How Do You Transport Aquarium Fish?

Obtaining fish from the LFS (local fish shop) is really exciting. Maybe the aquarium is being initially stocked, or perhaps an ‘extra’ is being added (I hope that this doesn’t mean overstocking!). Whatever the reason for the purchase, the fish need to be taken to the aquarist’s home.

The fish have probably already travelled a long distance from the wild coral reef. They could of course have been bred in captivity and these are the fish to initially check for availability. Travel is stressful and to a greater or lesser extent the fish have already had plenty. So stress needs to be minimized.

The first action of course is at the LFS. The retailer will select a suitable sized bag and place it inside another bag for seawater security, if this doesn’t happen ask for it. The bag receives some aquarium seawater. Now the fish needs to be caught. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem as retail show tanks are usually fairly devoid of decorations. The fish then, strangely enough, goes into the bag.

To assist with stress reduction it is a good idea to transport the fish in reduced light. This can be achieved by placing a brown paper bag over the plastic ones. If this isn’t done by the retailer, ask for it.

The fish is now ready for transportation – if the aquarist lives reasonably close by. The fish bag should not be shaken about and should be placed securely with the top uppermost out of direct light, particularly sunlight. During a car journey there is bound to be some movement of course but this shouldn’t cause problems. Once the destination is reached the bag should be gently carried indoors. Resist taking the brown bag off and staring at the fish, though the temptation is usually there.

All that now remains is to introduce the fish correctly. Introduction should follow the correct principles or stress could increase and the dangers of disease likewise.

There isn’t much difference in transporting a fish over a greater distance. When in the LFS advise the retailer the distance that has to be covered. The retailer will probably use a larger bag and put more seawater in it. It should be double-bagged as described above and could have a brown paper bag on the outside as well. Some retailers also add oxygen to the bag.

The aquarist should have a heat retaining box with lid to use for transportation over longer distances, though there isn’t any reason why one couldn’t be used for a shorter journey. Many LFS’s have small ones that are suitable for transporting. They get them from livestock deliveries to the shop and they are often constructed of rigid foam which is ideal being light in weight. Using such a box retains seawater heat very well and in addition the fish is in the dark. The aquarist should not take the lid off during the journey to check if the fish is fine, this will just add stress. The fish, if from the wild, has already travelled a great distance and survived.

The bag inside the box can be held in position if necessary by packing the empty part with crumpled newspaper etc.

The box should be placed securely so it doesn’t move about. If being transported in a car the boot is usually ideal and the box could be wedged in place with a picnic blanket or similar. Watch out though that in warmer areas sunlight doesn’t excessively increase the temperature in the boot, though of course the box will insulate heat in and out to an extent.

So the fish is in the bag and the bag is in the box. Once the lid is on the box it should stay in place until the destination is reached. Take the lid off in subdued light, and handle the box and bag gently.

All that now remains is to correctly introduce the fish as in the short journey scenario.

Paying attention to everything from fish selection in the LFS to when it is finally introduced to the display aquarium (after having spent time in a quarantine tank?) is worthwhile. Stress is reduced and the fish should have a better chance of a long and healthy life.


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