Unfortunately, the vast majority are a disservice to our hobby. The worst advice I've ever heard of was from LFS owners when I began the hobby in 1993, and unfortunately that trend continues to this day. The amount of dead, dying, starving, sick, mis-imported, and inappropriately housed livestock I've seen in LFS is appalling. I don't even consider buying anything from an LFS anymore, unfortunately!
There are good local fish stores that carry quality livestock. To prevent the abhorrent practices of the not-so-quality LFS, take your business elsewhere. LFS are in business for the one reason that all businesses exist: to make a profit. If your dollars aren't supporting their business, they will be forced to change their business practice, or go under. If you decide not to frequent an LFS, tell the employee(s) or owner why you are not willing to spend your money there. Point out their more glaring mistakes, explain that you dislike their ethical treatment of their animals or that their advice is worse than useless, and take your money elsewhere.
Some of the issues I have with LFS aren't entirely the fault of the store. As previously stated, an LFS exists to make a profit, and if selling animals that have a miserable survival record in captivity or are completely unfit for captivity (mandarins, large tangs, moorish idols, red tailed catfish, panther groupers, and anemones, to name a few) are animals that sell quickly and generate a profit, the LFS will continue to stock these species.
We as hobbyists can prevent this unethical LFS practice by not purchasing animals that are known to fare poorly in captivity. Do not buy an animal that has a low chance of survival to "save it", nor should you ever purchase a sick or sickly fish to "nurse it back to health". I know the temptation is there, but by doing this, not only are you encouraging the LFS to continue importing species unfit for captivity, but you are keeping them in business. Ultimately, the responsibility for hobby ethics rest on the hobbyist! If we are not responsible today, our hobby with be legislated out of our hands tomorrow.
So, where to buy your fish and inverts? I much prefer quality online vendors that take much better care of their livestock, and handle the entire process of housing, feeding, and shipping their animals much more professionally and conscientiously. I've visited and worked or consulted for many livestock importers/wholesalers as well as many online vendors who serve the hobbyist directly. Thes facilities that sell their livestock online often provide vastly superior husbandry to their livestock than do the majority of LFS. I have seen online vendors dedicate entire rooms simply to treating sick fish! The quality online vendors are so confident in the health of their livestock that many of them offer a two week 'guarantee' that their livestock will stay alive in your aquarium for two weeks. How many LFS do you know offer that? Although purchasing with a mindset of "I'll get my money back if it dies" is unethical and ill-advised, offering a 'guarantee' does show improved care and confidence in the health of the livestock being sold.
If you can find a LFS that imports healthy livestock and keeps it that way, good for you! I haven't found one yet, unfortunately. 100% of my livestock when I was a hobbyist was purchased online, and I recommend following suit. Otherwise, we may not be allowed to continue our hobby. Luckily, not all local fish stores are bad, but sadly those are few and far between.
Have any LFS horror stories? Know of a great LFS in your area? Let us know!
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