Big Al’s Aquarium Services Ottawa

Here’s why I can never shop at at Big Al’s Aquarium Services Warehouse Outlets ever again. I apologize for the length of this article, but want to be accurate and detailed.

For the past 3 years or so, I’ve had a 30-gallon aquarium in my office at work. It’s a relaxing (often mesmerizing) element of my office that both myself and coworkers have enjoyed for years. I feed my fish every day when I get to work, and I’ve always done regular water changes and cleanings to keep my fish healthy and my tank looking good.

It’s a very rare occasion that I add new fish to the aquarium, since I’m not too pleased with the small pet stores around my office, but on Aug. 27, 2010, my wife and I made an unusual trip across town to Big Al’s located at 1900 Innes Road, Ottawa, Ontario for the sole purpose of buying new fish to add to my aquarium. I purchased 10 new fish for my aquarium, and my wife, a school teacher, purchased a Betta fish and fishbowl for her classroom. Our bill was just over $60. We specifically made this drive to purchase from Big Al’s because I knew Big Al’s is a large chain and thought I could trust this store to purchase fish and supplies from.

After returning to my office, I introduced the fish to my aquarium after first floating the unopened bags in my aquarium to equalize the temperature. The fish seemed to get along just fine with my existing mature fish. That was until a few days later, when one of the new fish died. I know that it is not uncommon for a new fish to die within a few days of being introduced into a new environment, so I didn’t think much about it.

One week later, on September 7, 2010, I arrived at the office to find that nearly all of my fish, young and old, were either dead or dying. The fish that were still clinging to life were lethargic and covered in small white specs. The ones that had died were covered with a visible slime and littered throughout my aquarium. A three-year-old silver dollar fish that was nearly 5 inches long was now stuck to my filter. Other fish were floating upside down, or darting with pain across the tank. Overnight, I went from 17 fish in my aquarium, to 6.

I immediately called Big Al’s to inform them that their fish must have been infected with something that had now killed off my entire aquarium. I spoke to Karen, who was the manager on duty. She immediately identified the problem as “Ich” (pronounced “Ick”). I was told to go immediately to purchase a treatment for the water which not only took time out of my work day, but also cost me $10. I was told to call back the next day and speak with the manager, Jody, who would be able to help me further. Over the course of that day, I started the Ich treatment and watched as more of my fish died in front of my eyes.

The next day, on September 8, I called Big Al’s again and spoke to Jody. I explained the situation in full and how devastated I was that fish from his store had destroyed an aquarium I had been working on for years. The conversation was pleasant, and I told Jody I would call him back after the Ich treatment had finished, and after I knew exactly how many fish had been killed. I explained that I wanted to contact him as soon as possible to let him know what was happening with my aquarium.

That next weekend, I finished medicating my tank and changed 25% of the water, as per the instructions. First thing on Monday morning, I called Jody back to discuss. To my surprise, Jody expressed that Big Al’s would not be compensating me at all for this situation. I was told that they only cover their own fish, and never the existing fish in a tank. Even for their own fish, they only guarantee they live for 5 days, including the day that the fish was purchased. And even if all those stars had aligned, they would only compensate me 50% of the cost of the fish. Sure enough, all of this information was written in a box at the bottom of my order form. As Jody explained, this was “Big Al’s policy”.

As politely as I could, I explained that I understand the policy must exist for people who may not know how to keep an aquarium, or for people who forget that fish need food. However, in this case, it is quite obvious that the fish I purchased from Big Al’s were infected with the Ich parasite and that they were responsible for killing nearly all my fish which I’ve had perfectly healthy for years. Even after Jody himself admitted that it’s likely the Ich came from his fish, he was firm on the company’s policy. I begged Jody to ignore his arbitrary policies and to simply do what is right. I asked him to consider the minuscule cost of replacing my fish that would leave me a happy customer for years to come. Yet, he did nothing in order to rectify this situation.

Coming into this situation, I had a healthy tank with 3 mature silver dollars, 3 mature tiger barbs, a rosy barb and an assassin snail.

Leaving this situation, I have a credit card charge for $60.85, for fish and supplies from Big Al’s in East Ottawa, a charge for $10.16 from a separate local pet store for Ich treatment, two dead silver dollars, two dead tiger barbs, one dead punctatus cory, five dead penguin tetras and one dead green barred danio. Not to mention the time I’ve had to spend on the phone, administering treatments, gathering dead fish and generally being upset at this situation.

It is now clear to me that Big Al’s is much more concerned with making a quick buck selling diseased fish, than standing behind a quality product that they are selling. This was my first interaction with Big Al’s and will definitely be my last. I have absolutely no incentive to give another penny to this company.

Feel free to share your own comments and stories about Big Al’s Aquarium Services Warehouse Outlets below.

Tiger Barbs dead

Big Al's Ottawa

Big Al's Ottawa Ich


37 Thoughts on “Big Al’s Aquarium Services Ottawa

  1. Oh man the pictures are heartbreaking

  2. Robert Hahn on September 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm said:

    So, I totally get your frustration; we’ve had stuff like this happen before too.

    But when I shared this with my wife, who is a fishkeeper, she said that your expectations were unrealistic.

    For example, the outbreak of disease may well be b/c the fish were stressed (imagine being scooped up, put in a bag, and driven across town – you’d be stressed too!)

    At the Big Al’s in Kitchener, they quarantine all incoming fish, and any tanks that show signs of disease, including ich. This means they will not sell them until they’re healthy again. I suggest you ask the Ottawa store if they quarantine fish (or just go in and see for yourself)

    All this leads to the point I’m going to make: whenever you buy fish, if you don’t put them in a quarantine tank for 2wks prior to introducing them into your main tank, then you’re taking a risk. My wife doesn’t use a QT, but she’s quite aware of the risk she takes, and she perseveres anyhow. Sometimes she loses a bunch of fish. Sometimes she doesn’t. Happens all the time, and we get fish from more than one fish store.


  3. Robert, thanks for your comments. Interestingly enough, when I spoke to Karen from Big Al’s on the first day that I found the Ich, she recommended quarantining new fish, just as your wife has. However, when I spoke to the manager, Jody, the next day, he said that while it is a good way to prevent disease outbreak, it was unrealistic to expect hobbyists such as myself to maintain a separate aquarium for the sole purpose of quarantining new fish. Especially in a situation such as mine where the aquarium is at work and I purchase new fish very rarely.

    I agree that quarantining new fish is an excellent way to avoid disease outbreak, and I will strongly consider it in the future. Thank you.

  4. The Store clearly owes you contractual duties (at a minimum, that the goods they sold are fit for their purpose and of merchantable quality) and in partiuclar that their product will not damage your other fish. The waiver at the bottom of your receipt is ineffective to release them from liability unless it was brought to your attention before the transaction occurred. Even then, the limit of liability appears only to relate to their own fish, and would not release them from liability for the other fish in your tank. It is very reasonably forseeable that the other fish would be damaged if they sold you diseased fish. I suggest you consider filing a law suit in small claims court to recover all of your costs inlcuding the cost of replacing your previously owned fish. It will take time, effort, and expense on your part, which will probably outweigh any benefit you stand to gain, but you will send them a message to be more careful with other customers. If you don’t fight these guys, who will?

  5. Nikaleles on November 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm said:

    First of all, I want to say that I’m truly sorry about the loss. I know the horrors of losing fish, especially when you’ve had them for so long.

    But you cannot shove the blame onto the fish store for this. Just from reading this post it became clear to me that you had very little idea what you were doing. I have been dabbling in fishkeeping for about six years – nothing serious, just a small tank. However, this is important to me because I have adopted abused fish over the years and managed to nurse some of them back to health. Even though I am just a small-time fishkeeper, I can see several things you’ve done wrong.

    First of all, you can not just go out to a store and bring home ten fish at once. You are to introduce one or two fish at a time, and let the tank adjust to their presence before introducing more. Dumping ten fish into your aquarium is going to set the tank entirely out of whack, stress out all of the inhabitants, and likely cause mass death – which is what happened to you.

    If you care for the lives of your fish then it would do you well to put new arrivals into quarantine for a while before introducing them into the tank environment. Otherwise, you are putting your entire tank in jeopardy. If things like this happen, which they are wont to do, then you must accept it as your own responsibility, for you have not taken optimum care of your fish. You cannot just dismiss it as “too expensive and time-consuming” to have a separate tank. Fishkeeping is an expensive and laborious hobby- if you cannot dedicate yourself to it, then in all honesty, it would be best if you did not participate in it.

    That said, if you can only meet your fish’s needs halfway, then you have no place to be blaming your fish store and certainly no right to be demanding compensation from them. It is not the fish store’s fault. You bought too many fish, the tank environment was unbalanced, the fish became stressed and prone to disease, and the inevitable happened. Besides, the mix of fish you had in that tank shouldn’t have happened – and besides that, all those fish of all different kinds in a 30 gallon tank seems pretty overstocked. It wouldn’t have taken much to cast things into chaos, and clearly it didn’t.

    I’m sorry if that sounded condescending or brash in any way, but the store can’t be blamed for this. If you intend to go back to fishkeeping, I suggest that you make sure you are willing to dedicate optimum time, money, and effort to it – either that, or be ready to accept responsibility when things go wrong. Fishkeeping isn’t stamp collecting – there are living things at stake, and it is cruel to only go halfway for lives under your care. It’s better not to do it at all then to do half the job, and if you don’t have the money or time to dedicate to it then it might be best to give it a rest.

    I am so sorry about your fish and I hope that the future holds better luck for you.

  6. Saltwater fish are always a gamble for stuff like that ,its just playing the aquariasts game and sometimes you lose but in a 30 gallon tank u WAY overloaded it in my 29 callon i have a picasso triggerfish a snowflake eel and a blue damselfish and they coexist perfectly and those whit spots can also be caused by an ammonia buildup from the fish feces and the ones that died off and sat there, simple as this,you put wayyy to many fish in the tank and your protein skimmer couldnt handle it and there is very noticeable injurys cause by the other fish because they were territorial over the tank and they will kill eachother over in and ich is a common occurance in an overpopulated tank and those fish at big als are kept long enough to make sure they are healthy so it was owner error in my opinion, kepp your population small and youll not have this problem agagin and do 25%water changes every 2 weeks and you will avoid these types of problems ,ive been a big als customer for more than 6 years and i have never been dissapointed

  7. Owed Money on March 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm said:

    I heard that Big Als does not pay their bills, maybe they are going out of business ???

    • I have COMMON SENSE on November 21, 2014 at 10:18 pm said:

      YOU’RE AN IDIOT, HOW COULD THEY HAVE POWER AND RUN TWO BUSINESSES(just in Ottawa) WITHOUT PAYING BILLS…use your head before you judge something you don’t understand.

      • The two Ottawa stores are actually franchises owned by the same owner. This means that if the stores are not successful, the bills won’t get paid and they will close. In North America there are a total of 17 stores. 3 are corporate. Corporate mainly handles online sales.

        I’m pretty sure that the water company is not going to shut off the water knowingly killing thousands of fish, some of them endangered. The city would just transfer the water bill to the property tax, which means your building is on the line if you don’t pay.

        If you take your foot out of your mouth, you won’t have to yell so much:)

        • @I have COMMON SENSE (you may want to rethink that one) He commented more than 3.5 years ago so he probably won’t see your reply…

  8. MR A on July 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm said:

    well like it or not Big Al’s is really the only decent place to get fish this could happen anywhere you should know the risks i went to a “trent” petstore yesterday and they had dead fish in every tank and it looked like some of them had been dead for few days to weeks and they did nothing i even told them and they responded with an annoyed “soo?” i walked out right then i was never treated like this at big al’s nor have i seen them leave dead fish in almost every tank i’ve seen very few to no dead fish at big al’s..sometimes policy sucks but it’s there job to fallow the rules and do there job i have to do the same at my work even if i wish i could help i can’t i don’t want to lose my job,really i think you should just put it behind you and be more careful you need a quarantine tank as fishkeepers we know the risks this could happen from any store always keep a good eye on your new fish.

  9. Jane Stratton on July 31, 2011 at 4:17 pm said:

    Totally sympathize with your experience with Big Al’s. They either don’t know or don’t care. Have been given wrong advice there so many times. Amazing my fish survived it.

  10. Adrian on November 4, 2011 at 4:10 am said:

    You buy TEN new fish for a 30 gallon tank – which is way too much bio-load at one time to add – and you don’t even quarantine them? What do you expect?

    • I have COMMON SENSE on November 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm said:

      That’s the best answer ever! That is one of the first things I said to myself when I read over this post.
      When adding more fish than you should, it could definitly trigger a bacterial bloom as the bacteria tries to fight and convert the excess ammonia and nitrate added by the new fish, Which will harm the fish enough for them to contract ICH within a day or so.

      Also because he claims he doesn’t add fish very often, add that many fish could have just stressed them out enough to get ich or you added a bully and he beat the shit outta fish and stressed them out and they got ich and died. Because that shot with the stomach mater or end-trails coming out looks like a fish attacked him!

      Or maybe you didn’t acclimate properly …who knows?you’ve got your story and your sticking to it and you still look like an asshole amateur fish keeper who’s trying to blame someone else because he did something stupid like added too many fish at once (DUH)


  11. When the first fish died, probably from stress….did you do a water change? The ammonia from the first death is what caused your other fish to die. A 25% change while medicating is NOT enough. The Ich in that picture is way out of control. I would say this is your fault for leaving dead fish in your tank long enough for them to MOLD!

  12. Aqua North on November 15, 2011 at 8:38 am said:

    Learn how to keep fish instead of blaming Big Al’s.

    You threw 10 new fish into a 30 Gallon aquarium all at once. That’s way too many. A tank that size can’t handle that many new fish all at once… Clearly, you don’t know enough about fish keeping yet and are passing the blame onto someone else for your own ignorance.

    If it sounds harsh, so was your judgement against the fish store. It’s your fault. I hope that you will learn from this experience and if you choose to maintain an aquarium, please do proper research.

  13. Its is well known that the Big Al’s in Ottawa area are terrible aquarium stores. They have little knowledge of aquarium keeping with even the basic sometimes escaping staff. The fish are most often diseased and the water is pure poison. A quick look at the saltwater section is more than evidence its proof. The Big’s Al’s in Toronto are a different story altoghter.

  14. All Big Al’s store are owned and operated by different people. Some stores are ‘corporate’ and some are family owned. By putting things like this on the internet, you bad mouth ALL Big Al’s store, hurting small family owned business’ that struggle to get by. This is the first image seen when anyone ‘googles’ Big Al’s. Not acceptable. People dont understand that fish do pass away. Dead fish in a Big Al’s tank doesnt mean its their fault. Suppliers are sometimes to blame as well. Fish are sensitive creatures, and shouldnt be taken lightly.

    • SHAZZBOTT!! on November 21, 2014 at 11:30 pm said:

      You are totally right! @ big als there are tanks that as sick yes and there are sometimes there dead fish in the aquariums YES! But you have to understand in they are sick they know they are and are and medicate the fish and flip around labels so you know they are not for sale. ALso there is so much inbreeding in fish that alot of them are just weak and wont survive or are out competed!

      You have to understand to get you KNOW IT ALL…. fish keepers your fish they are sent 250 to them with 250 fish in a big at a time for a period of 2 to 3 days travel time there and they sometimes contract diseases but that is why they also do not sell stock they just got for over a week to make sure they are good and treated if they are rough!

      You have to understand these fish are sometimes coming from thailand ,brazil florida, or toronto wherever and no matter the lenght of trip even a short one is damaging!

      One of big als priority when im there getting my fish seems to be the live stalk!

  15. Adding so many fish will cause ammonia spikes. You may be able to do it if you have a large bio filter, and do frequent water changes EVERY DAY until the bacteria re-establishes to the new bio load. A good water test kit can tell you how often you need to do the water changes.

    There could be other reasons since the aquarium is in an office. Co-workers may have fed or overfed the fish (people like to feed fish). Janitors may have sprayed detergents around the office and the detergent got into the tank. This happened to me once that I got really sick immediately after drinking a glass of water left over from previous day. I blame myself in not getting a new glass of water.

    I myself don’t have a quarantine tank and I understand and accepted the risk. Local breeders are probably the best source for live fish. But there could still be problems with fish from local breeder. This happened once, but I was able to treat the fish with the help of the local breeder.

    There are just too many causes. I can see why Big Al or any pet stores have their store policies.

  16. First I would like to say I am sorry for your loss, I have lost fish due to a pet stores lack of care.but there are a few things that you did wrong. For one you had to many fish in your tank. should have inspected the fish before purchase i.e look for white spots slime build up head rot milky eyes. 3 you didn’t quarantine if you dont quarantine you are taking a huge risk and with over loading your tank like that and not quarantine you just made the risk higher cause your fish are stressed and you introduced disease into the tank… do your research know what you are doing it prevents heart breaking disasters like this and saves the lives of many fish.

  17. Paul on March 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm said:

    I agree with Nikeles

    You really don’t sound like you know how to keep fish and you are lucky Big Al’s doesn’t sue you for slander in your blog.

    I have shopped at Big Al’s since 1980 and know Al Saul personally. He caught fish for me in 1980 himself at his first store at Yonge and Steeles in Toronto. The Big Al chain is the best fish store in Canada without a doubt.

    You need to quarantine fish before introducing them into a tank. You cannot blame the store. And of course they are not going to compensate you for your existing fish dying.

    This disease does not look like Ich. It is more of a velvet slime disease.

    Next time you notice these symtoms try raising the temperature to around 86 F.
    and do 25 % water changes with 48 hour aerated aged water (no chemical treatments) each day. Sometimes adding salt can help as well.

    However best way is to quarantine new stock.

    Hope this helps you for next time.


  18. Thegeneral on June 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm said:

    a. in life we have death, it happens…deal with it, enough with the bleeding hearts. b. it’s easy to pass the blame on to the pet store isn’t it. c. sounds like you need to continue with your research son. d. dont whine about having to spend $10 on fish’s part of fish keeping.

  19. Jason on July 9, 2012 at 11:01 am said:

    That’s what quarantine tanksare for…. your fault man. Sorry.

  20. I have a really hard time understanding why you would blame big al’s for fish that died a week after you bought them. If they had ich when you got them, they would have died in a couple of days, let alone the fact that you would be able to see it clearly on them. If they died a few days later I would assume that you did not acclimate them properly. Although i’m sure this is true, the fact that more than a week passed tells me that your tank crashed. Too many fish, too much leftover food, Nitrate pockets or… maybe that mouldy fish you took a picture of. The amount of fungus on that fish tells me that he sat there for several days before you did anything. Don’t tell me that’s because it’s at your office. Don’t put a tank in your office if you cant keep track of it.
    I worked for big al’s and am usually happy to see someone pointing out their many flaws. I do not like dealing with Jodi at all, as he has lost all passion for the hobby. You however, should be embarrassed about this article. Any educated fish keeper can plainly see that this was entirely your fault. We can also see that this is simply your way to try to get payback. Maybe if you spent less time blaming others online, and more time educating yourself, you would have taken better care of your aquarium. My advise: take down your silly post and take responsibility for your actions.

  21. everytime I buy a fish from big al’s they always die within a week. And I have had a fish tank for 15 years and never had any problems until purchasing from big al’s…I have a fish that is 8 years old and most of my other fish last atleast 5 to 6 years.

    The fish from Big al’s are always diseased. A few times I had a fish die in the same day , and noticed that the fish were sickly as soon as I put it in my tank. I called big al’s immediately and all they said was they would sell me another fish for half price… What a rip off. Never go to big al’s they are about quantity not quality.

  22. I am actually thankful to the holder of this web site who has shared this great article at at this place.

  23. not only are big als fish bad and half the people who are in the fish department dont know what their doing i had bought from them many times i had over 1500 dollars to them for salt water and fresh water tanks i had bought 2 clowns to start out the tank turns out they had ich and died the next day they tried to sell me a protein skimmer that was honestly only worth 300 bucks and tried to sell me for 450 before a pump i walked out then and i didnt want to return i returned about a month later and i needed stuff because the store i now go to was closed and i had a 25 dollars off your next purchase because i had 1000 dollars spent and the lady said that she didnt not see anything and wouldnt give me the 25 dollars not only did i spend over 100 dollars she also didn’t say anything like have a nice day or anything but turned around and talked to 2 other employes … their saltwater skills arnt the best because they have had “accidents that they coulda stopped and it had happened several times when i was in their they dont know what they are doing i will not nor do i recommend or tell anyone to buy from them

  24. Rad Brad on January 30, 2013 at 9:23 am said:

    You put way to many new fish in at one time. You shocked you eco system by adding to many fish at one time and adding in water from I am guessing multiple different tanks. This was your fault and not Big Al’s. I’ve been shopping at Big Al’s in Kanata/Bell’s Corners for the past 20 years and never had an issue. Adding to many fish will cause ich, it is well known buy aquarium enthusiasts. Take this as a lesson and never add to many different fish at the same time, especially if the water is from multiple aquariums.

  25. It’s really too bad that you are giving the folks at big Al’s a bad name with the article. The only thing they are guilty of is not telling you not to add 10 fish at once. I bet it wasn’t ick and you ammonia levels were too high. Were your fish hanging around the top of the tank before dying? If so you killed them not Al’s. either 10 new fish at one in a tank that size you killed them and you should stop blaming others for your mistakes.

  26. I suggest you go to Pet Smart. They guarantee 14 days for the fished life; diseased, dead, or for any other reason you could refund you fish. I also had a problem with ich, I would just end up suggesting raising the heat, salt or use Vodka to finish their lives happily. I had to deal with 9 fish dying within 3 days, all strong and healthy, ich is terrible.

  27. The Big Al’s in Ottawa, both locations, are very behind on their equipment. From what I’ve heard, they were supposed to have a whole upgraded system, but they didn’t do it. I find that over the past three years, the quality/health of the fish have taken a nose dive.

    When you quarantine a fish, it’s a good idea to do a round of Praziquantel as well. Sort of like deworming a puppy. Quarantining is essential to avoid your situation. If the Ich killed the fish that quick, it must have been visible, no?

  28. Alec on June 24, 2015 at 6:35 pm said:

    Watch out for their super saver shipping – it is a major ripoff for us here in the CONUS. Charged me personally twice as much for half as fast shipping. Clearly profit before customer service.

  29. This “blog” should be removed. Clearly it’s out of date and highly controversial.
    I think the low cost (approx. $ 60 +) does not warrant the severity of your site’s visibility and may possibly be misleading to others.
    While I personally don’t think Big Al’s is the most ethical retailer of fish, it is hands down the best selection and competitive at that.
    This hobby is tricky and requires great patience. I personally don’t think you where mistreated. Let go of your vendetta and forget it.

  30. I would also like to add that ICH is a bacteria that is in EVERY aquarium. It’s just weather or not you fish are healthy enough to keep the ICH from finding a host..

    So the stress from being transported and then being placed into a new environment, may have weakend the fish enough for the ICH to latch on. ICH is also not as scary as some people feel, as long as you notice it in time of course. Setting your heat to 86F alone SHOULD kill off the ICH spores that fall from the fish and settle into the substrate waiting for their next victim. Salt also helps to kill off the bacteria and any others that may be floating around.

    This being said, of course QT tanks are always the way to go IMO. You can have an outbreak of anything and be able to treat it in a confined tank, and of course the best part, it doesn’t spread through out.

    And of course be sure to ALWAYS inspect the fish your lookin at buying in the store for awhile before you decide. If there’s ever anything strange going on, I will usually pass and wait for the next batch to come in.

    It’s not really any fish stores fault. It’s the responsibility of the fishkeeper to notice these things and take appropriate action.

  31. Milk is Delicious on August 9, 2016 at 8:30 am said:

    I have a comment regarding Big Al’s Aquarium in London.

    It used to be a huge location on Wellington Road S. That was a fantastic place to go visit, with frequent sales and plenty of variety.
    I suppose it was too big to manage eventually because they moved to a new location a few years back and it’s tiny by comparison.
    If you look onlihe, the London location has far less frequent fish sales than other locations. What a shame.

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