Ammonia in your Bait Tank Water

 

Ammonia is extremely toxic and is produced by fish as part of normal metabolism.

Ammonia is continually excreted by fish directly into the surrounding water through the gills, urine and also in the decomposing of dead fish.

What is Ammonia and why is it important to know your Ammonia level?

Ammonia is a toxic waste that is excreted by fish or caused by decomposing matter (dead fish) or uneaten fish food. At low levels, Ammonia is stressful for your fish (kills slowly). Higher levels, it kills your fish fast. If a test kit is able to measure it, you've got too much. It is present in solutions as both ionized (nontoxic NH 4 +) and unionized (toxic NH 3 ); the proportion of these two forms is pH and temperature dependent.

Increased concentrations of ammonia in aquarium water can result in gill tissue damage, stress and eventual death to the fish if it is not controlled.

 As little as 0.6 ppm total ammonia can be toxic to fish. Although the proportion of total ammonia that is in the toxic (un-ionized) form is pH and temperature dependent, it is necessary to accurately monitor the total ammonia present so that the actual concentration of the toxic form can be determined.
Ammonia levels should be ZERO.

Symptoms of Ammonia Poisoning in Fish:

  • Fish gasp for breath at the water surface.

  • Purple or Red inflamed gills.

  • Fish is lethargic.

  • Loss of appetite (If you feed your Bait).

  • Fish rest at the bottom of the tank.

  • Red streaking or bloody patches on the fins or body.

Action to remove Ammonia from your bait tank:

Do a water change, 25 - 50% preferably with aged water and monitor the Ph, a wrong change in Ph can add stress. Lower the pH below 7.0 this makes toxic ammonia into ammonium which is non-toxic for the fish. Use Ammonia removing resins or a liquid Ammonia remover to convert the Ammonia to something less toxic.
These don't actually remove the Ammonia, they do make your water non-toxic and safe for fish. If you have Ammonia determine why you have it. You want to solve the problem and not just treat the symptoms.
Reduce or stop feeding if it applies.
Using zeolite or some other form of ion exchanging material.
These act as a magnet and swap ammonium molecules in the water for another ion, usually sodium.
They need to be re-charged, usually by overnight immersion in a strong salt solution.

Prevention of Ammonia in bait tanks:

  • Increase the bait tank population slowly

  • Remove uneaten food immediately and sparingly feeding is encouraged.

  • Regular, frequent water changes (25-50%)

  • Test water regularly to detect problems as early as possible.

  • Your filter may be too small for the current fish load or perhaps just needs to be cleaned.

In the confines of bait tanks ammonia can rapidly rise to dangerous levels unless it is controlled. There does not have to be a great deal of total ammonia in a tank to cause problems, short or long term.

Return to bait water conditioning.

Ammonia control is especially critical when first catching and exchanging your bait from the transport tank to the holding tank.

Toxic levels are pH and temperature dependent. The higher the temperature of the water the less ammonia there needs to be even when the pH is constant

Experiments have shown that the lethal concentration for a variety of fish species ranges from 0.2 to 2.0 mg/l

Return to bait water conditioning.

Raised levels of ammonia affect fish in several different ways.

At Lower levels:
Acts a strong irritant, especially to the gills.
Prolonged exposure to sub-lethal levels can lead to skin and gill hyperplasia .
Gill hyperplasia is a condition in which the secondary gill lamellae swell and thicken, restricting the water flow over the gill filaments. This can result in respiratory problems and stress and as well as creating conditions for bacteria and parasites to grow. You may see your bait flashing and/or rubbing against the side of tank or other objects.

At High levels:

Short exposures can lead to ammonia poisoning and permanent damage.
The fish response to toxic levels would be lethargy, laying on the tank bottom with clamped fins, or gasping at the water surface if the gills have been affected.

Ammonia test kits are available in two basic types.

Both read the total of Ammonia and Ammonium.

You must know the  temperature and pH, before the toxicity cannot be determined.

The Nessler method type test normally uses drops with a colormetric chart. The Nessler test detects both free Ammonia/Ammonium and also that chemically bound with anti-Ammonia chemical treatments (more about these later). The Salicylate type test is a dual step, using liquid, pill or powder also with an associated color chart. It takes longer to perform and measures only the free Ammonia/Ammonium.

Since only the free Ammonia is harmful to the fish, the Nessler test can be misleading under certain conditions but provides additional information under others.

The recommended test kit should be able to detect 0-1 ppm of Ammonia particularly for tanks with normal pH levels above 7.0.

A wider range kit, 0 - 5 ppm, would also be useful, particularly for those tanks with a typical pH of under 7.0.

Ammonia test kits should be a requirement for all bait tanks.

When Ammonia is detected (assuming a pH of about 7.5):

Increase aeration to maximum.

Add supplemental air/oxygen if possible.

For an ammonia level of 0.1 ppm, conduct a 10% water change out.

 For a level of 1.0 ppm, conduct a 25% change out.

CAUTION:

If the tap water has a higher pH than that of the tank, adding the replacement water may make the situation worse.

Chemically treat for twice the amount of Ammonia measured.

Consider transferring fish if the Ammonia level reaches 2.5 ppm.

Retest in 8  hours

Under Emergency conditions only, consider chemically lowering the pH one-half unit (but not below 6.0).

Effects of Ammonia:

Ammonia tends to block oxygen transfer from the gills to the blood and can cause both immediate and long term gill damage.

The mucous producing membranes can be destroyed, reducing both the external slime coat and damaging the internal intestinal surfaces.

Fish suffering from Ammonia poisoning usually appear sluggish,
often at the surface as if gasping for air.

Source of Ammonia:

Ammonia is a gas primarily released from the fish gills as a metabolic waste from protein breakdown, with some lesser secondary sources such as bacterial action on solid wastes and urea.

Control of Ammonia:

Ammonia is removed by bacterial action in a bio-converter and some is directly assimilated by the algae in the pond.

Nitrosonomas bacteria consume the Ammonia and produce Nitrites as a waste product.

 Ammonia readings will increase following the addition of a large number of new bait to a tank or as the water temperature increases.

 Fish activity increase faster following a temperature increase
than the bacterial action does.

Treatment of Ammonia:

Chemical treatments to counteract Ammonia toxicity are
available commercially under various trade names.
Most of these products use a dosage of 50 ml per 100 gallons to
chemically bind up to 1 ppm of Ammonia.
Be sure and check the manufacturer's directions before use.

These treatments, most of which are based on Formaldehyde,
form a chemical bond with the Ammonia that prevents
it from being harmful to the fish.

They do not remove it from the tank. Any ammonia additive should be considered temporary.
 

I came across the following table which shows the potential problem in a tank. In the table below the figures relate to the maximum long term level of ammonium or ammonia in mg/litre or parts per million (ppm) depending on pH as discussed above

  Water temperature degrees F
pH 68 deg 77deg
6.5 15.4 11.1
7.0 5.0 3.6
7.5 1.6 1.2
8.0 0.5 0.4
8.5 0.2 0.1

AMMONIA:

 Ammonia, NH3, is measured in parts per million (ppm), is the first measurement to determine the health of the bait.

The ideal measurement of Ammonia is zero.

 When ammonia is dissolved in water, it is partially ionized depending
upon the pH and temperature.
The ionized ammonia is called Ammonium and is not toxic to the fish.

As the pH drops and the temperature decreases, the ionization and Ammonium increases which decreases the toxicity.

As a general guideline for a water temperature of 70°F., most bait would be expected to tolerate an Ammonia level of 1 ppm if the pH was 7.0, or even as high as 10.0 if the pH was 6.0.

At a pH of 8.0, just 0.1 ppm could be dangerous.

Test kits are available in two basic types.

Both read the total of Ammonia and Ammonium.
You must know the  temperature and pH, before the toxicity cannot be determined.

The Nessler method type test normally uses drops with a colormetric chart. The Nessler test detects both free Ammonia/Ammonium and also that chemically bound with anti-Ammonia chemical treatments (more about these later). The Salicylate type test is a dual step, using liquid, pill or powder also with an associated color chart. It takes longer to perform and measures only the free Ammonia/Ammonium.

Since only the free Ammonia is harmful to the fish, the Nessler Test can be misleading under certain conditions but provides additional information under others.

The recommended test kit should be able to detect 0-1 ppm of Ammonia particularly for tanks with normal pH levels above 7.0.

A wider range kit, 0 - 5 ppm, would also be useful, particularly for those tanks with a typical pH of under 7.0.

An Ammonia test kit is considered to be a requirement for all tank keepers.

When Ammonia is detected (assuming a pH of about 7.5):

Increase aeration to maximum.
Add supplemental air/oxygen if possible.

For an ammonia level of 0.1 ppm, conduct a 10% water change out.

 For a level of 1.0 ppm, conduct a 25% change out.

CAUTION:

If the tap water has a higher pH than that of the pond, adding the replacement water may make the situation worse.

Chemically treat for twice the amount of Ammonia measured.

Consider transferring fish if the Ammonia level reaches 2.5 ppm.

Retest in 12 hours

Under Emergency conditions only, consider chemically lowering the pH one-half unit (but not below 6.0).

Effects of Ammonia:

Ammonia tends to block oxygen transfer from the gills to the blood and can cause both immediate and long term gill damage.

The mucous producing membranes can be destroyed, reducing both the external slime coat and damaging the internal intestinal surfaces.

Fish suffering from Ammonia poisoning usually appear sluggish, often at the surface as if gasping for air.

Source of Ammonia:

 Ammonia is a gas primarily released from the fish gills as a metabolic waste from protein breakdown, with some lesser secondary sources such as bacterial action on solid wastes and urea.

Control of Ammonia:

Ammonia is removed by bacterial action in a bio-converter and some is directly assimilated by the algae in the pond.

Nitrosonomas bacteria consume the Ammonia and produce Nitrites as a waste product.

 Ammonia readings will increase following the addition of a large number of new bait to a tank or as the water temperature increases.

 Fish activity increase faster following a temperature increase than the bacterial action does.

Treatment of Ammonia:

 Chemical treatments to counteract Ammonia toxicity are available commercially under various trade names.

These treatments, most of which are based on Formaldehyde, form a chemical bond with the Ammonia that prevents it from being harmful to the fish.

They do not remove it from the tank.

.A bio converter will actually remove.

Most of these products use a dosage of 50 ml per 100 gallons to chemically bind up to 1 ppm of Ammonia,
be sure and check the manufacturer's directions before use.

Return to bait water conditioning.

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Ammonia in Your Bait Tank