PetSolutions receives a lot of questions from people asking how we are able to ship aquarium fish. Hopefully, this article will help explain the process!

Aquarium fish come from all regions of the world, with farm raised specimens primarily from South East Asia or Florida. Obviously, great care has to be taken to get these fish to the local pet store or to your home safely. The steps involved are pretty much the same whether the fish are being shipped from an importer or fish farm to a store or from a vendor to your door.

Wild-caught fish have to go through an extra step of being caught by a local fisherman and then transported to a fish supply exporter, then to the vendor. They may spend several days at the collection site before they are transported to the exporter. During this time, feeding is minimal so waste does not accumulate in the transport bag. For this reason, you should always introduce food slowly to any wild caught fish you purchase. Farm raised fish are usually not fed for a day or two to help flush out their wastes before shipping, but this is rarely stressful to the fish.

Step one of transporting aquarium fish is placing the fish in a transport bag with about 1/3 water and then filled with oxygen before the top is sealed. In most cases, the water and oxygen could keep the fish alive for several days, if we can avoid extremes of temperatures. To help maintain the proper temperature during transport, the fish bag is placed in a Styrofoam container and, depending on the time of year, may have a heat pack or a cooling pack added to the box before it is sealed for shipping. 

Step two is getting the boxed packages of fish to a shipper. An importer or fish farm selling to a pet store would collect all the fish boxes and transport them to the local air freight terminal, and the aquarium fish would be shipped via air to the local shop’s city.

Step 3 is getting the fish ready for sale. At PetSolutions, aquarium fish are received from shippers, acclimated into our 20,000 gallon aquarium system, and monitored for 3 – 7 days before sale. A team of aquatic specialists monitor the 700 aquariums in our Aquatic Facility to make sure all the fish are fed and healthy.

Step 4 is getting the purchased fish to the customer. A vendor selling to an individual will use FedEx or UPS for the shipping. PetSolutions can process the aquarium fish for transport in the afternoon and have it shipped overnight, arriving as early as the next morning at your home. The Aquatic Specialists who care for the fish are the ones who gently net the fish that indivuals purchase. The aquarium fish are packaged in similar transport bags that are used by importers. The fish in their transport bags are then placed in styrofoam boxes, along with heat packs or ice packs when needed, and are finally placed in a specially marked PetSolutions: Live Animal box to be shipped overnight. The aquarium fish might spend less than 18 hours in the box. Keep in mind, the fish will have also been in total darkness the entire time, and you should use subdued lighting when starting your acclimation process.

Step 5 is acclimating the new fish into your home aquarium. In terms of stress on the fish, the acclimation time is the most critical. You need to get the fish acclimated to the water parameters of your tank (ideally a quarantine tank!). In most cases, the best method is to open the transport bag and start a water drip from your aquarium into the bag. You want to slowly add twice the volume of water originally in the bag over a period of 1 to 2 hours. Obviously, if the fish acts overly stressed, it is better to get it out of the transport bag sooner, but for most fish this 1-2 hour acclimation will be easily tolerated. The acclimation time allows the water temperature to equalize, and ideally the pH and salinity (for marine fish) to also adjust.You can also check out the PetSolutions Acclimation Guides for more information.

Once the acclimation is complete, gently net the fish from the transport bag and place in the aquarium. Discard the water in the bag. If possible, turn out the lights on the aquarium to give the new fish a chance to settle in before having to deal with the pecking order of the tank. If need be, rearrange the décor to break up established territories and make it a new tank for all the fish. With a little bit of patience and care, the transport of the fish can be done with the least stress possible.

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comments (6)

  • I have a question. There is a possibility I will be moving out of state which will require a 14-15 hour trip, maybe longer depending on road conditions. I have a very well established tank with platties that breed abundantly. I thought about transporting them in a styrofoam container with a sponge air filter and submersible heater plugged into the car adapter, with the water loosely in the container. Will this work?
    Also, the filter used for the established tank is a penguin bio-wheel filter and I really don’t want my bacteria dying off. How can I preserve the bacteria of my well established tank for that length of time? Could I put the filter cartridges in the container with the fish that I hope to run with the sponge air filter?

    • Hi Kelly, I recommend going to your local home improvement store and picking up a five-gallon bucket or two. They are called painter’s buckets and are very sturdy with a handle and they have a lid that seals well to put on top. They are inexpensive. It is easy to drill holes in the lid as needed to run your airline tube into the bucket as well as drilling some holes in the lid for some general ventilation. These will be MUCH more sturdy than using a styro with loose water. You could use an extremely low wattage heater in one of those buckets (something like 15 or 20 watts). Just be careful how you set it up, you do not want to melt anything or start any fires. The handle on the bucket also makes it much easier to carry into and out of wherever you are going or if you stop at a hotel for the night then it makes it easy to carry in.

  • Thank you for the tip! I never thought of the bucket idea. I will look into that.

  • Will this method of shipping work if I’m shipping fish from hawaii to Georgia?

    • It should, but to be honest I don’t have experience shipping fish to or from Hawaii. We have looked at offering shipping to Hawaii in the past, but there are so many laws, regulations, and permits in addition to the shipping costs that it wasn’t practical for us to add that service.

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