Live Tropical Fish
By Jim Cormier
Anyone who ships fish can tell you that no matter how many
precautions you take or how well you prepare the fish anything
can happen once you deliver them to the shipper. I have been
receiving fish for eight years and during that time I have
received fish in all sorts of ways with far more losses than
is acceptable. When I started shipping fish four years ago
I made it my goal to be the best at packing that I could
be. I would never send fish in some of the ways that I have
received them...it almost assured losses. I have seen many,
many things go wrong or done wrong during shipping.
The first important area is the packing. I have received
fish in just a cardboard box with just shredded paper or
packing peanuts to protect them from the weather. I know
good Styrofoam boxes can be hard to get or make but if you
can’t get the right materials, don’t ship fish!!
The heat will kill the fish in an unprotected box just as
fast as the cold will. I have received fish unprotected in
the summer and the fish were just as dead as cold fish. I
have also received fish recently in the cold weather; the
fish where packed in a cardboard box with packing peanuts
and the heat pack was next to the cardboard and had the peanuts
between it and the fish. Of course they arrived dead with
no styrofoam helping the situation. The other part of packing
is the bags. All fish should be double inverted bagged. This
helps prevent leaks and inverting the second bag helps to
eliminate corners that the fish will get caught in and die.
When shipping large cichlids and some spiny catfish you might
have to take other precautions: lining the fish bags with
newspaper or using hard plastic containers [ed.
note: outer bag...newspaper inside...inside bag...water in
bag and then the catfish]. We have experimented with plastic
jars with mixed results. They seem to work very well with
apistos but not as well with others.
The second important area is how the fish are prepared. I
have received fish that were dead but it appeared that everything
was done correctly. The only thing I noticed when opening
the bag was the smell of ammonia. To prevent this from happening
there are a couple of things I do. First I stop feeding the
fish 3 days before they are going to be shipped. This gives
the fish time to excrete most of their waist before they
are sealed in a bag. The second thing is how the water in
the bag is prepared. I started out adding an anti-fungus
medicine to the water and using oxygen, however then I discovered
Bag Buddies. Now I add a ¼ tablet to a small bag (about
4 oz of water) and that is it. I don’t need a bottle
of oxygen because the Bag Buddies adds it to the water, it
locks up any ammonia that accumulates in the water and also
has a mild tranquilizer in it. Also I use only about 1/3
water to 2/3 air in the bag. This becomes more important
with the size of the fish. When you are shipping three inch
fish or larger you might use closer to a ½ water to
air and make sure the bag is big enough for the size of the
fish. [ed. note: I agree totally with
no oxygen and Bag Buddies]
The third area of concern is the shipper and I’m not
talking about which company or overnight vs. 2nd day. This
is about what you have no control over: how the shipper treats
the box. By following the procedure I outlined above, I have
had fish survive shipping with delays as long as 8 days.
When I have fish that I have shipped not make it alive it
is generally due to poor handling by the shipper. There are
two main problems hear. First is rough handling. This can
cause the bags to rupture and I have also had the Styrofoam
boxes broken. The second is they may leave the box exposed
to extreme heat or cold over long periods of time. If a box
that is left in a truck with temperatures over 120 degrees
or as low as 20 degrees for 10 hours or more the fish doesn’t
have much of a chance. I have not seen a heat/cold pack that
is good enough to compensate for that. Most of the time,
thank goodness, this is not a problem but two years ago I
could not ship to Texas during the six warmer months and
have anything live. I suspected it was due to the boxes being
left in hot trucks for many hours.
Now to the actual shipping methods. There are three basic
ways to ship.
1) Over Night
2) 2nd Day
3) Air Cargo
3) If you have several boxes going to the same person then
this is a good way to ship. They charge a minimum of 100
pounds and depending on the airline will cost between $40
and $60. The only problem with this method is you have to
be an 'approved shipper' with the airline to use them and
that process can take a couple of months and several hundreds
of dollars. There is one airline that I have tried several
times to become an approved shipper with and have not been
able to get their cooperation. Air cargo should be overnight
or same day. You must have a major airport near you and you
have to pick up the package at the airport cargo building.
1) & 3) There are 4 main shippers for the overnight
and 2nd day. UPS, FedEx, Airborne and United States Postal
Service. You can talk to different people and they will tell
you that they have had problems with one and not with others
and everyone seems to like a different company. I am no different.
I have the ones I like and one I don’t like but I won’t
bore you with those details. First UPS will not ship fish
unless you have a pre-existing account with them, but other
than that they work well. UPS is the most expensive usually.
FedEx and Airborne are a little cheaper than UPS but you
as the shipper should be careful because they all charge
by weight and they have a minimum weight per the size of
the box. If you have a standard size fish box 17x17x10, that
weighs 8 or 10 pounds, you could be charged for 15 pounds.
Most of the time I use a small box 14x9x10 that has a minimum
weight less than what the box will weigh so it is not a problem
with small boxes. Also, with Fed. Ex. you can ship ground
for $7 or $8 within your state and have it guaranteed for
overnight delivery….that is very nice! The post office
is the cheapest but overnight is in reality 1 to 2 days and
priority is 2 to 4 days. During the warmer months I will
use the 2nd day FedEx shipping but in the cold months I use
Express mail. I mark the boxes live fish and they take reasonably
special care of the box and I have had good results even
though it takes 2 days most of the time.
As with all aspects of this hobby there are many ways to
do the same thing and shipping is no different. I have been
shipping boxes of fish all over the country, including Hawaii
and Alaska, with a 99% success rate and these were simply
my experiences. It is what has been working for me but most
certainly is not the only way to do it. So, take what you
will from this even if it is only one little bit of info
that may help you in the future with your shipping of live
Register With Modern
Tropical Fish Bytes:
Make sure you
register with us. By doing that you will be the first to know
about the newest issues of MTFB. We will NEVER
give any information to anyone or any advertiser or use 'spyware'.
We dislike that as much as you do! Click
On The Blue Button.
Thank You Very Much.