5 beginner fish every saltwater aquarium should have. Stocking a tank with utilitarian fish

Choosing the right fish is one of those things that can make or break your experience, especially for the first time. In this episode, Ryan gives you some of the best fish options and talks about utilitarian fish that will drastically improve the health of your tank through the beginning stages.

The best approach is to stock your tank with these utilitarian fish first, then add your favorites thereafter. The reason is these utilitarian fish serve a purpose and new reefers will surely be more successful with them.

A pair of Oscellaris Clownfish


The iconic Clownfish, Nemo. These funny little fish do really well in pairs, are highly adaptable to life in an aquarium and are one of the most widely bred ornamental marine fish in captivity. This very successful captive breeding reduces the overall pressure of collection on wild reefs and has developed into hundreds of designer clownfish strains you can choose from.

The standard Ocellaris species or some color variant thereof are absolutely brilliant with color and are very hearty so what better fish to add first. They make the ideal “first fish” because they will establish the biological foundation making the water suitable for additional fish.

Yellow Tang

Yellow Tang

These surgeonfish simply eat algae for a living. You will see them all day, every day pecking at the rocks cleaning your tank for you. It could be said that a yellow tang is the most beneficial fish you can add to any tank. The utility here is obvious, they keep the tank free of algae and attractive.

Kole Tang

Bristletooth Tang

The Yellow Eye Kole Tang or Tomini Tangs are also in the Tang family but from a different Genus in the taxonomic tree. Often called “Bristletooth Tangs”, they have mouths specialized for different types of algae. Just like the Yellow Tang, they spend their entire day eating algae. These two species, in particular, are favored because they are smaller in size within the Bristletooth group and do well in most common aquarium sizes.

Lawnmower Blenny

Lawnmower Blenny

Staying with the algae-eating trend, a Lawnmower Blenny is another herbivorous fish spending the majority of its time scouring the rocks for algae. Algae is the number one cause of tank failures within the first year and an ugly tank filled with the green scourge tends to get shut down rapidly. Our goal is to help you create a pristine, easy to manage reef tank and there really is no denying that using fish who do it for you is the most effective way to achieve that.

Six Line Wrasse

Six Line Wrasse

The last fish your going to need for an almost bulletproof cycle is the infamous Six Line Wrasse or the more mild-tempered Coris Wrasse. Both will spend their entire day searching the tank for small reef tank pests. In fact, your tank may end up with some fairly common coral pests like Zoanthid or Monitpora eating nudibranchs but you would never know it because these Wrasses are so effective at keeping the populations low.

Simply put, if you start your new tank with these 5 species of fish and a mentality of solving issues by never encountering them in the first place, success rates skyrocket. After these fish are established, you can then add all of your favorites that many of you will already have picked out.

World Wide Corals fish holding tanks

Where To Buy Fish

There are many online shops you can order from but our best advice is to make this an excuse to look up all of the fish stores within 30 minutes of your house. Take a day to tour them all and buy from the one that looks the best. Good saltwater shops will have these fish regularly but you can also just share the list of fish you want so they can order them for you. On that note, you will quickly learn the value of becoming chummy with your favorite fish store owner.

As to identifying who is the best, look for three things. First, clean is synonymous with well cared for. If the store and tanks inside appear to be clean, it dramatically increases the chances the fish are well cared for and healthy.

World Wide Corals storefront

Second, look around for a display tank that is well cared for with an impressive display of fish. There is no way around it, the best sign of competence is demonstrating not just success but also passion for the hobby and animals. A well-established display tank is the proof in the pudding.

Finally, ask them what their quarantine or guarantee process is. There is no right or wrong answer here but it is an excellent opening conversation to get a feeling for how helpful or considerate the store is. By the end of the day, you will likely establish a clear winner and have a ton of fun in the process.

What's Next

Choosing fish and corals is one of the most exciting parts of building a new reef tank and now that you have your first fish figured out, it is time for corals!

5 Minute Saltwater Aquarium Guide

Looking for a different topic or have questions? You can binge the entire 5 Minute Saltwater Aquarium Guide playlist right here on our website. We also invite you to join the #askBRStv Facebook Group which is a free resource for you to ask questions, get advice, interact with other hobbyists and get your daily reef aquarium fix.

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