How to Transport Fish

Transporting fish is different from transporting other pets, like dogs and cats. Fish species are susceptible to transport stress effects. They can die if you do not exercise caution before, during, and after transport. Regardless of the reason for moving fish, you must know how to transport fish correctly and safely.


When to transport fish?

You transport fish when you buy it from the pet store and bring it to your home. It would help if you transported the fish in a sealed and oxygenated plastic bag to make it less stressful for your aquatic friend. Moving to another house and you want to bring your fish with you is another reason. Relocating can be daunting for family members. It is even more stressful for your aquatic friend. Jarring movements, vibrations, and light condition changes can be stressful for fish.

fish in plastic

Should I be careful when transporting fish?

Yes, anyone who wishes to transport fish should observe every bit of precaution. Studies show that transport can trigger fish physiological stress responses. It also increases fish susceptibility to certain diseases. Aquaculture facilities also tend to add sodium chloride in the water to mitigate fish stress. Unfortunately, salt addition can upset the microbial balance on the fish’s skin. The combination of increased disease susceptibility and abnormal bacterial colonization of the fish skin can undermine fish health. Add to this the physiologic stress that your fish undergoes. You can see why you should be careful when transporting your aquatic friend.


What should I consider when transporting fish?

Successful fish transport requires careful planning to ensure fish safety. You may need to consider the following factors when transporting fish.

Fish Transport Tolerance

Fish have different stress tolerances. Some species are more stress adaptable than others. Fish in different life stages also show substantial changes in their stress adaptation abilities. Larvae and brood fish are most susceptible to physiologic stress effects. Examples of fish species that are high stress-tolerant are gourami, catfish, common carp, mud carp, black carp, and oreochromis. Indian carps, grass carps, and bigheads have medium stress tolerance.

Food Presence in Fish Intestines

The absence of food in the fish intestines increases their chances of survival during and after transport. Fish use their energy reserves to combat physiologic stress instead of digestive processes. That is why it would be best not to feed your fish one to two days before the transport.

Transport Duration

In general, the longer the transport duration, the fewer fish you can put in the container. For example, you can transport 120 3-inch fish in a container if the travel only takes one hour to complete. If the transport duration lasts 48 hours, you can only put a third of the same fish in the same container.

Fish Size

You can transport more low-weight fish species in a container than larger fish. Fish need space to swim during transport. Crowding them into a container can only add to physiologic stress.

Methods of Fish Transport

There are two common methods for transporting fish: by a fish tank or by a plastic bag. Either method requires the addition of oxygen in the water.


Is oxygen necessary when transporting fish?

Yes, oxygen is necessary when transporting fish. Fish experts recommend using pure bottled oxygen to improve water oxygen levels. You can connect a tube to the oxygen bottle and submerge the tube’s other tip in the water. If you are transporting fish in a sealed plastic container, you can observe the same setup.


How do I oxygenate a plastic bag for fish transport?

You can oxygenate a plastic bag for fish transport by putting the water and fish first into the plastic bag. Make sure that the water will only fill up to two-thirds of the bag. Air fills the remaining throne-third. After oxygen addition, make sure to seal the plastic bag using a string or a twisted rubber band. Place the plastic bag in another plastic bag as a safety precaution against accidental leakage.


What can I use if I do not have pure bottled oxygen?

Pure bottled oxygen is best when transporting fish. However, if you do not have this resource, you can try the following alternatives.

  •       Perform manual aeration by scooping water from the plastic bag or container and pouring it back. The action creates air bubbles that can help oxygenate the water.
  •       Use a battery-operated air pump to create air bubbles in the water. The issue with these devices is that they are not powerful. A better option is to use an air pump that you can plug into your car’s 12-volt electric outlet. Air pumps work more efficiently when used with an airstone.
  •       If both of the above measures fail, you can add 1 mL of hydrogen peroxide for every gallon of aquarium water. The solution is enough to oxygenate the water for 24 hours.


When relocating, how should I prepare my fish and the aquarium?

Relocating a fish tank to a faraway place requires careful planning. It is advisable to change no more than 20% of the fish tank water every day for five consecutive days before relocating. It is also essential that you do not feed your fish one to two days before the actual relocation.

aquarium with corals

How can I protect my fish during the relocation?

As a general rule, you should always pack your fish tank last during the move. It is also the very first thing to unpack once you arrive at the new location. The guideline shortens the time your fish will be subjected to transport stress. Here are several guidelines to make the trip safe for your fish.

  •       Remove no more than 20 percent of the water from the fish tank. Put the remainder in a sealed container. You will use this for setting up your fish tank once you arrive at your destination.
  •       Pour the fish tank water into 5-gallon buckets with a lid for longer travels. You can use a fish-safe plastic bag for short travels.
  •       Oxygenate the container by connecting an airline from an air pump to the bucket. Put pure oxygen into the plastic bag before sealing.
  •       Remove aquatic plants and place them in fish tank water-filled plastic bags to keep the beneficial bacteria alive.
  •       Remove all aquarium accessories.
  •       Store the filter media in a sealed container for short travels. If the trip is long, you can clean the filter media before storage.
  •       Pack all fish tank components into a safe container.
  •       Transport the fish tank empty.


How do I set up my aquarium after transport?

Setting up your fish tank correctly after a move is as important as preparing it before relocating. It will help increase fish survivability, allowing them to adjust to the new surroundings. You can observe the following steps.

  •       Return all fish tank components, accessories, and decorations carefully.
  •       Fill your fish tank with the water you saved before you made the trip.
  •       Set up the pump, filter media, heater, and other components.
  •       Return the aquatic plants to the aquarium.
  •       Return your fish to the fish tank. You can pour them carefully into the fish tank, or you can use a fish net to transfer your fish. If you transported your fish in plastic bags, it is often best to leave the bags floating on the water for a few minutes to stabilize the water temperature between the plastic bag and the fish tank. Open the plastic bag once you achieve thermal equilibrium.
  •       Monitor your fish for the next few days. It will take time for your aquatic friends to adjust to their new home.


How do I transport fish less than 8 inches in size?

Use a lidded 5-gallon bucket to transport small fish species. Drill a small hole in the bucket lid to insert an airline that connects to the pure bottled oxygen. You can also use a battery-operated air pump or use one that you can plug into your car’s power supply. Place the bucket away from your car’s radio and speakers to minimize stressing your fish. Keep the bucket out of direct sunlight, too. Always bring additional treated water if travel time takes more than an hour. Perform no more than 25% water change every one to two hours.

How do I transport fish longer than 8 inches?

You can transport large fish species in double fish-safe, transportable plastic bags. Always oxygenate the bag before sealing it with a rubber band. It would be best to use pure bottled oxygen to improve fish survival during travel. If you are transporting large numbers of large fish, a large cooler or a fish tank is ideal for transport. The bigger the container, the less stressed your fish are. You can also add an airline into the container. Always position the container in a way that allows large fish to orient to the sides of your car. The fish orientation helps prevent your fish from smashing their heads into the container’s sides when you hit the brakes.

Learning how to transport fish safely and efficiently is crucial to ensuring your fish’s survival. It helps minimize the effects of travel stress and reduces their disease susceptibility. Your fish will lead a happy life in your new home.



Rita Wagener
Rita is a resident paw expert at Pet Keepers. A registered & licensed dog trainer, she also has a degree in animal nutrition, and runs her own dog training course.

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