Fish enjoy routine and will learn your feeding schedule and start to come to the surface when they see you. They sometimes stick their mouths out of the water in anticipation. If you give them treats occasionally or feed at different times, they may start to come to the surface whenever you walk out to the pond. Waiting at the surface for food is different than gulping for air. If your fish spend too much time at the surface, it could be a sign of a problem.
Just Saying Hi or Something More?
If your fish are surfacing frequently, you can do little tests to see if your fish are looking for food or if there's an issue with the pond itself. Surfacing can be a sign of low oxygen levels and fish stress.
If you want to see if your fish are just being greedy, observe them in secret. Walk to the pond at a different time than normal and monitor them before they see you. If they're hanging around at the surface, some with their mouths gulping air, there may be something else going on.
What Does Surfacing Mean?
If your fish are hanging around the water's surface and gulping for air, it could mean there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water or the pond has a water quality issue. These problems can cause stress. Fish do not handle stress well, which can affect their immune system making them more vulnerable to parasites and other illnesses.
Why Do Oxygen Levels Drop?
When the oxygen levels drop, fish swim to the surface water. Oxygen levels can drop quickly during the summertime, especially if the water is still and not moving. Shallow ponds may get enough movement from the wind or small water features, but deeper and larger ponds need constant circulation.
Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, which is why oxygen levels may drop as it gets warmer out. Your fish are also more active in the summer, meaning they need more oxygen than in the winter when their metabolisms slow down.
A lack of aeration is the most common reason oxygen levels drop. Your fountains, waterfalls, and aerators should run 24/7 in the summer and warmer springtime. A pond without aeration can quickly become devoid of oxygen in the warm summer months.
Ponds with a waterfall, fountain, or aerator can still have issues if the pumps are not working at full strength or aren't strong enough for the pond. If there is an issue with the pump during the hottest parts of summer, oxygen levels can drop very quickly. Learn how to troubleshoot pump problems and pick the right size pump for your pond.
Increase Dissolved Oxygen Levels
If your fish are gulping at the surface of the pond, you need to increase the dissolved oxygen levels to reduce stress. Check your pumps and filters to make sure everything is running properly. You can add a nozzle kit to your pond, or an additional water feature such as a spitter, to add oxygen to your pond. Going bigger, like adding a waterfall, will add even more oxygen.
A water quality issue can cause stress to your fish and affect oxygen levels. If your filter is not working properly, too much debris may break down in the water. Debris can be from runoff, overfeeding, and other organic materials finding their way into the pond. Learn more about the importance of pond filtration.
As bacteria break down the debris, it releases ammonia, nitrites, and other harmful gases into the water. Overcrowded ponds can produce more fish waste than the bacteria can break down. Adding on a Pond Filter can help clean the water, and promote beneficial bacteria.
When the water quality is poor, and the bad bacteria start taking over, the bottom of the pond becomes devoid of dissolved oxygen. Some bacteria do not need oxygen, and as they break down waste, they produce harmful gases, which can cause the oxygen levels to drop even more. The good bacteria need oxygen to survive, so they begin to die off. The fish have to stay near the surface to breathe.
Improve Water Quality
If your water quality is poor, use water treatments with beneficial bacteria and check your pond filtration system. There are different water treatments that can help restore the balance. Water treatments are effective, but it's also important to figure out what is causing the water quality issue so you can prevent it in the future.
For an all-in-one solution, adding a Filter Kit with Pump circulates, oxygenates, and filters the water to improve the water quality.
If your fish seem to be saying "hi" more than usual and spend time at the surface when you're not around, it could be a warning sign of an issue. When the oxygen levels drop in the pond due to lack of aeration or poor water quality, the fish become stressed and go to the pond's surface for oxygen. You can check your filters, pumps, and aerators and perform a water quality test to see what is causing the oxygenation issue. It's nice to be greeted by your fish, but they should only be surfacing to say hi and look for food.