bureau where staff will offer impartial advice and may pick up on any glaring problems with the transaction.

The next step is to complain to your local trading standards office which will make efforts to contact the retailer and try to draw a more comprehensive picture. Staff there are a valuable resource for both retailer and customer alike, and always remain impartial.

If the store is a member of OATA (Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association) you can also contact the association which offers a conciliation service for disputes.

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