How to bag and ship live fish

How to bag and ship live fish

You can ship live fish with USPS if the fish can fit inside USPS’ box size regulations, and if you use enough packing material to fully absorb any leaks. Shipping live fish with the US Postal Service is fairly simple, and we’ve listed out the basics for you below.

Properly Packaging Your Live Fish for Shipment

Here’s how to properly package your fish shipment, with some regulations thrown in from USPS’ website:

  • Fill a plastic airtight bag halfway with water, place your fish inside, and tightly tie off the top
  • Place the bag containing the fish and water inside waterproof inner packaging, such as an insulated styrofoam box
  • Cushion your plastic bag with enough absorbent material lining the foam packaging to take up all liquid in case of leakage (think towels, rags, etc)
  • Place your inner waterproof packaging inside a new corrugated cardboard box, then seal it

If you’re looking for some foam packaging, check out this insulated foam shipping kit from ULINE.

Which USPS Service to Use (and When)

You’ll want to use either Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express for your live fish shipment. Speed is a crucial factor when shipping live fish, so the faster the service, the better. Priority Mail Express is USPS’ fastest shipping service, with overnight delivery between most urban centers, and 2-day delivery to and from rural areas. If you don’t want to pony up the extra cash for Priority Mail Express, then regular Priority Mail should still get the job done between 1-3 business days.

Also, we suggest shipping as close to the start of the week as possible. Generally speaking, the earlier in the week, the better. Sometimes the weekend throws delivery schedules off a bit, and you don’t want your fish to stay in transit any longer than they need to.

Pro Tip: Shipping live fish is entirely different from shipping fresh (killed) fish and other seafood. However, you can still follow this same process for shipping other live sea creatures such as shrimp and prawns.

Do You Need Insurance?

Keep in mind that all Priority Mail Services come with $50 of insurance at the Post Office, and $100 when you buy labels with shipping software. If your fish are valued more than that, it never hurts to protect your package with extra shipping insurance.

Save Money on Your Fish Shipment with Shipping Software

As always, you’ll save the most money on any Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express packages when you use shipping software to buy discounted postage online. The best shipping software options allow you to access special USPS discounts such as Commercial Pricing. USPS Commercial Pricing represents the highest level of savings that USPS typically only offers to huge commercial shippers sending out more than 50,000 parcels a year. Plus, shipping software lets you print your shipping labels at home and skip the lines at the Post Office!

is usually $36.99

Or only $17.99 to Southern California.

on Orders totaling $169.99 before taxes and shipping charges.

I have never purchased fish over the internet so I was curious . the ones you buy at the stores can only be in the bags for about 1 hour, how are they packaged to survive a 24 hour trip?

Thanks again!
-Chelsea G.

Ship only really healthy fish.
Ship in fresh clear aquarium water. Not in tap water.
Most bags used to ship fish are not the right type of bags. We use special bags designed for shipping live fish.

Occasionally I visit a pet store and see 25-feeder goldfish going into a small bag that is mostly full of cloudy water, with only a small amount of air in the bag.

I worry that the fish won't make it to the car in the parking lot, let alone survive an hour in the bag for the trip home.

Incidentally, not all shipments take 24 hours, many times it takes less than 18 hours and sometimes as long as 36 hours.

This is a long time for the fish, and they must be packed just right to ensure a safe trip for them.

Chelsea, we hope that answers your question, but here is a story about shipping fish that we hope you find interesting.

Back in the 1970s we were raising lots of cichlids in our parent's basement.

We had advertisements in both TFH Magazine and FAMA Magazine every month, and we got fish orders from all over the world.

In particular we had a very good customer in Europe (but at the present time we do not ship outside of the United States), who bought lots of cichlids from us.

After they'd get a shipment of fish from us, they'd write back saying that the water in the bags was clear, the fish were just great, and they wondered what we put in the water.

In particular they really wanted to know what tranquillizer we used.

They had tried adding Sandow 222 or some such stuff to their shipping water, and it didn't seem to help the fish.

But it was obvious to them that we had found something really good to put in the water to preserve the fish.

We wrote back several times and said things like, "No, no, we haven't got anything special that we put in the water, no tranquillizers, no drugs, no chemicals, just good water, good fish, carefully packed, etc., etc."

But they were sure that we had a secret, and apparently it bothered them that we wouldn't share the secret that we didn't have with them.

Finally one day they phoned me with an ultimatum, "Tell us what you put in the water, or we won't buy any more fish from you."

I tried to make sense with them, but it didn't work, and we lost one of our biggest customers.

Our father was very good at business, and I told him this story. He said that we were just young and learning about these kinds of things, and though it seems very important now, it won't be very important in the long run and not to worry too much about it.

He went on to explain that one of the big faults that many people in business have is that they think there is something magic, like Sandow 222 or something else, that they can add at the last minute that will "fix" things.

This searching for a "fix" prevents them from learning how to get things right in the first place.

To do anything well it's important is to find out what the crucial factors are, then to focus on doing them right each time, and finally to develop a process that ensures that those crucial factors get done right each time.

Over the following years I found out that this advice from my father applies to a lot more than how to pack fish.

How to bag and ship live fish

Have you ever ordered a plate of salmon or sushi and thought about how it got there? Well, fish don’t just jump out of the ocean and onto our plates. They get shipped, of course! Now more than ever, it’s incredibly common to ship fresh fish and other types of seafood between restaurants and fish markets. Some restaurants even source their fish from very specific locations across the world! Wokuni in New York City, for example, flies in their fish daily from Nagasaki Farm in Hirado, Japan. This guide is all about how to ship fish and how to keep them fresh on their way to their final destination. Ready to dive in?

Your Carrier Options for Shipping Fish and Other Seafood

When shipping fish and other seafood, you’ve got a few different options to choose from. The US Postal Service is the best carrier for sending out smaller parcels, like if you’re shipping mackerel or trout. You’ll get the best mix of affordable rates and fast service when you choose USPS. However, their delivery isn’t necessarily as fast as other carriers’ express services. When it comes to shipping fish and other seafood, speed is one of the most important things to consider…and Priority Mail Express is USPS’ fastest service. Therefore, if you do use USPS for sending out fish, you’ll want to ship Priority Mail Express.

If you’re trying to ship fish that are long or on the larger side, then you’ll want to consider using UPS or FedEx. Both UPS and FedEx have larger size allowances than USPS does, and will allow you to ship heavier weights. Out of all three major carriers, FedEx is the one that specializes in shipping frozen food and perishables. Since that’s the case, we’re more inclined to recommend FedEx in the case of shipping fish. However, note that it will be much more expensive than shipping with USPS.

Here’s the bottom line: whichever shipping carrier you choose boils down to what you need. In general, UPS is better for large, heavier shipments, and FedEx specializes in overnight delivery.

Keep Your Fish Fresh by Packaging Them Properly

This is the big one, folks. On top of getting your fish to their final destination as quickly as possible, you want to devote significant time to packaging them properly. To save you some time and headaches, we’ve laid out a few packaging tips and tricks for you to follow below.

Pro Tip: Remember, shipping fresh fish means they aren’t frozen! While you may be inclined to choose a similar service for shipping frozen food, it’s an entirely different process altogether. On a similar note, the process of shipping live fish is different, too.

Consider the Container and Outer Packaging

In the case of shipping fresh fish, your inner packaging matters just as much as your outer packaging. We suggest first placing your fish in an insulated styrofoam cooler, and throwing that cooler inside a brand new corrugated cardboard box. If you’d rather be safe than sorry (like we always do), you may want to include insulated liners such as rags on the inner walls of your corrugated cardboard box. These liners will help catch water runoff from any melting ice or ice packs before the water can damage your outer packaging.

Pro Tip: If you want to ship your fish with FedEx, they actually sell special cold shipping boxes for scenarios like this. These boxes come with a one-time-use chilling unit that you activate and put in your package, making it super easy for you to ship perishables like fresh seafood. Pretty cool, right?

Use Wet Ice, Dry Ice, or Gel Packs to Keep Your Fish Cool

Some of the most common types of cooling packing materials are wet ice (literally frozen water), dry ice, or gel packs. If your fish will be transported by air, there aren’t really any limitations for wet ice. However, you’ll want to keep regulations in mind if you plan on throwing dry ice inside the packaging.

USPS will only allow you to include up to 5 pounds of dry ice when using their air services like Priority Mail Express. UPS also only allows up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice per package via air transportation. FedEx is more lenient, allowing you to ship up to 200 kg (or about 440 pounds) of dry ice per package.

Pro Tip: DON’T include dry ice in an airtight container! Dry ice releases carbon dioxide, and that will cause pressure to build up until your package bursts. Trust us when we tell you that no one wants a bursted package of fresh fish.

Get to Know the Regulations for Perishable Shipments

If you’re super serious about shipping out fresh fish correctly, we suggest picking up a copy of the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations handbook. In it, you’ll be able to reference all the different guidelines for shipping perishable items such as fresh seafood. For example, if you’re including dry ice in your shipment, IATA require you to label your package with specific markings. Those markings are as follows:

  • “Dry Ice” or “Carbon Dioxide Solid”
  • A UN 1845 label
  • Net weight of dry ice in kilograms (1 kg = roughly 2.205 pounds)
  • Name and address of the shipper
  • Name and address of the recipient

If you think choosing one carrier over another will exempt you from these regulations, think again! You’ll need to follow these guidelines no matter which shipping carrier you use.

It Never Hurts to Double-Check With Your Carrier

If all else fails, ask your carrier what kinds of packing and cooling material that they allow inside your package, and if there are any limitations. They’ll always be able to point you in the right direction.

Insure Your Shipments In Case They Spoil or Take Damage

Every carrier will allow you to purchase additional shipping insurance on top of your shipping cost. While springing for extra insurance may not make sense in some cases, shipping fresh fish is not one of them. Certain types of seafood can be high value items and expensive to replace, so in our opinion, it’s worth protecting yourself with shipping insurance. That way you’re financially covered in case anything happens to your fish shipment during transit. Plus, it usually only costs a few extra bucks on top of your postage. Why not, right?

Save the Most Money on your Fish Shipments with Online Shipping Software

As is the case with shipping most other items under the sun, you’ll save the most money on shipping fish when you buy postage discounted postage online with shipping software. Some shipping software solutions out there sell discounted postage for all the major carriers, and some only focus on selling USPS postage. Depending on what kind of service you need to ship your seafood, do your research and find out which shipping software solution is the best choice for you.

If you’re looking for a place to start, head on over to our Reviews page. You’ll find hundreds of resources on different carriers, shipping software solutions, fulfillment partners, custom packaging companies and more!

How to bag and ship live fish

Don’t be fooled by other bags claiming to do what Kordon’s Breathing Bags do – there are no “Second Generation Breathing Bags” that are produced from the same or improved material or that can claim the same Oxygen Transfer Rate as genuine Kordon Breathing Bags.


Breathing Bags are a completely new approach to the shipping of live fishes, as well as aquatic invertebrates and aquatic plants, in plastic bags. The special plastic film used in the Breathing Bags generates the constant transfer of carbon dioxide out of the water in the bag through the walls of the bag, and the absorption of oxygen from the atmosphere through the bag walls into the water in the bag. This provides a constant source of fresh oxygen that fish and other aquatic specimens use to breathe.

Kordon ® Breathing Bags™ represent a new approach to the problems of shipping live fishes and other aquatic animals and aquatic plants, including 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 Bags are constructed of a special film that has a micro-porosity that 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 – are constantly passing through the plastic bag via the micro-porosity. In other words – the plastic has gaps so small that water molecules cannot pass through – yet gas molecules can move freely. This provides a true “breathing” bag in place of a non-porous “barrier” bag as is used in traditional plastic polyethylene bags. As long as there is a breathable atmosphere outside the Breathing Bag, the fish or 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. Kordon has shipped millions of bags around the world (termed “Sachets”) containing living foods (tubifex worms, brine shrimp, daphnia, glass worms, etc.) for aquarium fishes using the Breathing Bag technology. Hundreds of thousands of Breathing Bags have been used successfully to ship fishes, coral reef animals, and aquatic plants.


Prior to the invention of Breathing Bags, the only plastic bags available for shipping fishes and aquatic invertebrates were made of polyethylene and had created a non-porous “solid-film barrier bag”. There was no porosity-mechanism to allow the passage of gasses through the bag wall. When using these “barrier” bags any oxygen required to sustain the life of the fish or other aquatic life inside the bag must – of necessity – be added as a gas inside the bag prior to sealing.

This process has many problems.

1 – High concentrations of oxygen can cause flammable conditions.

2 – The presence of oxygen gas inside the bag takes up a lot of valuable shipping space.

3 – Once the supplied oxygen is used up there is no more available – fish can quite literally drown in traditional old-fashioned “barrier-bags”.

4 – A bag partially full of water with the rest filled with oxygen allows the contents to slosh during transport, stressing and possibly injuring fishes.

5 – Toxic carbon dioxide from the fishes’ breathing builds up in the water, displacing the oxygen. The oxygenated air in the bags may not be satisfactory for fishes’ breathing, because (particularly from sources in underdeveloped countries), the bottled oxygen may be contaminated.

IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE: Time in the bag has always been the cause of losses in shipping live fish. With old, traditional air-chamber bagging methods there has always been a short time span between bagging the fish and getting safely to their destination. You typically have a short time span allowed before the air in the bags is depleted of all available oxygen and the fish begin to deteriorate. Long distance fish shipping using the old methods has always required periodic opening of the bags and adding of new oxygen. With Kordon Breathing Bags fish have been sealed into bags and sent on long transfer trips that have lasted for 7 to 10 days with no re-bagging and no addition of oxygen. The fish shipments have repeatedly arrived at their destination with very low losses and healthy, non-stressed fish. The continual flow ow carbon dioxide out of the bag and oxygen into the bag allows for safer shipping no matter how far the distance.

In comparison – using the Kordon Breathing Bags allows for no sloshing and no stress. The Breathing Bags are sealed with as little air inside as possible. Ideally only water touches the inner surface of the bag. No air chamber of added oxygen means no slosh-zone and turbulant travel for the fish inside. You can test this by laying a filled Breathing Bag on a flat surface and allowing the fish to settle down. Picking up one edge of the bag – you can roll it until it is totally reversed – upside down – yet the fish inside will not move at all. No sloshing, no jiggling. no stress. Less stress equals less losses or injuries during shipping or transfer of live fish.

is usually $36.99

Or only $17.99 to Southern California.

on Orders totaling $169.99 before taxes and shipping charges.

But we do not guarantee it will work for you, and we disclaim all responsibility for any losses, direct or consequential, arising from the use of this information.

(1) The container. It should be the right size. Not too small, or it will cramp the fish and not contain enough air.

Not too big, or you may not have enough water to cover the fish. It's best, if the container is insulated.

You might be able to get a box with a Styrofoam liner from your local fish store.

Actually an insulated plastic picnic cooler, like the ones used by people to keep food cool, is ideal.

(2) Some plastic trash bags. Get several bags. Make sure they are big enough to fill the container, when you inflate them.

Thirty-five gallon black trash bags will usually work. The translucent trash bags are better because they allow you to see a little bit about what is going on inside the bag.

Of course, these trash bags should be new and not used trash bags with a lot of old coffee grounds inside that will pollute the shipping water.

(3) Some 1/4" thick rubber bands. You'll need these rubber bands to seal the bags.

Click here for more about changing water. You can clean your fish's home too.

Click here for more about cleaning. But don't do too much at one time.

3. Don't Feed Your Fish .
anything for the last 48 hours, before you put them in the shipping container.

Make sure there is no left over food of any kind in their home. We want their stomachs empty, when they go into the bag.

Do not feed your fish, while they are traveling. We want the water to stay as clean as possible.

4. Put one of the Plastic Bags .
inside the container. Then put another bag inside the first, so you have a double bag. that way if the first bag leaks, the second will hold the water. You might want to add a third bag inside the other two.

You want to fill the container with 1/4 to 1/3 water leaving 3/4 to 2/3 for air.

Be careful not to scoop water off the bottom that may be contaminated with waste from the gravel.

Try to get all of the air out from between the bags. It's good if there is air inside the inner-most bag, but try not to trap air between the layers of bags.

Squeeze the top edges of the bags together in your hands. Now lessen the pressure and maybe gently poke a finger in the opening so it's about 1" in diameter.

Keep your mouth about 12 inches from this opening and blow air into the bag.

Don't put your mouth right on the opening, because the air from your lungs contains excess carbon dioxide.

You should be blowing the air between your mouth and the opening into the inner most bag.

Fill the bag with air and then twist the top and fold it over. Put at least two rubber bands tightly around the top, making several loops to tightly seal the bags.

Make sure the sealed bag will fit into the container, so you can close the container. Also make sure the bags fill most of the space inside the container.

You should try to minimize the time the fish are in the container. Under no circumstances should you feed the fish in the container.

Cool water fish like goldfish might do better between 65 and 70 degrees F.

Cooler water will slow the fish's metabolism, so the fish will produce less waste and keep the water clean longer.

But of course the water cannot be too cool or that will harm the fish.

Of course this will not be practical with a 1500 gallon pond! But you could do it with a 40-gallon aquarium.

You'd need to take 32-gallons of the water with you, which would require several containers.

Some of the containers will have water with fish, and some containers might have water without fish.

After your move, set the aquarium back up. don't open the containers with the fish. But open the containers that have the extra water without any fish.

Pour that water back into the aquarium, and let the aquarium's filter run for a couple of hours.

Open the containers with fish. Pour the water and the fish into the aquarium, and top the aquarium up with at most 20% fresh tap water.

The information on this page is not intended for packing fish that will go on airplanes, because there are many other considerations, such as the pressurization in the planes, that make it more difficult to pack fish going on planes.

Fish bagging for shipping and auctions
Shipping fish successfully is easier than you think. The key is to purge the fish before they are bagged, so they do not die in their own waste. The night before you bag them up for an auction or shipping, catch the fish from the tank and place them with some tank water in a covered bucket or plastic shoe box at room temperature. As long as there are not too many individuals, no air stone or filtration is required. The stress from the catch and the strange environment will cause the fish to relieve themselves. The slow drop in temperature overnight will slow their metabolism. By the next morning, the water will be all filthy, however the waste won’t end up in the bag because for bagging I always use 100% clean new water from an empty tank or tub also kept at room temperature. Add a few drops of a Ammo-Lock or similar to the bag to bind any new ammonia the fish will release. Fish bagged that way will travel much better and adapt easier to a new environment.

Fish acclimatization
The common advice is to float the bag with your newly arrived fish to adjust the temperature but that makes no sense at all. Why am I saying that? Well-packaged fish can survive 2-3 days in a bag without any problems. The water may be cold and a bit filthy, but the metabolism of the fish has slowed down because conditions in the bag have worsened gradually and they have adapted. When you warm up the dirty water, the metabolism kicks back in and the fish get terrified due to the light and warmth. If the bag remains closed, low oxygen levels may now lead to suffocation because the fish panic and use more oxygen. In normal fish bags there is also an excess of carbon dioxide (CO2), which means that the pH has dropped slowly because of the continuous formation of carbonic acid (CO2 + H2O = H2CO3). However, as soon as you open the bag, the CO2 escapes quickly and the pH can rush up from below 6 to over 7.5. If there is any ammonium (NH4 + ) present, it will quickly turn into ammonia (NH3) that burns the gills, fins, and skin of your fish. The higher the temperature, the faster this process becomes.

How to bag and ship live fish

Live Delivery Guarantee: Follow this link to find out more about our Live Delivery Guarantee! Does not apply to International Orders!

Shipping Rates: We ship by zone. The below map details your specific zone based on where you live.

Available Shipping Days: Due to FexEx Schedules, Shipments are NOT delivered on Sundays or Mondays. Shipments are delivered Tuesday through Saturday only.

How We Pack Your Shipment: We pack your fish using extra thick styrofoam insulated boxes, thick plastic bags that are double bagged and 1 or more heat packs. We do this to ensure that your fish arrive healthy and safe, especially during the cold winter months.

Other Shipping Questions: We cannot ship any aquarium life to Hawaii or Post Office Boxes. However we do ship to Canada, Alaska, Puerto Rico and many areas of the Carribbean for an extra charge. However, our Live Delivery Guarantee does not apply to these Orders. To get pricing for Shipping outside of the lower 48 US States, Call us at 812-272-8668 or email us [email protected]

**We have no Extra Packaging, Box or Additional Shipping Fees. All Shipping Prices are Flat Rate Based on your shipping zone.**

How to bag and ship live fish

Just like other aquatic creatures, transporting an Axolotl can be a tricky procedure. The animal must be kept in a comfortable and stress-free environment during the move. For long-distance transportation, it is best to hire a pet shipping company to ensure that the Axolotl is in the best condition and is well-taken cared for during transport.

When moving to short distances, the Axolotl owner can do the transport himself as long as proper procedures are followed. Here are some tips on how to properly transport an Axolotl.

For a trip that will take 6-8 hours, the Axolotl must be transferred into a plastic container with an air-tight lid and is big enough to comfortably accommodate the animal. Fill the container with unchlorinated water (preferably from the tank the Axolotl is coming from) just so the animal is completely submerged. Carefully transfer the animal into the prepared container. Let the Axolotl settle in its new environment for a few minutes before placing the lid.

Place the plastic container into a cooler. Pack hand towels in between the container and cooler to prevent movement. Depending on the temperature and humidity, you may want to add some ice packs outside the container to keep the water cool and prevent stress to the Axolotl.

Close the cooler and make sure that the animal is not exposed to sunlight or any bright light. Axolotls have no eyelids and exposure to intense light may cause stress to the animals.

It’s also a good idea to bring along an extra jug of tank water in case of the water in the container spills and you need to add more.

Your Axolotl is now ready for transport. Drive carefully to prevent jostling the animal around its container while in transit.



If your order contains live fish and/or live plants currently we only ship to the following states:

  • ACT & New South Wales
  • Queensland
  • South Australia
  • Victoria

We are also unable to ship live fish and live plants to some remote locations within these states.


Please note that because of the complexities and procedures involved in packing and shipping live fish, as well as our utmost concern for the well-being of our aquatic livestock, we cannot accept any returns of aquatic livestock. For livestock items claimed (DOAs or wrong item sent), we offer a store credit.

For non-livestock items, we do not give refunds if you simply change your mind or make a wrong decision. You can choose between an exchange or credit where goods are faulty or are different to the product purchased on the website. We ask that you notify us by e-mail with details of your invoice number within 7 days of delivery. No item shall be returned without prior agreement between the purchaser and KeepingFishSimple. In the case of faulty goods we will ask you to return the item and all parts in their original packaging for a replacement.

In the case of an out of stock item, please allow up to five business days for the refund to be processed.


We offer a 100% live delivery guarantee on all fish and plants. If you receive any fish or plants dead on arrival, please take a photograph with the DOA still in the shipping bag*.

Please e-mail your photograph and details of your claim within 24 hours of your stock arriving to [email protected] so that we can process your claim and arrange an online credit for you to use towards your next order.

*Claims MUST be accompanied with accurate photos of the dead fish in the original bag(s), and if necessary for better clarity, a photograph of all dead fish laid out of the bags. Packaging/Delivery costs and Freight costs are Non-Refundable and cannot be claimed.