Shipping out fish - Tips and Suggestions


Fire Eel
MFK Member
Feb 17, 2005
New Jersey
Allright, i know this will come out frequently in the near future.
To all the expert fish shippers out there ( paging Neo, Trust, Community Sponsors etc ), Please give your practical tips and advice to us Fish shipping Noobs!
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Reactions: Deadliestviper7


Stingray King
MFK Member
Jul 2, 2005
Spokane, WA
I am getting married tommorow, but you guys asked for it!

You can thank Jim at the shipping barn for this info.. He usually charges money for this, but since he was such an ******* to me, I don't think he will mind.

Enjoy the read!! It dosn't mean I agree with all of it 100%

The process of shipping fish has the same basic components as any story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end is easy to understand…the fish arrive safely at their destination. Everybody focuses on the end of the story, but like the successful story always begins with a good first paragraph, so starts the shipping process…with the preparation and planning

Shipping fish is not a real difficult task nor should it be a risky proposition. How do you think your local fish shop and others receive most fish? With tools and techniques available to just about everyone, fish shipping is pretty straightforward. All you need are shipping bags, some packing materials and a box, and of course just a little of the aforementioned preparation and some additional organization.

I’ve been a fish hobbyist for over 45 years. I’m not sure how that can be, because every year I make it very clear to anyone who will listen that I am 39. However, there is some history about shipping that should tell you something. Part of what I have learned is that shipping is an art, not a science and that there are new ideas being developed and new tools being made available. If shipping is a once in a while deal for you, you may not need to keep on top of all of the changes in the industry. But if shipping is or is going to be a significant part of your hobby/business, you should take the time to keep up with new and interesting ideas, tools and techniques.

Once upon a time, sort of like a fairy tale, there were no airplanes to jet your fish from one continent to another. I’m sure that a long time ago metal barrels seems like the best holding tank for fish in the field…and pack animals were the only way to move the fish across dry land. Even today many fish from the Amazon are transported part of their journey on boats, but airplanes play a significant role in the transportation of fish for our hobby.

Prior to the internet there were very few ways to share the “secrets” of shipping fish with single hobbyists. Having access to information over the internet is both a good thing and a bad thing…good because there is wonderful resources that are being made available all the time…bad because there is some really quite silly material being shared. But by and large, the information about shipping has allowed some radical changes in the way fish can be moved.

Before there was “Brown” and the shipping revolution created by the related group of independent carriers, air cargo was about the only transcontinental and inter-continental means of transportation. The ability to ship a box across the country overnight is a relatively new concept. While some fish have been freely traded and shipped for decades (Killifish for example), other fish like rays are fairly new to the game. This notion of being able to ship single fish, whether they are rare or simply hard to find in a particular part of the country, has allowed everyone access to a much wider array of fish than ever before.

The Styrofoam boxes that we now take for granted have replaced the double walled boxes and high mortality. Where once only big companies would be able to afford oxygen equipment, any one with a modest checkbook can afford gassing equipment. Glue back paper tape was once “state of the art” for sealing cartons…now replaced by plastic tape and handheld tape guns.

And those round cans that we think of as being out of date…well they were a significant upgrade from square cans which the wild fish had trouble adapting too. The mortality and damage from frightened fish was lessened by the use of the round cans.

For us, one of the best changes from then until now has been the ability to buy a lot of the material we like from captive bred programs. There are a significant number of hobbyists (fish, frogs, newts and birds) who are making progeny available to fellow hobbyists and now those CB animals can be sold and shipped by individuals as well as big fancy transhippers.

Shipping thoughts…
Before the fish are netted, there are some issues that should be considered. There is not a horribly complex nor an unmanageable amount of planning required to ship fish, but there is some and without the planning the process can be pretty stressful on both the shipper and the shippee. If shortcuts are taken early in the process, the end result can be greatly effected and usually in a negative way. Take your time, plan for the event and then “think like a fish.”

Before you bag fish it’s important to know what your timeline looks like. We usually ship fish Monday through Wednesday and only ship using “overnight” levels of service. USPS Express may or may not be “overnight” depending on where you are in relation to where the box is going. Call carriers and find out what their deadlines are for shipping overnight to the destination. Don’t ask if they will ship fish…they will probably say no. They in fact will all take and ship fish (if you meet very strict packing standards), but the different folks on the phone will give you different answers and none can usually cite the regulation which disallows the shipment…because they don’t know one but “heard” about one. In most cases there isn’t one and they only heard part of the story…and that was out of context. The deadlines are important to know and you will want to know them before you start so that you can plan on making them.

Using the packing protocol outlined in this document you will be able to meet or exceed all applicable shipping requirement for all major carriers of choice.

Water temperatures and the nitrogen cycle play big factors in shipping fish. An excellent way to mitigate nearly all of the problems is with a speedy shipment. Overnight. Sure, it is more expensive but a dead fish can also be extremely expensive and one has nothing in the end. A delay in an overnight shipment runs into a second day…perhaps not too bad…but a delay in a Priority level box (2-3 days) could run into a fourth day…that will probably be bad.

The fish…oh yeah…them. They are the focus of the event. If you consider the fish and their basic needs you should be a fine shape in the end. Fish are simple in many ways and their needs are easily met. However, many fish keepers don’t think about the biology of the fish on a daily basis, so when it comes to shipping them, the needs are not understood at all.

Only ship healthy fish. Sounds like a simple piece of advice, but it is vital to the success of the shipment (and the immediate reception as well as long term survival). Most deaseases in the aquatic world are rather opportunistic. Fish that are under abnormal and severe stress tend to become sick…those living in stress-free environments are by and large healthy. Shipping is a very stressful event for the fish. Beginning the process with sick fish merely increases the opportunity for other diseases to take hold.

Purge the fish. Don’t feed the fish for 48 hours prior to the shipment. They will not die from not eating. The feces that they pass during that 48 hours is better in your tank than in the very small environment of a shipping bag. Remember that any scavenger fish (Corydoras or Plecos) will continue to eat in a normal tank. You might want to consider removing them from their “home” to a holding tank for a day or two prior to shipping so that they can purge themselves.

Change the water in the tanks. Talk about a stressful situation…netting the fish from a chemically dirty tank and placing the fish into a bag of new water is like walking from a smoke filled room into the out-or-doors. Sure it’s a “happy stress.” Not all stresses are created by negative events but all stress is negative. Consistency is very important to the health of fish. If you are not on an aggressive water change schedule, it helps to increase the water changes during the days prior to shipping. By changing the water 25% or more every other day for 4-5 days prior to the bagging process you allow the fish to get used to the new water that you will be using in the bag.

Get bags and supplies ahead of time. Nothing creates more stress for the fish keeper than having everything in place…but no bags…or having the bags without boxes…having the bags, the bag buddies, the healthy fish and the boxes are too small. All of these details can be figured out well in advance of the shipping day. Of course it’s easy for us to give this advice as we have thousands of bags on hand and dozens of boxes of many sizes. But having the right material on hand on the bagging day is an easy thing to take care of well before you need too.

Some fish are easy to ship and some are not. The size, the physical components (like spines on the dorsal or the pectoral fins), the deportment (the aggression) and the biology of the fish (some like or need to live in warm water)…all of these items can play a significant part in the decision of which bags, boxes and carrier or level of service to use.

Large fish with spiny fins should be bagged in 4 mil bags…large fish without spines can be bagged in 2 mil bags. When using any bag…double bagging is the bare minimum but with larger fish triple bagging is a better strategy. In the case of large cichlids, 4 mil bags, triple bagged is the safest method of bagging. It helps also to wrap a few layers of newspapers around the first bag before you slip into the second. If a spine punctures bag one, the newspaper usually stop the spine from puncturing bag two.

The thickness of a poly bag will have a lot to do with the success of shipping the critter. Too thin and the bag could be punctured by a dorsal or pectoral spine. Some fish "thrash" around in the bag when they are bagged increasing the chances of puncture. If the chosen bag is too thick the gas transfer properties of the bag will be completely loss and when the "balloon" is formed, the creases and folds of the thickest bags could create some liabilities of the fish.

Don't put pairs in the same bag, especially cichlids or more aggressive fish. With some fish, spawning and courtship are contact sports and their aggression could continue in the shipping bags. If the fish are small you should have no problem but still try not to put more than six in the same bag. Of course aggressive fish and animals should be packaged individually. Label all bags clearly, as sometimes the person at the other end does not know what a particular species looks like. (remember these bagging instructions can also be used when shipping fish to an auction). Fish frequently will appear to be “washed out” from the shipping (there’s that stress again) and labeling can really help to get the fish into the correct tanks on the receiving end.

When choosing a size of bag for a particular application we like to use a simple rule of thumb. We choose a bag that will allow a fish to be covered with water while allowing us to keep a ratio of 1/3 water to 2/3 gas in the bag. We don't pick a bag that will give the critter the ability to "swim" in the water, but rather sit in the water. One would not choose a car for the ability to exercise in the's purpose is to get you from one place to another. We sort of look at the bag in the same way. We like to use a bag that will get the critter to the destination but not allow the animal to thrash around (which would also create more waste).

Closure methods is an issue of little debate, but one of personal preference. We prefer to tie a knot as there is little chance of the knot coming undone during shipment. Actually the author is not very adept at using rubber bands on bags and prefers to use knots. If you do choose to use bands, it is a good policy to knot at least one bag in the triple bag system as insurance against the band releasing or breaking. Always use two bands on each closure.

Water for shipping should be clean, fresh (declorinated) and of the same basic chemistry as the tank the fish are coming from. If you have been doing the more aggressive water changes the water chemistry should be more-or-less similar. The temperature of the water should be the same as in the tank. We like to add a single “Bag Buddy ®” to the bag prior to adding the fish.

Always make a “balloon” when you double and triple bag the fish. You can find out how to make the balloon at further along in this paper.

Knowing the biological needs of a species will help you in your bag selection. Some fish for example are raised in warm water (Discus and Angelfish come to mind) and because of the warm water, the water can hold less O2. With the decreased amount of O2 in the water, the need to use O2 as a gas above the water becomes a serious consideration. Also, because of the warmer water, more water in the bag is also a consideration. The surface of the water in relation to the gas above the water is more critical with warm water shipment than with cold water shipments. More surface area allows for more exchanges of the gas, which of course is a good thing.

The ability of water to hold O2 decreases dramatically with each degree of temperature and at some point no amount of O2 added to the bag will be able compensate for the heat of the water.

Oxygen…things to consider

Oxygen is easy to come by, but the setup can be a little expensive. We have found that medical oxygen is easier to deal with than large welding supply situations. It has to do with where we live for the most part…but O2 is O2. Whether the product comes form a med supply house or a welding shop, the O2 in the tank is the same. You can frequently find used medical valve systems at swap meets/flea markets or garage sales.

Your local yellow pages in the telephone book will have sources of oxygen and gassing equipment. Look under the headings, “Oxygen” and “Welding Equipment and Supplies.”

Never blow into the bag to inflate it, because you will be adding a significant amount of CO2 instead of fresh air. Rather, grasp it quickly and all the air you need will be trapped inside or put some air in the bag using a small air pump attached to a length of air line and inserted into the bag.

But do you need oxygen at all? Probably with larger fish…probably not with smaller fish…but O2 is cheap so we used it on all fish regardless of their size. With larger cichlids I do not think I would ship them without O2. The larger the fish the more resources they will use on the trip and O2 is one of the most important.

So now you have a fish in blue water (if you have used a Bag Buddy ®), oxygen gassed into the bag, and they are calmly sitting in a triple bag set of 4 mil bags all properly banded and knotted…now what?

The box…you should have a box ready to go.

The box you choose is important. In most situations (or perhaps more accurately in nearly all situations) the box should be insulated. If not a fully insulated Styrofoam box, some sort of insulation should be provided. The rise and fall of temperatures during the shipping process is very harmful for most animals...humans too. It's the equivalent of walking in and out of air-conditioned building into the hot sun over and over or flying in an airplane with the cold air blowing on your neck. Mitigating the changing temperature is important and insulation is the best way to do that.

Barring the need to use a fully insulated Styrofoam-like box, the use of crumpled paper has significant insulation qualities. We try to use "peanuts" rather than crumpled paper but it's not because of the insulating qualities. We pack so many boxes that the ink from the newsprint and the time it takes to crumple it have become huge factors for us...but crumpled paper is a good insulation. At a minimum, regardless of the weather...some insulation is a must.

Even during times of mild weather the box may be subjectd to some radical temperature changes…air conditioning in some locations…metal trucks parked in the sun. Insulation not only keeps a box warm (or cool in the summer), the insulation helps to slow the changes in the temperature. Many fish can deal with a slowly changing temperature but nearly all have a difficult time compensating for quickly changing temperatures.

Some insulation also works to cushion the animals. There is enough tossing around of the hapless animal in the shipping process by the carrier that the shipper does not have to make it worse by allowing the container holding the critter to bounce around inside the box. The box should be completely filled with product and the case of peanuts, overfilling is required to compensate for the settling that occurs in shipping (the box will be shaken a whole lot).

We only use Styrofoam boxes with a cardboard outer-box. We have found that a simple styrofoam box without a carton for it to be slipped into will work, but it raises so many questions with the carriers that it is not worth it. Many carriers do not realize that they can ship fish, so the fewer questions that get asked the better. We also try to use boxes that do not say “Live” or “Tropical Fish” on them. We have had great results using plain boxes without writing or warnings of any kind. It is the insides that make the system work. We look to use a minimum of 1 inch sytrofoam during the summer months and 1 ½ in the winter.

Insulated boxes are easy to come by. Some vendors sell them. Good sources for freebies are medical labs and veterinarian clinics...both receive biological goods in them…pharmacies are good…hospitals are good also. In some locales it is illegal to throw styrofoam might be doing some business a favor by taking their boxes away for them.

The most popular box in the industry is an 18x18x9 styro inside a corrugated cardboard box, commonly referred to as a “Florida Fish Box” and which nowadays come with pretty fish painted on all four sides. However, a plain box or one smaller than the 18x18x9 is also suitable, so long as there is enough room to put some packing materials inside the box with the bags of fish. Newspaper and those small Styrofoam "peanuts" used to package breakable items for shipping should always be on hand.

In the event that you can not find a source of boxes you can also "roll your own." Good boxes can be made with a little creativity, a drive to the local home-depot-like store, a trip behind a local market and some patience.

Essentially we have found that lining a box with sheets of styrofoam-like product works very well. It's a matter of finding a box, buying a small sheet of rigid foam and measuring carefully. No glue is required even.

While any box can be used, we have found that a box that has not been previously damaged is best to start with. We like to use boxes with "even" dimensions...12x12x "n" is easy to work with. If you get into boxes with quarter inch dimensions it will make your job a whole lot harder.

We have also find that using one inch thick foam sheets makes life easier. The one inch is easier on the calculations that 3/4 inch...the additional insulation is a positive bonus also. We get the rigid foam at a local home improvement store. The material we find is plastic coated and is easy to cut. The material is cut about 1/2 of the way through with a utility knife (any sharp knife will do) and "snapped" like one might do with glass cutting. It just sort of breaks apart in a clean line along the knife cut. The edge, while not perfect looking works perfectly fine.

If you are using a 12x12 box...the first piece would be for the bottom...a 12x12 square...cut two because you are going to need one for the top also.

If you are using one inch material, the pieces for the sides are cut one inch shorter than the width of the box and two inches shorter than the depth of the box...if the box is not square you will have to cut two pairs of sides...if the box is square you can cut four of the same size.

The one inch short pieces "interlock" in the corners to that the box sides stay upright while you are packing.

The roll your own insulated box is fairly cheap to make and works very well. It's useful life is probably quite long. We're pretty sure that the box can be shipped multiple times before you need to find box of the same size to re-use the styrofoam inserts. We use these sort of boxes on our collecting trips...we made a set for each of our traveling duffels.

Heat Paks

Shipping in the Fall, Winter and early Spring is just about impossible without the use of heat paks. Even when using styrofoam containers and over night deliver, heat paks and the proper use of same can make the difference between arriving frozen simply arriving alive and arriving in superlative condition.

All heat paks contain pretty much the same chemicals, primarily an oxide of the mineral iron. When the iron oxidizes as it is expose to oxygen, heat is the resulting energy. Some form of a salt is added to control the timing of the reaction. The process is called an exothermic reaction as it give off heat during the oxidation of the iron (as opposed ot an endothermic reaction where heat is absorbed during the process). This is more than interesting to know (or maybe not interesting to know at all), because by knowing how the heat pak works, you can pretty much figure out what needs to be present for the pak to work properly. If you use heat paks in a small box and seal the box "air tight" you just may limit the flow of oxygen to the paks and turn the chemical reaction off (or at least, slow the process).

With a small box, or to get the maximum heat release for the pak in a larger box, a few pencil sized holes can be cut through the top of a styrofoam box to allow air (and the oxygen contained in same) to flow through the heat pak and initiate the chemical reaction. The paks should be taped to the inside bottom of the lid of the styrofoam box (or inside a flap of a cardboard carton if you are not using an insulated box) with a good quality tape. If you have opted to punch holes in the lid of the Styrofoam box, be sure to place the heat pak directly over (or under depending on your perspective) the hole. We like to put a few layers of newspaper over the contents of the box so that the paper will be under the heat pak when the box is closed. The newspaper deflects the heat from being too intense above the product eliminating the potential for a hot spot. Also, the layer of newspaper will act as a safety device in case the tape holding the pak onto the lid fails and releases the heat pak into the product.

Heat paks all operate in a similar fashion. They are initiated by opening the plastic packaging that the pak comes in. There is sometimes a mesh side to the pak and sometimes not...depending on the brand you are using. In all cases, the package is air permeable as oxygen is an essential part of the chemical reaction. If the pak has a mesh side, the mesh side should be facing the inside of the box (towards the contents). The air enters the pak through the mesh. The mesh needs to be unencumbered for the air to be able to enter into the pak. It takes some time for the pak to become warm. It may take just a couple of minutes for the pak to become noticeably warm and it could take 15 minutes...this is also a brand dependant issue. However long the pak take to begin reaction, most paks that are used to ship fish and herps will reach their peak temperature at about 22 hours from initialization. The temperature builds to that peak temperature and then begins to taper off. The short acting heat paks used for handwarming and such will reach their peak temperature in a shorter amount of time or course and will "burn out" much more quickly. The amount catalytic chemical (frequently a salt of some sort) in the warmer will vary between rated use times. The real difference in the "rating" of the heat pak or the length of time which the manufacturer assigns to the unit is in the amount of time that the heat pak takes to come to a completely used state after it has reached it's peak temperature. That length of time may not be a true indication of the amount of heat that the unit provides during that tapering off period don't think you will get maximum heat from a "60 hour" heat pak for 2 1/2 days...not going to happen. All heat paks begin to taper off after reaching their peak temperature. A long acting pak such as a 60 hour unit may actually feel only slight warm to touch at 60 hours. Depending on the temperature of the outside environment and the amount and effectiveness of the box's insulation, a long acting heat pak may even feel cold to the touch prior to it's rated time.

Two heat paks will bring the interior of the box closer to the rated temperature of the heat pak. If the box is large and a single heat pak is used and the outside temperature is extremely cold, two paks are recommended. Not that two heat paks will double the heat (they won't) but because large volume boxes have more surface area, the box will allow the allow the heat to pass more quickly through the insulation. Two heat paks will put more heat into the box more quickly...compensating somewhat for the heat loss of the larger box.

In any application do not expect the Heat Pak to generate an air temperature inside the box of the heat pak’s stated maximum temperature. That temperature is an internal measurement taken under controlled conditions and is not the surface temperature, let alone the temperature of the inside air in the box. If the rated temperature was the surface temperature of the device, all of the people sitting in Rambo Field watching a home game of the Green Bay Packers in November would be covered with burn marks from heat paks used during the game and not from “tail gating” prior the game.

Contrary to some folks thinking (or lack of same) two heat paks will not prolong the process. In other words, two 40 hour heat paks started at the same time will not last 80 hours. We once had some fish sent to us by a inexperienced shipper. He sent the Angelfish using a 3 day service and put 6 handwarmers (essentially 6 hour heat paks)...and when the fish arrived dead he told us that he thought the heat paks would last. Silly person...he has since stopped shipping fish (a good thing for the fish world).

We recommend you use 40 hour heat packs for most situations. Using a 60 hour heat paks so that you can feel better about using a 2-day delivery service level is not a good idea. Heat and time work together or against each other in the shipping world...longer time is not very good with more heat. There are several things going on inside the bag that the heat will not help, but may actually hurt. Time is the worst of the shipping enemies...heat is a close second. Making the heat last longer still does not compensate for the chemical changes in the water created over time.

A sixty hour heat pak holds it's peak temperature longer because it generally has more material in the pak to oxidize. The challenge is that because of it’s increased mass, the 60 hour frequently results in peak temperature is too hot for the critter in the box, and the additional mass fo the 60 paks can create an oven.

Cooler water holds more oxygen than warmer water. No amount of heat can cure a lack of available oxygen. No amount of oxygen piped into the bag during closing will compensate for the warm water which is unable to physically absorb the gas so that the fish can breath. Heat applied for long periods of time (as in 2-day shipping) can be more harmful that good for most fish groups. There are a few exceptions (Killifish for example...Bettas being another) where the fish either have the capabilities to breath atmospheric are or have a metabolism such that low amounts of oxygen do not have the same effect. However, most fish do not do well within a small closed system with heat applied. The only mitigation for this phenom is quick delivery of the fish, as in over night service levels.

Always use a heat pak rated for a period of time somewhat longer than the time the box will be in transit. A 40 hour unit also give the box some protection in the event that the shipping vendor has a malfunction/breakdown or weather related situation and the box is delayed an extra day.

We actually prep the box a bit before we place the fish into it. We store our boxes in a cold warehouse. That means that the inside of the box is cold (very cold in the winter). It makes absolutely no sense to put a bag of warm water into a cold box. The warm energy of the water is sucked out by the cold box before you can get to the shipper. It’s a simple problem to solve. We bring our boxes into the office and open them up to let them warm to room temperature. It takes a while, but we bring the boxes in the day before we need them so it’s not a burden.

Now that we have a room temperature box to work with, we like to remove a heat pak from it’swrapper and put the heat pack into the box to start warming the box and to allow the heat pack time to “ignite.” It takes our heat paks about 30 minutes to really produce heat. So we generally tape the heat pak onto the inside of the lid of the box before we net and bag fish. We place the heat pak onto the bottom of the lid and tape one end. We place several fingers under the heat pak (to raise the body of the paks from the lid and tape the other end. We do not tape all around the pak as the pak requires O2 to move around it to cause the chemical reaction. We like the raised pak as it seems to give us a more complete burn.

You should have the label filled out correctly and ready for the box. We have missed deadlines because of not having a label ready and cutting the deadline too close. We like to have the labeling done before we start the bagging. You can of course prepare the label the day before. Always verify the address you are shipping too with the receiving party. Their normal mailing address may not be where the box should go. And never assume that the address listing in an auction site profile is correct (ha ha…been there and done that). Always verify the address.

We always use a liner in the box. We use good quality garbage bags…big ones designed for the yard. We put the liner in the box and then put a layer of Styrofoam peanuts on the bottom of the bag. If you have a properly sized box you will have at least an inch all around the bags of fish and that space needs to be insulated.

We center the bags of fish in the box, ideally with two inches of space between the bag and sidewall of the box (but at least an inch as previously mentioned) and then fill the lined box with pellets. Never let a bag touch the wall of the container. The insulation effectiveness is severely comprimised if the bag of water is resting on the inside wall of the shipping container. We tie the liner and put about ¼ of newspaper over the liner and under where the heat pak will be resting.

Close the Styrofoam portion of the box, place an invoice (with shipping address and return address so that carriers can find you or the recipient if the label is destroyed) on top of the Styrofoam, now is a good time to place any breeding tips or receiving information into the box and then close the cardboard box…use good quality tape and re-tape the bottom if it’s a recycled box…label the box and head on down to your carrier of choice.

A signature requirement on the box gives you some assurance that the box will be moved indoors when it is received. A release of the signature could find the box sitting on the doorstep…in the sun…in the cold…and you have no control over how long. We once had a delivery guy put a box on the side of our home under a roof drain. We found it after three days of raining weather when we took some trash out.

The Bag

Bags are bags, right? Not really. We have found that poly bags generally used within the aquatic industry are not designed for the fish industry but our use of them is an afterthought. Folks may sell a bag as one for tropical fish, but in reality it's just a bag with a dimension that works. Of course there are bag liners and some industry specific bags, but generally speaking the bags that we use in the hobby end of the trade are made for some other use.

Bag manufacturers really don't sell bags by "the each," but rather sell them by weight. They have pretty sophisticated equipment that can weight a number of bags pretty effectively, but they don't count them per se. The cost of the material in making bags is realitively inexpensive. Even during periods of high oil prices, the prices of individual bags is more-or-less insignificant. The manufacturing process is highly mechanized so labor is not a real daunting issue either. The shipping of the bags is the gloomiest issue for bags and the issue that drives the prices of the bags in the hobby.

We look for bags that are well sealed at the bottom of the bag. We have run into some bags that were seamed along the sides also, but the side-seams did not seem to be all that stable. They popped in shipping...not a good thing. We have found that bags sealed across the bottom are the better choice.

There a some specific species related issues that should be considered when choosing a bag. Shipping fish, plants and "moist" critters all have their separate issues to deal with.

The thinkness of a bag has a lot to do with it's suitability. We use a variety of bags to give us flexibilty to deal with the range of fish we work with. Thin bags allow some transfer of gases, giving some fish a healthier ride. Thin bags also can make for a better "balloon" when double bagged. However, a bag that is too thin (less than 1.5 mil in thickness) can create some rather interesting problems...they can easily "ooze" water...something like a leak. Bags that are thin are more easily puncturered by the critter inside also. With some fish, thicker is better for the puncture issue alone (Corydoras and Angelfish for example). But be careful in evaluating's foolish to equate thickness with quality. A poorly made thick bag could leak more frequently than a well made thin bag.

Thickness is thickness and quality is quality. Don't get hung up in the same errant thought process of some of your shipping partners and start to think that using a thicker bag will reduce the chance of the bag leaking.

Lots of folks recycle bags that they recieve fish in. Not a bad re-use of the product...please do so if you can (we do). There are a couple of issues you will want to think about with a recycled bag. Diseases transfer could occur with a freshly recycle bag. Dry bags between usage and you should have no problems. Be prepared for leaks. We have SuzieQ, The Hatchery Cat, to thank for unexpected punctures as she plays with bags (it's better the bags than the fish). Also...and we know it sounds a little tryt...we like to use new bags for sales, either from the shop or through our local auctions. Fresh bags seem to make a better presentation than some of the recycled bags. But please recycle when you can.

Choosing the Right Size of Bag

The size of a bag can make a huge difference in the results of the shipping process. An undersized bag is a very bad thing and an oversized bag has some definite challenges to consider. Undersizing the bag can limit the available air or oxygen and oversizing can allow the fish to thrash and dash, perhaps harming itself…and then there is the issue of too much water just costs more money in the shipping process.

The first thing you might notice when you take a look at our poly bag selection, (URL) is that they tend to be "long." as opposed to the short and stubby ones that some folks favor. Why long? Well we prefer to knot our bags rather than use rubber bands. Long bags are easy to knot. Long bags are also easy to use with rubber bands too. Either way, long is easier to use than short. The cost difference for the few inches in length is negligible.

We do not use a vast array of bags. We don't worry about using all the bags available in the market place but rather, we have found that with just a selection of 5 sizes of bags in three thicknesses, we can cover all but three fish we have in our hatchery...out of 12.000 fish, we only have four that need a different bag than we offer and those fish are about 12 inches long.

When we were hobbyists moving perhaps 40-50 fish a month we used just 2 bags in one thickness. You should find your preference in animals will dictate the choice of bags and how many you will nave available…we did.

If you take a third look at the bags on the list you will see that we carry the same length and width in most of the three thicknesses that we find most useful. That way, bags can be used in combination for even more flexibility.

Two of our bags can be used in combination in a unique way. When full, two of the four inch bags can be put into a six inch bag. By doing so, one can keep pairs together and/or separate fish that would take out their frustration on the other while in the bag.

When choosing a size of bag for a particular application we like to use a simple rule of thumb. We choose a bag that will allow a fish to be covered with water while allowing us to keep a ratio of 1/3 water to 2/3 gas in the bag. While the fish do need both, the volume of air is more important than the volume of liquid for the fish. Also when shipping you may pay by weight, so using less water can save money. We don't pick a bag that will give the critter the ability to "swim" in the water but rather sit in the water. Although in practical application most fish will be able to swim a bit, particularly the small ones. One would not choose a car for the ability to exercise in the's purpose is to get you from one place to another. We sort of look at the bag in the same way. We like to use a bag that will get the critter to the other end but not allow the animal to thrash around (which would also create more waste).

We prefer to use the thinnest bag which is practical for the particular application. Our favorite thickness is 1.5 mil. A 1.5 mil bag (“mil” is short for 1/1000th of an inch) is thin enough to be easy to knot and folds easily to form good balloons for shipping various products. The bag is however a little too thin for some of the largest fish and the spined ones (Corydoras, Angelfish, Madtoms etc.). A good deal of gas transfer apparently takes place as some species (which are "light" on their O2 consumption anyway) such as Bettas and Killifish have been known to survive a week or more in such bags...Bettas and Killifish are tough fish.

We also like to use 2 mil bags for some fish in combination with either a 1.5 bag or a 4 mil bag. The 2 mil is thin enough that a good balloon can be formed yet thick enough to be able to stand up the spines of young fish. We frequently find ourselves bagging a fish in a 1.5 unit and using a 2 mil for the second layer (depending on the species and the size of the fish). We use 2 mil with quarter sized Angelfish.

Earlier in this document there was mention made of using a few layers of newspapers between the first and the second bag. This needs to be stress for fish with spines. Spining the bag is a major reason for some fish to arrive sans water…angelfish in particular. Of course the large the fish the stiffer the spines so it’s is the breeding pairs that are most vulnerable.

The thickest bag we carry is a 4 mil bag. Four mil units offer about the most protection form spines that one can get without using a poly box rather than a bag. These bags are very thick. If they seem thicker than the drop cloth one uses to protect the floor while painting there is good reason...they are. These are of course used with larger fish and fish with spines. All of our Angelfish pairs are shipped in 4 mil bags. This thickness is typically used by wholesale shippers. It's easy for them as they don't have to think about the appropriateness of the thickness and knotting?...most of the wholesalers use a stapling device (called a "clipper") to seal the bags. The strenuous work of knotting or rubber banding a thick bag is not an issue when using a clipper

We use 4 inch bags for some fish that are 3 inches long, but not others. A fish that is round (as Discus for example) might be 3 inches long but it will be a completely different project than if one was trying to ship a 3 inch gourami. A couple of things come into play with a "rule" that one might be tempted to create to determine what bags should be used with which fish (or other critters for that matter). Hard and fast rules don't work very well when trying to apply them to the array of fish that available. The mass of the fish will also have a good deal to do with the decision of which bag to use. The level of activity of a fish may play a big part in its shipping appropriateness. If we were shipping the fish, that same 3 inch Discus would be bagged using a 6 inch bags, whereas a 3 killifish might be in a four inch bag.

Knowing the biological needs of a species will help you in your bag selection. Some fish for example are raised in warm water (Discus and Angelfish come to mind) and because of the warm water, the water can hold less O2. With the decreased amount of O2, the need to use O2 as a gas above the water becomes a consideration or perhaps a requisite. Also, because of the warmer water, more water in the bag is also a consideration. The surface of the water in relation to the gas above the water is more critical with warm water shipment than with cold water shipments. A cool water fish (Killifish for example) can be put into a smaller bag with out using O2 (simply relying on atmospheric over the water) with great results. Bettas also can be shipped in small bags with atmospheric over water...even through they are a warm water fish. The difference between the techniques used with Angels and Discus and those of the Betta (and Gourami group) is that the latter have those fabulous labyrinth organs allowing them to breath air when the O2 of the water they are in is less saturated.

We don't think we want to discuss the pros and cons of the techniques used to ship most commercial's shocking for most folks (but it works). However, the truth is that the Betta is a very unique fish and can be shipped in pretty small bags. We don't recommend using less than a 3 inch bag for most fish...and while it may seem "cruel" you will see less damage to the fins when you use smaller bags...less water sloshing makes a huge difference.

However, we are not really very comfortable recommending the use of the smallest bags (the 3 inch sizes) unless one is familiar with the various aspects of shipping. Small bags shipped in conditions which are not favorable (too warm, un-purged fish, too long a time frame and other factors) can result in “blown fins” or damage from nitrogen compounds. When using the smallest bags, extra care needs to be applied to the entire process. Sort of like small fish tanks requiring a mort attentive level of care.

Breathing Bags ®

These bags offer a fascinating technology which allow fish to be packed into smaller spaces. The fish are housed in a similar amount of water perhaps, but the gas bubble in the bag (including the oxygen) is not necessary. The plastic from which the bags are made allows oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to pass through the plastic but not molecules (which are larger).

The bags can by used “double” with little degredaton of the ability to pass the oxygen.

The bags can be closed with a heat sealer. Be sure to set the sealer on a very low setting or the bag will melt apart…also be sure to set the heat high enough to seal the bag…and then you also do not want the bag to have wrinkles in it when using a heat sealer…the wrinkles may not seal correctly. If it sounds difficult it isn’t. We just have a lot of experiences shipping with breathing bags which have been heat sealed. It is our preferred method of sealing the bags.

We find that fish which have long finnage do very well in these bags. They do not get tossed and trashed in the oxygen filled bag. Spiney fish don’t do all that well…the bags do get poked and while they do tend to “mend” their holes they do not mend them well enough in all cases. Small fish do extremely well in the bags. In particular, Killifish, Bettas, Tetras and young Apistogrammas do extremely well in breathing bags.

We have not used these bags with any labyrinth fishes.

The keys to using the bags are few, but critical (hence the word “key”). First the bag should not have air nor oxygen trapped in the bag upon closure. A small bubble will not effect the use, but just a small bubble perhaps incidental to the process of bagging. The bag is somewhat like a bag of “Jello” when closed properly. The second issue is to allow air to freely pass over the bag during shipping. There needs to be oxygen in contact with the surface of the bag so that exchange can be accomplished.

The bags do take some thought as they should not be used like tranditional bags. The manufacturer provides some excellent information about their product.

What the manufacturer has to say:

The Kordon® Breathing Bag represents a new approach to the problems of shipping live fishes and other aquatic animals over long distances or for extended time periods. The product development staff at Kordon, teamed with plastics chemical engineers, have taken a technology first developed in space/military research and refined it to produce the bags being offered today. The Breathing Bag allows the transfer of simple and complex gas molecules through the plastic wall of the bag -- carbon dioxide and oxygen in particular, as well as other gases - providing a true "breathing" bag in place of a "barrier" bag. As long as there is a normal breathable atmosphere outside the Breathing Bag, the animals inside will not run out of oxygen. Carbon dioxide exits the bags at 4 times the rate oxygen enters the bags, thereby constantly purging the water of toxic carbon dioxide, and allowing oxygen to replace it in the water.

We find that shipping fish and plants from the field can be more effective using the breathing bags...for one, they take up far less room. A shirt pocket bacomes a very effective insulator for most fish. We also like these bags for fish and dritters that would be harmed by the sloshing in traditional poly bags...fancy guppies and their long flowing fins come to mind. We use 1000s of these bags to ship some of our live food cultures.

Making a "Balloon" for Shipping

Making a "balloon" is an important function when it comes to bagging fish for shipping. The balloon tucks the corners of the bag under and into itself so that the fish don't have a corner to dive into in a panic.

There are a number of species which will dive into corners of the bags...sometimes in mass. Corydoras are notorious corner divers and while it may be cute to watch them bury their noses in the corner, when shipping this could end up with damage or death. They can create a havoc/panic situation and perhaps damage themselves in the process. Because we are trying to get the fish to the other end of the process in best possible condition, it is important to get rid of the corner opportunities.

When a bag is closed (by any method you choose), it usually has two corners on the bottom of the bag and at the knotted (or banded) end, the "sholders" of the bag are pretty much rounded.

We like to use the "grab and bag" method of trapping air in a bag. Of course when we use oxygen to ship fish, we use a hose to get the air into the bag. But essentially the concept is the same...fill the space over the water with gas and close. We twist the bag...and then knot the bag. Cutting the excess bag away (it makes it easier to slide the bag into a second bag with the excess cut away). We still need to deal with the nasty corners of the bag...If one was to invert the bag, knot first, into a second bag and then push the first bag into the bottom of the new bag one would create an opportunity to form a balloon. The balloon is formed when the knot (or banding) is completed on the second bag.

As one twists the second bag, the first bag (which is unside down in the second bag) is beared down upon, more-or-less pinching it's corners into the newly formed shoulders of the second bag. The new shoulders should be rounded much like the first bag was...the shoulders of the first bag remain rounded and in effect the fish are now in a double bag which is rounded off on all sides.
The balloon also creates an environment which is smooth. The rounded corners help mitigate the tossing, turning and tumbling that is sure to occur as the fish is shipped to it's new home.

So in effect, not only does the second bag provide protection from leaks, it also mitigates some of the damages that can occur in the shipping process.

Shipping Carriers

We have shipped with several of the major carriers and all have had “interesting” challenges to overcome. We have been aboveboard with each of them and have told them what we are shipping and with few exceptions, eyebrows were raised and questions were asked. Usually there were times when the counter folks would refuse the shipment. It took some education on our part and then we had to share that information with the counter people to reach the correct conclusion.

Each of the services will allow for tracking the parcel. Sometimes such service is included in the pricing, sometimes it needs to be purchased separately. Insurance is included at various levels by different carriers. However, most companies will deny damage claims for live animals and have written policy, which allows for them to deny the claim fairly easily. USPS is the only carrier we have had successfully filed for and received monetary reimbursement for damaged shipments. However, we have really never had a significant number of claims with any carrier to be able to establish a feeling that their policies would always work against us. Our claim ratio is less than ½ of 1%.

Fedex probably says it in the most plain language, "it is the responsibility of the shipper to adequately package shipments for all temperature extremes and handling conditions that may be encountered." Any guarantees or promises you think you have for a safe delivery will not replace dead shipment. There is some degree of responsibility that simply has to be addressed and accepted by the shipper.

We have copied nearly all of the pertinent rules and regulations from several of the major carriers and published them in this document. However, you may find that not all of the references are properly linked with their documents. Some of the regulations are changing or have changed and the on line information is slightly behind the new reality. We do try to keep on top of the situation as you should. At the time of this writing this information is accurate to the best of our knowledge.

The United State Postal Service (USPS)

We have reasonable success by shipping with the United States Post Office. Whereas once upon a time (I live in a fairy tale) they had an Express Mail service that they billed as “overnight” that same service is now billed as having a guaranteed delivery time…which could be one or two days. However, they do allow you to know whether the service will be one or two days through their web site ( That ability to look up the service timing is fairly new as of this writing and we find it very useful. Still, whether the level of service is one or two days, the value of the Express Service is highly underrated…fast enough, reliable and cheap.

With the pressures of their independent competitors taking the premium package and box traffic business from them, the USPS folks have become very efficient compared to our experiences of just several years ago. We frequently have Priority Mail leave our location on the West Coast and hear of it’s delivery in East Coast locations in two days. The entry level price of USPS Priority is $3.85 at this writing. They also provide free boxes in several sizes (as they also do for Express Mail).

The USPS services are ala carte and with the exception of Express Mail you will need to purchase additional services such as any tracking or delivery confirmation devices. However, the services are fairly inexpensive.

Pertinent information regarding USPS regulations for shipping live fish (and other related animals) can be found below. The complete set of regulations can be found at:

Highlighted regulations include:
3.0 Acceptable Containers

3.6 Plastic Bags
Plastic bags must be at least 2 mil thick polyethylene or equivalent for easy loads up to 5 pounds; 4 mil thick for easy loads up to 10 pounds. [C010.3.4]

9.3 Live Animals
9.3.1 Animal Fighting Prohibition
Under 7 USC 2156, the mailing of a live animal for the purpose of participating in an animal fighting venture is prohibited (regardless of whether such venture is permitted under the laws of the state in which it is conducted). The term state means any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any U.S. territory or possession. Violators can be subject to the criminal penalties in 7 USC 2156. [C022.3.1]

ED: This regulation (9.3.1) should be of particular interest to some people raising Bettas.

9.3.3 Small Cold-Blooded Animals
Small, harmless, cold-blooded animals (except snakes and turtles) that do not require food or water or attention during handling in the mail and that do not create sanitary problems or obnoxious odors are mailable (e.g., baby alligators and caimans not more than 20 inches long, bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, salamanders, leeches, lizards, snails, and tadpoles). [C022.3.3]

9.3.11 Packaging
Any mailing container used for mailable animals must be made of at least 275-pound test, double wall, corrugated, weather-resistant fiberboard (W5c) or equivalent and must be adequately ventilated. The container must be constructed to prevent escape of the animals while in the mail and to preclude the container and its contents from being crushed in normal handling. The outside of the container must include a return address and a description of the contents. A container marked "If Undeliverable, Abandon" is not accepted. [C022.3.11]

ED: This next secion is their clause allowing them to deny acceptance of live fish…if they “reasonably believe(s) cannot reach its destination in a viable condition” they can deny the claim. It would be best to work out their belief prior to standing in line. We have a great relationship with all of the permanent counter people at our Post Office so acceptability is not an issue for us or our packages.
9.3.12 Acceptance
The USPS does not accept any shipment of animals that the USPS. Such a determination is based on factors including the expected temperatures (weather conditions) while the shipment is in the mail; the types of vehicles on which the shipment is to be transported; the expected transit time; and the types of packaging used for protection against suffocation, crushing, and handling. [C022.3.12]

52 Animals

521 General Requirements

The full cooperation of the mailer is essential in order to safely and effectively transport animals through the mail. The following factors are normally applied to all shipments of mailable live or dead animals:
a. Protection of postal employees and the public against harm from dangerous or diseased animals.
b. Protection of the mail and the environment against the following:
(1) Damage to the shipping container or other mailpieces from either the animal or the refrigerant used (i.e., moisture or condensation from melting ice, or heat from dry ice).
(2) Obnoxious odors and noise.
c. Protection of animals against death, or protection of animal specimens against spoilage, taking into account the following:
(1) Expected time in transit.
(2) Expected temperature in transit (weather conditions).
(3) Packaging, including insulation against impact, heat, cold, and suffocation.
d. Ability of an animal to survive without food or water during transport. Live animals must be transported without food or water because liquids, moisture, and loose foodstuffs can cause damage to the shipping container, other mail, and postal equipment during transport.

ED: Section 52.1d requires survival “without food or water” and while we’re sure that the regulation was thinking for sustenance, the regulation could easily be twisted to deny the shipping of any fish. However, other regulations and rules expressly allow shipping fish if the packaging is properly designed.

52.3 Acceptance for Mailing

A mailpiece containing live animals that cannot reach its destination in a viable condition should not be accepted. Factors that can be taken into consideration in assessing the viability of a mailpiece containing live animals include use of proper packaging methods that protect against suffocation and crushing during transport, expected time in transit, and very extreme weather
conditions that exceed the normal weather pattern along the transportation route.
This provision does not extend to postal personnel the authority to refuse mailable animals that are properly packaged or to impose local black-out periods based on temperature conditions, heavy mail volumes, etc. Postal acceptance personnel must have reasonable justification to refuse a mailpiece. Before refusing any mailpiece that contains a mailable type of animal, acceptance personnel are to confer with the manager, business mail entry at their district office or their RCSC, as appropriate.

526.6 Small, Harmless, Cold-Blooded Animals

Small, harmless, cold-blooded animals, except for snakes, turtles, and turtle eggs, are mailable only when they meet certain requirements. For some examples, see Exhibit 526.6.
Exhibit 526.6
Requirements for Mailing Small, Harmless, Cold-Blooded Animals
(Except Snakes, Turtles, and Turtle Eggs)

General Requirements:
All animals in this group:
* Must be able to reach their destination in good condition in the normal transit time between the mailing and address points.
* Must not require any food, water, or attention during transport.
* Must not create sanitary problems.
Must not create obnoxious odors.
Specific Requirements by Animal:
Baby Alligators
Baby Caimans
Reptiles and Amphibians
* Tadpoles and Toads Animals must not exceed 20 inches in length.
* No additional requirements other than the applicable standards in DMM C022.
* Packaging must comply with DMM C022.3.10.
* Tropical Fish Fish must be held in a securely sealed primary receptacle.
* Primary receptacle must be cushioned with sufficient absorbent material to take up all liquid in case of leakage.
* Primary receptacle and absorbent cushioning material must be sealed within a waterproof outer (shipping) packaging.
* Snails No additional requirements other than the applicable standards in DMM C022.
* Packaging must comply with DMM C022.3.10.


In the case of FedEx we went through their “animal desk” and arranged for testing in their laboratory. After that process we were required to sign a contract. The contract basically indemnified FedEx of any liabilities including any of their personal making a decision along the way that the box didn’t make FedEx standards for shipping. We found it a little bit disconcerting to think that folks who had been trained in the same manner as the counter folks (and most of those thinking erroneously that fish were unacceptable)…we were concerned that any employees in the shipping system could put our shipments aside without recourse nor liability. It would make us more comfortable if some sort of identifying mark could be placed on the box to let all involved know that the contents and the packaging have been approved by their own personnel.

One of the advantages of establishing a contract such as we did was that we also were establishing a relationship with an account representative who, based on our volume and their desire to woo us from a competitor, offered us a discount which made them very competitive with USPS Express Mail. However, the agreement was such that all of our ground level shipments were required to go through FedEx Ground…a surprisingly slow service beyond of our state level deliveries…making 90% of our non-fish shipments much slower than USPS Priority Mail.

Shipments containing fish must be preapproved by the Fedex Live Animal Desk (1-800-405-9052). In addition, packaging for live fish must be tested and approved for acceptance by FedEx Packaging Design and Development (1-800-633-7019).prior to shipment.

Don’t ship fish or live material using Fedex Ground. They really mean Fedex slow…but we did find them effective for short (the first day or travel) shipments. They do however take the whole 6 days to ship across the continent.

Prior to becoming “approved” we simply called for a pickup using our account (easy to apply for a d receive) and the driver would come out to pick up the boxes. The drivers never questioned the appropriateness of the contents.

We never had FedEx pay for any shipment where the contents died in transit…or from the forklift blade that was driven through the box for that matter. The contract really does protect them.

Pertinent information regarding Fedex regulations for shipping live fish (and other related animals) can be found below. The complete set of regulations can be found at:

Highlighted regulations include:

Shipping Guide
Conditions of Carriage

(6) Refusal or rejection of Shipments

FedEx reserves the right to refuse, hold, cancel, postpone or return any Shipment at any time if such Shipment would in the opinion of Fedex be likely to cause damage or delay to other Shipments, goods or persons, or the carriage of which is prohibited by law or is in violation of any of these Conditions. The fact that FedEx accepts a Shipment does not mean that such Shipment conforms to applicable laws and regulations or to the present Conditions.

ED: The previous section is their clause allowing them to deny acceptance of live fish as well as turning the shipment around mid-process…if “ in their opinion” bla bla bla…it’s that same “reasonably guilty” line of thinking that USPS uses, but Fedex takes it one step furthing admitting that they may hold, postpone or return a box…actions that could spell disaster for a box of fish Whereas the folks as USPS show their cards upfront upon acceptance , Fedex can allow all personnel in the delivery chain to make decisions on the appropriateness of the box.
23) Live animals and insects except when the shipment is coordinated and approved by the Fedex live animal desk. Customers can contact Fedex locally for more assistance. Household pets and live fish are not accepted.

United Parcel Service (referred to as “Brown” or UPS)

The nice thing about UPS is that they clearly state that they will accept live fish and most plants for shipment. They also clearly outline the packaging requirements which are basically the same as Fedex. They requirements are rather exhaustive and can be located through the link below.

Don’t ship fish or live material using USP unless you are using their overnight service. You can use their two day services for some species and for plants, but the three day service is that…three days…with very little hope for two. We did find them effective for short (the first day or travel) shipments. They do however take the whole 6 days to ship across the continent.

Pertinent information regarding Fedex regulations for shipping live fish (and other related animals) can be found below. The complete set of regulations can be found at:

Highlighted regulations include:

Shipping Live Animals

Accepted Live Animals

This is a comprehensive list of live animals accepted for transportation. Shippers are prohibited from shipping any animal not listed here, and all other live animals will not be accepted for transportation. The following live animals are accepted for transportation unless poisonous, venomous, and/or a Threatened or Endangered Species.

· Amphibians (All): Examples: frogs, salamanders, toads

· Crustaceans (All): Examples: crabs, crawfish, lobsters, shrimp

· Fish (All)

· Insects (Limited to beneficial insects only): Examples: bees, butterflies, crickets, lady bugs

· Mollusks (All): Examples: clams, mussels, snails

· Reptiles (Limited to the following):
- Lizards: Examples: chameleons, geckos, iguanas, monitors, flying dragons
- Turtles: freshwater turtles (except: snapping turtles), land tortoises, sea turtles

· Worms (All)


We have no personal experiences using DHL.

Their regulations state in part:

2. Unacceptable Shipments

Shipper agrees that it’s Shipment is acceptable for transportaion and is deemed unacceptable if:

· DHL decides if cannot transport an item safely or legally (such items include but are not limited to: animals, bullion, currency, bearer form negotiable instruments, precious metals and stones, firearms et al).

Pertinent information regarding DHL regulations for shipping live fish (and other related animals) can be found below. The complete set of regulations can be found at:

Some Additional Thoughts

Ship on Monday to be sure it isn't held over the weekend someplace. If you ship in cold weather, go to a local sporting goods store and buy some hand or body warmers or if it's to hot, buy some thin freeze packs and put them on the bottom but slip newspaper between them and the bags of fish.

“Dim Weight”…a term you should be aware of. It’s short for dimensional weighting and a practice that the three largest private carriers all play with…FedEx, UPS and and DHL. They have a calculation for the cubic inches of the box and how much that box should cost to ship for it’s size…so the dimension of the box will become the calculation for cost IF the box is large and light…small heavy boxes override the Dim Weight. So boxes of fish with lots of air in the bags will sometimes (we found usually) fall into a Dim Weight situation.

So now you know!!


Fire Eel
MFK Member
Feb 17, 2005
New Jersey
Awesome post Miles. Its the definitive guide to shipping fish. You can learn more from reading that single post than reading fish books found at your local barnes and noble.

I particularly found the stipulations about shipping live animals from USPS and others interesting. :thumbsup:

Anybody that want to share their shipping expertise feel free to do so !
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Feeder Fish
MFK Member
Mar 28, 2006
ive heard of people using styrofoam coolers they keep the temp of the water up
or so ive been told
there are probably alot of people who are thinking this is a good idea and there are probably alot of people who think im a dumbass for saying this so id wait and see who agrees and who dissagrees because i am just suggesting this not reccommending this because i dont know how well it will work
soo info on this would be good because im wondering how well this will work any nfo appreciated good or bad either way


Feeder Fish
MFK Member
Jul 11, 2005
Spokane WA
cciesielski said:
ive heard of people using styrofoam coolers they keep the temp of the water up
or so ive been told
there are probably alot of people who are thinking this is a good idea and there are probably alot of people who think im a dumbass for saying this so id wait and see who agrees and who dissagrees because i am just suggesting this not reccommending this because i dont know how well it will work
soo info on this would be good because im wondering how well this will work any nfo appreciated good or bad either way
If your going to use a styreo cooler it's a good idea but here's a few notes. Most shippers will want it in a cardboard box.

Welcom Angel!

I've found that getting the emergency blankets *looks like tinfoil from the camping section at walmart is a great way to line boxes with. I would also use some news papers to keep the R factor up.
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Blue Tier VIP
MFK Member
Jan 19, 2005
Miami, FL
I've had people ask this question so I thought I'd add to this thread.

You can get an Oxygen tank from Ebay. I purchased mine from this guy:

weldingsuppliesatioc's eBay Store

The Best size I recomend for the hobbyist would be the 20 CF Tank.

Do a keyword search in his store for "20cf oxygen tank" It is only 5.3" in diameter, 17.6 High and weighs only 14.3 LBS and best of all, it only cost $63.87 and Ground Shipping is Free. (see pic below)

Now when the tank comes, all you have to do is take it to your local welding shop and have them trade it in for a full tank. Mine costs me about $20 to fill.

I once thought that I would need a regulator and special hoses for me to use the tank but thanks to Nishant (katfishguy), he came up with a cheaper simpler solution as regulators runs about $80! All you have to do is go to your local hardware store and buy a Toilet Water Line Hose. You dont need a brass one just the regular kind will do. The size should be 7/8" (see pic below. brass type pictured). I got a 20" one for $2.88 at Lowes. If you got the 20CF Oxygen tank it should screw right on to the tank. What I did was to also cut off the extra metal end so it makes it easier to smoothly slide out of the bag when you have it filled and the metal part wont snag on the plastic. With this set up, you can grab the bag with one hand and twist the valve on the oxygen tank to manage the flow of air.

Hope this added info has helped.




Blue Tier VIP
MFK Member
Jan 19, 2005
Miami, FL
One of the problems I run into sometimes when shipping is when I have to use a plain regular unlabled cardboard box to cover a styrofoam shipping box. The cardboard would not have any labels saying it's has live fish in the box so I usually have to hand write it all the time on the box. But even after writing, I feel that sometimes that people wont notice it 'cause my hand writing looks like chciken scratch and it just doesn't stand out enough. So I decided to make my own quick label and print them on AVERY FULL SHEET LABELS so they easily stick on the side of the box. I also use them on reused shipping boxes. Cause after ripping out all the old Air cargo labels stuck on the boxes it gets rather "plain"

I thought I'd share these labels with the MFK members. Here are the Color, Mixed and B&W Versions.


I designed them myself. Complete with Clip Art too. :D

NOTE: I recomend using a laser printer to print these labels as ink jet inks will bleed if they get wet and ruin whatever design was printed.



Blue Tier VIP
MFK Member
Jan 19, 2005
Miami, FL
The next thing I hear from people who don't ship is that they say they can’t tie the fish bags very well. Or even for people who just hate sore fingers after bagging so many bags.

Fear not! The Banding tool is here!

No more sore fingers! This handy tool is fast and easy. Using extra heavy-duty rubber bands, this tool seals oxygen-filled bags in one quick motion.

All you have to do is follow the simple steps of adding O2 into the fish bag then start twisting the top of the fish bag. Make sure it's nice and tight and use the banding too to put a super strong band to lock it tight. It's pretty self explanatory.
You can purchase this banding tool HERE



Staff member
MFK Member
Jul 23, 2005
Quarantine Tank
wow, if you cant tie a rubber band should you even be shipping fish? LOL


Blue Tier VIP
MFK Member
Jan 19, 2005
Miami, FL
Actually this is renamed the banding tool and sold to aquarist at a tad more mark up. But the real use of this tool is to band the testicles of sheep before they castrate them. :eek:

You can find the same tool in some larger feed stores for about $12-$15.