Best saltwater fish for a 50 gallon tank cover image

Best saltwater fish for a 50 gallon tank

50 gallons (227.3 liters) can be a perfect volume for a saltwater tank. It is large enough to allow you some pretty interesting fish options, without breaking the bank or needing you to move out of one of the rooms in your home to make space.

50 Gallon tank dimensions

A 50-gallon aquarium is a common and practical size to think about (it’s 5x’s bigger than a 10G or 2.5x’s bigger than a 20G); ratios that come to mind fairly easily for most of us, but an actual, literal 50-gallon tank is not all that common.

Here are a few popular tank dimensions in the 50-gallon range:

Tank

Length

Width

Height

Sea Clear 50 Gallon Acrylic

36 in. (90 cm)

22.6 in. (57.5 cm)

20 in. (50.8 cm)

Waterbox AIO 50.3 or Peninsula 50.3

35. 4 in. (89.9 cm)

19.7 in. (50 cm)

17.7 in. (45 cm)

Red Sea Max E 170 (45 gallon total volume)

24 in. (60 cm)

22.6 in. (57.5 cm)

22 in. (55 cm)

Red Sea Max E 270 (56 gallon)

36 in. (90 cm)

22.6 in. (57.5 cm)

22 in. (55 cm)

55 gallon fish tank

48 in. (121.9 cm)

13 in. (33 cm)

21 in. (53.3 cm)

40 gallon breeder fish tank

36 in. (91.4 cm)

18 in. (45.7 cm)

16 in. (40.6 cm)

40 gallon long fish tank

48 in. (121.9 cm)

12 in. (30.5 cm)

16 in. (40.6 cm)

If you are specifically interested in a 40-gallon or 55-gallon tank, you can dive deeper into saltwater fish stocking guides specifically for those sizes here:

61 Best saltwater fish for a 50-gallon tank: key attributes

Here are a few of the key attributes that the best saltwater fish for a 50-gallon tank share:

  • Medium-sized or smaller 
  • Hardy, tolerant, easy-to-feed
  • Don’t require an expert level of care
  • When combined in a community, the different fishes you choose occupy a variety of different spaces/niches within the tank environment
    • For example floor/substrate, site-attached, perching, open-water, top of the water

Best saltwater fish for a 50 gallon tank cover image

50 gallons is the threshold volume recommended to keep the following saltwater fish types:

Community

  • Community saltwater fish available now that your tank is 50 gallons or more

Aggressive

  • Alternatively, you could create an aggressive and semi-aggressive-themed tank with these saltwater fish that need about 50 gallons as a minimum tank volume:
    • Eels:  Snowflake eel or Jeweled Moray Eel
    • Dwarf Lionfish: (Fuzzy, Dwarf, Mombasa)
    • Pufferfish: (Sharpnose or Valentini)

How many fish in a 50-gallon saltwater tank?

A 50-gallon saltwater tank can safely house up to 13 saltwater fish if you take care to mix compatible species that are medium-sized or smaller and that occupy different parts of the aquarium.

A few of the best fish for a 50 gallon tank

Medium-sized peaceful fish like this Firefish, Goby, Wrasse and Blenny are perfect for a 50-gallon tank

Here are some recommendations on the best saltwater aquarium fish species and the number of fish per 50-gallon tank:

  • 1 Angelfish: (Pygmy Cherub, Pygmy Yellowtail, Flameback)
  • 1 Basslet: (Royal gramma, Blackcap, Chalk, Assessor, Swissguard, Candy) or 1-2 Dottybacks: (Orchid dottyback, Neon)
  • 1 Blenny Fangtooth type  (Canary, Striped, Blackline, Forktail, Midas)
  • 1-5 Cardinalfish: (Banggai, Pajama, Longspine, Flame, Yellow)
  • 1-5 Chromis: (Blue/green, Green, Blue Reef)
  • 1-2 Clownfish: (Ocellaris, Percula, Pink Skunk, Orange Skunk, Maroon, Tomato, Clarkii)
  • 1 Dartfish (Zebra barred, Scissortail,  Firefish, Purple Firefish, Helfrichi)
  • 1 Filefish: Aiptasia-eating
  • 1 Shrimp goby (Two spot, Yasha, Yellow Watchman) or 1 Sleeper/Sand Sifting Goby: (Diamond, Gold Head) or 1 Coral Goby: (Citron Clown, Yellow Clown, Green Clown) or 1 Cleaner Goby: (Blue Neon, Yellowline, Sharknose, Hybrid)
  • 1 Hawkfish: (Longnose, Falco, Arc Eye, Flame)
  • 1 Hogfish: (Yellow candy)
  • 1 Marine Betta: (Did I mention I love this fish?)
  • 1-5 Reef safe Fairy or Flasher Wrasses:(Carpenter’s, Lubbock’s Fairy Wrasse, McCosker’s, Royal Flasher)
  • Or 1 other reef safe wrasse: (Melanurus, Yellow Coris, Sixline)

A quick note: the intention here is to recommend either a basslet or a dottyback, not both. The same applies to the gobies–either a shrimp or a clown goby or a cleaner goby, but not one of each.

You can keep more than one of the same species of reef-safe wrasses, and in many cases, you can actually see amazing colors and displays from it, but I don’t recommend mixing species.

Hawkfish should not be kept with shrimp, snails, crabs. 

Perfect saltwater fish for a 50-gallon tank, but with special care

You can also choose from the following list of best saltwater fish for a 50-gallon tank, but each of these has some specific care requirements

Saltwater fish for 50-gallon tank that need a deep sand bed

  • 1-5 Jawfish: (Blue-spotted, Yellowhead) or 1-5 Engineer Gobies are great and peaceful saltwater fish–some of my favorites–but they require a deep sand bed (6 inches deep or greater) to be happy. Since these two species would compete for the exact same real estate in the tank, it is best not to mix, you have to pick–are you a jawfish or a blenny person?

Aggressive or Semi-Aggressive saltwater fish that won’t play nicely with the community

Saltwater fish for a 5o-gallon tank that require dietary care/observation

  • 1-2 Dragonets: (Mandarin, Ruby Red, Red Scooter) – the care required here is to ensure you have enough copepods and/or baby brine shrimp (with direct feeding) to keep them from starving. They also are shy and gentle and may not last in a tank with boisterous tankmates.
  • 1 Algae-blenny (Starry, Lawnmower, Bicolor, Tailspot) – the care required here is that they often starve to death in new tanks that don’t have a lot of algae, or even in algae-infested tanks, once all the algae are eaten. You can and need to ween them over to prepared foods, but this is sometimes problematic. I have kept a fangtooth-type and algae-type blenny in the same tank with zero aggression issues.
Few of the best fish for a 50 gallon saltwater tank

Reef safe wrasses, hawkfish, clownfish, betta, fairy basslets and cardinalfish are some of the best saltwater fish for a 50-gallon tank

Here is a table for you to print out and circle which of the 61 Best Saltwater Fish for a 50-gallon tank you want. 

Angelfish (1)

Pygmy cherub

Pygmy Yellowtail

Flameback

   

Basslet (1)

Royal gramma

Blackcap

Chalk

Assessor

Swissguard

Basslet (continue)

Candy

       

Blenny Fangtooth type (1)

Canary

Striped

Blackline

Forktail

Midas

Cardinalfish (1-5)

Banggai

Pajama

Longspine

Flame

Yellow

Chromis (1-5)

Blue/green

Green

Blue Reef

   

Clownfish (1-2)

Ocellaris

Percula

Pink Skunk

Orange Skunk

Maroon

Clownfish (continue)

Tomato

Clarkii

     

Dartfish (1)

Zebra barred

Scissortail

Firefish

Purple firefish

Helfrichi

Dottyback (1*)

Orchid

Neon

     

Filefish (1)

Aiptasia-eating

       

Shrimp goby (1*)

Two spot

Yasha

Yellow Watchman

   

Sleeper goby (1*)

Diamond

Gold Head

     

Clown goby (1*)

Citron clown

Green clown

Yellow clown

   

Cleaner goby (1*)

Neon blue

Yellow line

Sharknose

   

Hawkfish (1*)

Longnose

Flame

Arc Eye

Falco

 

Hogfish (1)

Yellow candy

       

Marine Betta (1)

Marine betta

       

Wrasse (1-5)

Carpenter’s

Lubbock’s

McCosker’s

Royal Flasher

 

Wrasse (1)  (continued)

Melanurus

Yellow Coris

Sixline

   

Equipment needed for a 50-gallon saltwater tank

You will need the following equipment for a 50-gallon tank:

Other size tank options

If you’re looking for saltwater fish stocking recommendations for a few other sizes, check out these guides:

A few important related topics to consider

Figuring out what saltwater fish to keep in your 50-gallon fish tank is definitely one of the most fun aspects of planning out your community aquarium, but there is still a lot of important information to share that is beyond the scope of this article. Be sure to check out these other important resources.

Other saltwater fish lists

If you know exactly which species from these lists you want to pick, you can jump right to the specific care guide for them. But if you still want to learn more about your options, these great saltwater aquarium fish lists can help:

Other stocking options

Fish are only 1/3 of the fun you can have with a saltwater tank. Check out these other fun invertebrate options:

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide is helpful to you in your fish tank planning. Be sure to leave a comment below to let us know what you’re planning for your tank build.

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