Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fish Rescue

Just a brief anecdote we wanted to share about the often-chaotic logistic aspects of the tropical fish industry and the unsung dedication of so many whose job it is to get fish from distant points across the globe to a local pet shop to a home aquarium safely. The journey a fish makes before it is comfortably floating in its bag in someone's living room is a thoroughly fascinating topic that I hope to cover in great detail in future posts, but for now enjoy this story of how a few of my coworkers and I went on an impromptu fish rescue expedition a few weeks ago.

It was a few weeks before the holidays, a busy time for us and traditionally the beginning of the busy season for fish sales. Our import buyer had outdone himself bringing in shipment after shipment of incredible fish from all over the planet but the fish geeks among us (namely just about everyone here) were holding our breath for the holy grail of imports: Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic, unlike many of the tropical regions we receive ornamental fish from, is not known for its breathtaking biodiversity and has no native fish of interest to the hobby. What it does have, however, is a large network of dedicated breeders and small scale fish farmers which is renowned for exceptional quality and for the availability of species and line-bred variants seen almost nowhere else such as the black cory cat and mind blowing color variants of Apistogramma (see our Facebook album for more pictures).

Where once Czech fish were available in the trade with some regularity, increased cost of fuel, unfavorable exchange rates and increasing difficulty finding appropriate flights had conspired to all but eliminate Czech-bred fish from the industry and hobby. As of late, there were few in the US with the resources and logistics to even consider undertaking the time and effort (not to mention cost) to be able to bring in a shipment. But our import buyer (with the help of almost constant nagging by the sales team) made it a priority to see a CZ shipment before the year's end and put in the time to make it happen.

The excitement was palpable, especially after many of us got a chance to look over the vendor's availability list and make suggestions. The diversity of available fish was stunning and by the time the shipment was due to arrive not only the Segrest Farms staff but our customers were anxiously waiting to see this once-in-a-blue-moon event.

Then the first round of bad news hit: the shipment had been delayed en route. OK, nothing to worry about just yet, but a little disappointing as the fish wouldn't arrive until late that night.

Then more bad news, as we received word that the shipment had not left Heathrow airport in London as planned. Anyone familiar with the vagaries and challenges of dealing with international air freight knows that a second setback on such a complicated routing (Prague-London-NY-Tampa) is not a good sign. The hours ticked by with no updates but with an increasingly negative email thread making the rounds between sales and purchasing (very heavy on facepalm and fail memes). The prevailing mood soured quickly, and it's hard to express how upsetting this experience was for anyone other than a true fish geek, but suffice it to say it came very close to "Christmas is cancelled".

After an interminable delay, what seemed like the final blow came across in an email: CZ was finally en route, but wouldn't arrive until late that night, long past our last truck to the airport. We would have to pick them up the following morning and hope for the best—which after 50+ hours in transit did not look hopeful. 

Loading the truck
Toward the end of that somber day, as we all got ready to head home, a plan was stirring—an attempt to make a daring late-night fish rescue. After discussing it with a few of the sales reps and the import buyer, and procuring a vehicle, the plan was set: we would meet back at Segrest at 9PM then head to air cargo to retrieve the shipment just after it landed. Then, we would bring them back to the facility, inspect, sort, acclimate, and tank them as best we could. 

After a (very) brief rest, the two reps and I, already tired from a full day at work, convened at the farm, armed with red bulls and an airway bill number, and headed out to the airport at full speed in a borrowed pickup. Our excitement was tempered by the knowledge of how long the order had spent in transit but we hoped to at least be able to save some of the hardier specimens...More delays at Air General, waiting, waiting, waiting until finally we got the signal to back the truck up to the loading gate and a waiting forklift drove over with our pallet.
After a looong wait, the airway bill is signed and we're ready to go!

The first fish out: beautiful black cory cats!
As we loaded the boxes into the bed we all became a bit more hopeful—not one box was damaged, crushed, or leaking. Good signs! Driving like crazy back to the farm, we pulled up to freshwater receiving still uncertain of what we would find when we opened the boxes. Despite the fact that it was almost 11PM, our freshwater and R&D managers were both still there and ready to assist as we started the unpacking. It was truly an impressive team effort even with all of us as tired as we were, but as soon as the first bag was removed from its boxan entire bag of black cory catfish alive and healthy(!!!!)—we were jolted awake with renewed excitement and got to work. Only hesitating briefly to ogle at the spectacular fish we were unpacking, it still took us until almost 1AM to finish sorting and acclimating boxes and boxes of fish. 
Acclimating and tanking fish late into the night
While a few fish were slightly worse for the wear having been in transit so long, it was a testament to the care and excellent packing procedures used by our vendor that the fish arrived not only alive, but thriving. And of course, a lot of credit needs to go to my two coworkers and our incredible building crew, who voluntarily gave up their whole night to rescue a wayward shipment of fish for no other reason than their passion for what they do. It was a good night, and one when I felt particularly proud to work where I do in an often-overlooked part of the industry. A part of the supply chain that hobbyists only rarely consider but one which makes sure that fish from across the globe reach them safely and efficiently.

We went home that night exhausted but with the satisfaction of knowing that due to our efforts those fish would soon be on the next phase of their journey to retailers and into home aquariums around the US and the world.
A good night.


  1. Thanks for sharing the info. That's fascinating stuff. I work at a LFS and we had at least three delivery delays due to nasty weather, airline mishaps, and the like during December and early January. It's a stressful thing to have to manage livestock like that, but it's such a joy when they come through!!