Shipping Practices in the Ornamental Fish Industry by Brian Cole, M.S., Clyde S. Tamaru, Ph.D., Rich Bailey, B.S. Sea Grant Extension Service/Aquaculture Development Program School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Christopher Brown, Ph.D. Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology Harry Ako Department of Environmental Biochemistry College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources February 1999 Acknowledgments This manual is a combined effort of three institutions: 1. the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (CTSA) through a grant from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (USDA grant #96-38500-2743). 2. the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Service (SGES) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), project #A/AS-1 which is sponsored by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, School of Ocean Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) under Institutional Grant No. NA36RG0507 from NOAA Office of Sea Grant, Department of Commerce, UNIHI-SEAGRANT-TR-98-01. 3. the Aquaculture Development Program (ADP), Department of Agriculture State of Hawaii, as part of the Aquaculture Extension Project with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Service, Contract 9960. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies or their sub-agencies. Introduction One of the most critical determinants of the success of these farms is the problem of delivering a quality product to market destinations. The location of the main markets dictates that the mode of transportation will be through the various airline carriers operating out of your location, and the duration of transport will range between 24 and 72 hours. The purpose of this manual is to address some of the critical handling and packing methods that are essential for insuring the successful transport of live tropical fish to their final market destination. In the course of a 72-hour trip from the farmsite to the delivery site, fish are confined within plastic bags charged with oxygen. During transport, the water in these closed containers may become oxygen-depleted, and may accumulate excessive carbon dioxide and consequently undergo a reduction in pH. Metabolic activity may also lead to elevated ammonia levels in the water, which can be damaging to fish health, or become lethal in extreme cases. A densely-packed shipping container increases these risks but reduces the cost of transportation - a critical cost in the delivery of product at competitive prices. The dilemma of the shipper is to strike the ideal balance of conditions under which fish can be shipped cost-effectively, without unnecessary risk of injury or mortality. Fortunately, much of the guesswork has been eliminated, and this manual will outline procedures and packing densities that should get the fish to their destination in good condition. Freight Considerations When you consider total transport time, perhaps the most important aspect of shipping fish lies with the airline itself, and for that reason air freight considerations are being presented prior to any discussion about the other requirements for shipping of live fish. Very careful consideration must be given to the airline schedule and procedures it uses to handle freight. These parameters vary widely from airline to airline, and also depend upon whether or not the fish have to be transferred to another plane to reach their final destination. For farmers just beginning to ship fish to markets outside the state it is suggested that they initially concentrate on markets that have direct flights from their location. This will minimize the risk of lost freight or delayed shipping, which most often occurs during transfer from one plane to another. There are many direct flights not only to destinations in the United States but also to other parts of the world. Check with the individual airlines for the destinations that they serve with a schedule of direct flights, and inquire about their policies of available freight space, which can change with demand and time of year. Maintaining an updated flight schedule of available airline companies will facilitate coordinating shipments with your customers. Some important questions to consider when choosing a carrier are: * What is the total transit time to the final destination? Be sure to calculate this beginning from the time the bag is sealed at the farm. * Is there a plane transfer en route? * If there is a transfer, do they have climate controlled freight holding? (This can be particularly important during the winter months.) * What time does the shipment actually arrive? (If the shipment arrives late it may sit in a freight office overnight adding considerably to total transit time.) * Do live or perishable products have first priority? (During the Christmas season, mail has priority on all U.S. carriers.) * Does the airline freight office notify the destination customer when the freight arrives? * If inspection is required will the shipment be delayed if it arrives after normal business hours? Shipping Practices All farms, regardless of whether they are shipping to a transhipper, wholesaler or retailer, base their availability list on what is presently in their holding area. This is basically warehousing your stock, like any other distributor, in anticipation of orders that will be placed for the next two to four weeks. Having a constant supply of fish to sell should be considered just another manufacturing process in which a Asupply pipeline@ should remain full in order to meet orders that are being placed. Most commonly used shipping methods are a variation on a single theme. Fish are packed in plastic bags that are inflated with pure oxygen, closed with rubber bands, placed in an insulated corrugated box, and sealed. The size and shape of these bags and boxes as well as the insulation can vary widely. Bags Many of the domestic producers use square bottom bags, as show in Figure 2. These bags utilize the surface area of the box more efficiently. Use of a pleated bag (flat bottom) is highly recommended. Pleated bags utilize the entire surface area of the box allowing maximum oxygen transfer through the surface of the water. They also reduce the effects of crowding by utilizing all of the available area in the box. If the bag is properly placed in the box, crowding in the corners by the fish is kept to a minimum. Boxes are generally packed in bag sizes of full to the corners by the fish is kept to a minimum. Boxes are generally packed in bag sizes of full to quarter. Full bags are those that utilize the entire box, half bags are packed two to a box, quarter bags four to a box. These bags have the following dimensions: full size, 37.5 cm (W) x 37.5 (L) x 55 cm (H), half size, 40 cm x 20 cm x 55 cm, and quarter bags at 40 cm x 10 cm x 55 cm. Square-bottom bags are available pleated and flat bag sizes are listed in Table 1. Fish packers in Asia generally use bags manufactured from stock tube plastic and heat-sealed at one end so there is only a single seam. Examples of this type of bags are shown in Figure 3. These are called "pillow bags" in the industry, because when they are inflated there is no flat surface, and packing water surface is increased by shipping these bags on their side. Due to inexpensive manufacturing costs, there is a much wider size selection available in this type of bag, ranging from small bags (7.5 cm x 17.5 cm), intended for packing of individual fish up to sizes of 35 cm x 65 cm for packing large numbers of small fish. Large bags usually contain 5-7 liters with a water to oxygen volume ratio of from 35% water to 65% oxygen or 20% water to 80% oxygen. The number of fish packed in this type of bag will range from 200-500 fish with the smaller shipping bags containing proportionally fewer fish to insure 48 hours survival of fish in transport.