This Guide Focuses on the Collection of Fish and Invertebrates
in the Florida Keys

Let us know what other regions are of interest to you at

Charlie: I feel that fragile fish are often irreparably damaged either during their collection or somewhere along the chain of custody before they make it to our aquariums. If they are collected, managed, and transported correctly by us, fish are almost guaranteed to survive. Living in Hawaii, I collected Moorish idols for a 40 gallon long tank and they began eating within a few days. When I was in Australia, I saw the same pattern with copper banded butterflyfish. I'm living in Florida now and have successfully moved marine organisms a dozen times from the keys up to Gainesville, a drive of about 8 hours. I often keep these fish/inverts/corals in 30 gallon Tupperware for a few days to a week down where I stay. I've searched the internet for others who collect in the keys and haven't found any other hobby level folks who have written about it so I thought I'd describe in depth here how and where I collect. I don't want to upset any commercial collectors and will actually endorse a few of the nice professional collectors I have met later in this article however my priority is to encourage collection and transport that increases fishes survival. If we can collect our own fish, take care to bring them home safely, and then care for them appropriately, aquarists may develop a sense of pride and hopefully stewardship. This system to me is better than encouraging the long chain of ownership; the trans-shipped and whole-saled/redistributed fish that often come into the local shop diseased and/or emaciated. On a separate part of this site I'll also outline basic and advanced quarantine procedures to mitigate disease and really maximize the fishes survival while under our care. I'd also like to talk about weaning of some of the more finicky Caribbean fish I've worked with (butterflies, diodon puffers, yellow sting ray pups, etc.) Ultimately, I figure folks with tanks and ambitions to collect will probably go out there anyway, possibly rip up some corals or get stung by a lionfish, or maybe even get swept out to sea by a current. Hopefully this guide reduces and doesn't increase instances of those occurrences.

Step 1: Acquire the necessary permits and get familiar with the relevant regulations.

Step 2: Make sure you have the right collecting gear.

Step 3: Take into account the time of year.

Step 4: Decide where you will go to collect.

Step 5:  Learn how to catch fish effectively and responsibly.

Step 6: You will need to be prepared to transport the fish back safely.