Ich eradication vs. Ich management


Dr. Fish
Ich eradication vs. Ich management

The purpose of this article is to discuss the pros & cons of ich eradication and ich management, and present the best methods for implementing each.

Ich eradication - Simply put, this method means doing everything possible to keep ich out of your tank. That can be accomplished by establishing & maintaining a strict quarantine (QT) protocol as outlined here: How to Quarantine. It is very important to QT each & every fish, including your very first one, if you wish to avoid ich.

Why practice ich eradication? Once introduced by an infected specimen, and so long as there are always fish to feed on, ich can survive in your tank almost indefinitely. The only way to get it out is to starve it out by going fallow (fishless) for 76 days. The parasites continuously attack (feed on) fish, which does damage and can even kill them. I personally chose ich eradication, because I got tired of “ich management” being a part of my aquarium husbandry. There’s enough to do in a reef aquarium on a daily basis without adding “battle fish parasites” to the list.

The cons of ich eradication are somewhat obvious. In addition to having to setup & maintain a QT, not being able to add your newly purchased fish directly to the display tank (DT) can be a major buzz kill. QT does zap some of the “thrill” out of the hobby.

What if I already have ich in my tank? There is no easy way of dealing with this. You have to catch all of your fish, and QT/treat using copper, Chloroquine phosphate, tank transfer method or hyposalinity. More detailed information on all the aforementioned treatment options can be found here: Medications and Treatments.

The DT itself must be left fallow (fishless) for 76 days to starve out any remaining parasites. Corals/inverts cannot host, so they can be left in the DT during the fallow period. You must be wary of cross contamination during the fallow period, avoiding anything wet (including hands) when going from QT to DT (or vice versa). Aerosol transmission is another concern, so it’s best to house your QT at least 10 feet away from the DT. More info on that here: Aerosol transmission.

Remember there is no “reef safe” ich treatment that actually works! Those may (or may not) help fish with their symptoms; but no tea tree oil from India or garlic extract or any other herbal/natural “medication” will completely eradicate ich from a tank. The day someone does finally develop an effective “reef safe” treatment, we are all going to hear about it, and the inventor will become a millionaire.

Ich management - This method involves just managing the presence of the disease, instead of eradicating it. You know you have ich in your tank or are willing to risk it by forgoing QT. Despite how strongly I advocate ich eradication these days, I employed ich management for almost 30 years. I found the key to success was keeping the overall number of parasites down, while simultaneously boosting the fishes’ immune systems to deal with the parasites that survived. Some ways to accomplish this include:
  • Utilizing the biggest UV sterilizer you can fit/afford. While a UV will probably never “zap” all of the free swimmers (theronts), it will keep their numbers down so the fish can better cope with the ones remaining. A diatom filter can also be used to remove free swimmers.
  • Boost your fishes’ immune systems through proper nutrition. This means feeding a wide range of live & frozen nutritious foods, not just flake & pellets. Feed nori, as that is loaded with vitamins. Also, soak fish food in vitamin supplements such as Selcon, Zoecon and Vita-Chem to further enhance health. Omega 3 & 6 fish oils are great (and cheap) soaking alternatives.
  • Stay on top of your aquarium husbandry! Maintain pristine water conditions, stable parameters and avoid fish that are likely to fight. Poor water quality, fluctuating parameters and aggression from other fish may “stress” a fish out, lower his immune system and make him more susceptible to parasitic infestation.
  • Choose your fish wisely. Avoid “ich magnets” i.e. fish with thin mucous coats such as tangs. Clownfish, anthias, wrasses and even mandarins are better choices as those have thick slime coats protecting their skin from attacking parasites. Also, only buy from reputable sources, and don’t buy fish that look diseased/damaged, won’t eat or who share water with diseased fish.
  • No discussion of “ich management” can be had without mentioning garlic. This topic is often debated, and I honestly don’t know whether or not soaking garlic in fish food helps with ich. I have seen it work as an appetite stimulant, so that might help right there. However, I’m less confident in its ability to boost a fish’s immune system. Another theory is that garlic leaches back out of a fish’s pores, and that makes the fish an undesirable host for parasites. While there is no scientific evidence supporting anything beneficial, studies have been done linking long-term garlic use with liver damage in fish. Therefore, I use garlic sparingly.
A fine example of utilizing proper nutrition to keep the bugs away is Paul Baldassano’s (aka Paul B) over 40 year old, 100 gallon aquarium. Paul keeps his fish in “breeding condition” by feeding live foods (ex. blackworms) and soaking food in Omega-3 fish oil. Most of his livestock live to be a ripe old age and some of his fish spawn on a regular basis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Paul and highly recommend this article written by him: Reefkeeping Magazine - Paul Baldassano?s Reef - 40 Years in the Making.

Pros & cons - One upside of practicing ich management is obvious: not having to QT. I get it; I really do. It’s exciting to make the rounds of the local fish shops, finding that “perfect fish” and then adding him to your DT. After all, having fun is what a hobby is supposed to be all about. What’s fun about adding a fish to a bare bottom QT with PVC elbows?

However, the downsides are numerous. All it takes is one “stressor event” to undo years of ich management. By stressor event, I mean something like a prolonged power loss, heater sticks, fish fighting, etc., anything that stresses a fish out and lowers his immune system. Sometimes ich capitalizes on these events by overwhelming a fish’s immune system, and fish start dying. Also, secondary bacterial infections are common in fish afflicted with ich, due to their already compromised immune system. All it takes is a cut or an open wound left by an ich trophont. These bacterial diseases sometimes prove to be far deadlier than ich itself, especially if caused by a gram negative bacterium.

Ich management is more of a “learn as you go” process, which is why experienced hobbyists often fare better than newbies. For me, ich management just got to be too stressful. The stress of seeing the spots, wondering if today was going to be the day it finally caught up with me, or if the fish that just died was a result of ich or something else. Losing too many fish under “mysterious” circumstances is what finally led me to choose ich eradication.


Dr. Fish
You need 3 sub forums because if you go by my method, you won't need that disease & Treatment one. :ROFLMAO:
Paul, there are probably new members here who are unfamiliar with your methods. And don't know that you've even written a book on the subject!

So, it would be great if you could write a thread/article outlining your methods and also tell our members where to buy your book.

Paul B

New member
Bobby, I am sure my methods would confuse the Moose out of new members as they run totally opposite of what your methods are taught although both methods work. I will try to dig up some articles I wrote about it but in the meantime I will give the short version.
My methods basically are to get the fish right from the sea and into your tank, no medication, no dipping, no observation, and most of all, no quarantine which short circuits my method.

I feel all fish in the sea are immune from everything (except Liberals). I have spent about 300 hours underwater all over the place and have never seen a sick fish. No ich, no black ich, no dropsy, no bacterial infections, no walkers or oxygen masks "Unless the fish was bitten by something".
My method is to cultivate that immunity and keep it with the fish which is actually much easier and cheaper than quarantine.

If this is done correctly, the fish, all fish, will "never" get sick and "only" die of old age. I can say that because my fish only die like that, or jumping out as I have no cover. Some of my fish are almost 30 years old and still spawning.

Occasionally I will get a new fish that may be bullied or starve. That can happen no matter what our procedures are because we don't know how the fish was captured, stored, fed, how long it was in a dealers tank if it was few Big Macs or if it was exposed to Rap Music or pictures of Nancy Pelosi :eek:
I get free fish all the time from dealers who feel they will croak. I like those fish because I actually want the diversity of different pathogens which just boost the immunity of my tank. You can stop laughing now unless you have an older tank than mine. 😋

But IMO fish should "never". like "Never" get sick. Mine don't and neither should yours. It is also my opinion, Not Bobby's who is a great friend of mine, we grew up together and look exactly alike but I am the better looking one. It is quarantine and medication that "causes" fish to become sick.

They never get sick in my care and never is a long time. If you have ever gone to the "Museum of Natural History" in Manhattan and saw that Neanderthal standing there holding his cell phone, I was actually there when they captured him. He was quarantined, which is why he hasn't moved in 50,000 years.

You know those numbers of days when a parasite is supposed to die and all that. I don't think parasites can count that well which is the reason many tanks crash after a long quarantine.

My theory isn't perfect, but I have been keeping fish for over 60 years. Yes, I am 150 years old and have never had a fish die of any disease in over 35 years. Disease to me is a non issue and my fish are not allowed to die. If they did, they know I would kill them. :cool:

A Noob should follow Bobby's methods because a Noob tank will not be healthy no matter what your test kit reads. Tank health comes with time. The time is for the bacteria which run our tanks to mature. , We are just there for the bacteria to make fun of.
Bacteria, over time will Ebb and Flow in different directions until, maybe a couple of years later they settle down and stay kind of constant in their ability to "work". (there are many kinds of bacteria and they "fight" for dominance.) Before that, different strains of bacteria will compete for space and food causing all sorts of problems. We as big Gawky Humans look at our tanks and just see fish, corals and those Chinese villages we all put in. But if we could see much better, we would see what is really going on, and that is the diversity of bacteria that cover everything including the nose ring your last girlfriend dropped in while she was peering over the top of the water to see if she could see her reflection in the water surface.

Parasites also play a huge role in the sea and in our tanks. We call them parasites but I am sure the parasites call us the parasites. Parasites have been living with the fish before they invented fish and the fish actually need the parasites to remain healthy. But I will have to get into that later or Bobby will ban me because as you can see, I can be wordy. o_O

This was my tank yesterday. You can see that ich magnet Hippo tang is just fine even though I bought him with parasites. That copperband is probably 10 and a fire clown is 28. Nothing in there has ever been sick, medicated or treated any different than I would treat an old girlfriends, and some of my girlfriends are really old now.

I try to keep odd, unusual fish like Janss pipefish, clingfish and this thing, whatever it is.