Emergency Fish Care For Power Outages and Natural Disasters

Some parts of the country are prone to power outages, especially where hurricanes and tornadoes are more frequent. Other areas are more prone to wildfires, floods, and earthquakes. Scheduled and impromptu power supply interruptions are also common in the workings of the power infrastructure. Fishkeepers must be prepared, or at least aware of these situations and what to do. The best case scenario is to be prepared but never have to use your preparations in the event of having no power.

If You Know Ahead of Time Take Precautions

If you know that the power will be going out for any length of time stop feeding your fish. When fish are shipped by wholesalers and retailers they are not fed for two or three days ahead of bagging. This reduces fish waste in the water which creates deadly ammonia. Reducing the bioload in the aquarium will help successfully make it through a power outage. Fish can go more than a week without eating and remain healthy in emergency situations.

Short term power outages are not a major concern if they only last for several hours. Should filters and pumps quit running most likely the fish will remain safe. Oxygen is constantly being absorbed in the surface of the water in the aquarium. Pumps and filters serve the purpose of agitating the water’s surface in order to make the oxygen absorption. Unless the tank is overstocked it should be fine.

If you notice your fish are being stressed and gasping at the surface of the water agitate the water’s surface frequently. One excellent method is to fill a milk container with tank water and place it on the corner of the aquarium so it does not fall. In one corner of the milk container poke a small hole in order to create a small flow of water. This small flow of water will slowly move the water’s surface. Simply scoop more tank water and pour it into the container as needed.

In the event of a lengthy power outage, a portable air pump will be useful. Battery operated portable air pumps are used for fishing to keep bait alive in a small bucket. In the aquarium, they are just as effective at keeping your fish alive. Most of them run off AA sized batteries which are easy to find in any store or market.

Portable air pumps function the same way that plugin air pumps work. Turn them on and place the airstone in the bottom of the tank. The air movement of the bubbles creates a current and moves the water’s surface where it absorbs oxygen.

If the need to evacuate arises the air pump can be used in a plastic bucket or storage bin. Place the fish in the bucket making sure it is not too full of water but enough to make them comfortable. More water than needed will make moving them more difficult. Water changes should still be made in the buckets even if small sponge filters are being used. New sponge filters will not be cycled and therefore will have little bioactive benefit.

Prepare Water Ahead of Time 

Prepare water ahead of time if at all possible. Clean trash cans or large totes filled with water and aged will be useful in the event that tap water is not available in a natural disaster or storm. Preparing it ahead of time and having it ready can be a lifesaver. If it isn’t needed simply use it later for your water changes.

Bagging fish in plastic bags can also be a versatile way to evacuate. Make sure you have plenty of time to make it out safely ahead of a natural disaster. Bag the fish and secure them with rubber bands so they can be reopened and closed. You will need to open them to make water changes every day or two. Place as few fish as comfortable in each bag. Fill each bag only one-third full in order to provide plenty of air for the fish’s water to absorb. Air in the bags should last for several days and will be replenished when making water changes. 5-gallon buckets with a sealed lid will be a good portable solution to having enough water for water changes. Use it sparingly though in case you can’t get more water in a timely manner.

Handy Items in the Event if a Power Outage

5 Gallon Bucket
Plastic Fish Bags
Rubber Bands
Portable Air Pump
Fish Net
Sharpie to Mark Bags (Species/Date/Times)
Aquarium Tubing for Siphoning
Turkey Baster or Pipette

When the power is back on and it’s time to move the fish back into the aquarium make sure to acclimate them to the tank. Start the filters and pumps as soon as it is okay to do so. Wait briefly to make sure everything is back to normal. Testing the water parameters with a good water testing kit is advisable to make sure everything is within proper parameters. Float your fish for 15 minutes to adjust to temperature differences and put them into the aquarium.


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