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How To Transport Fish – 7 Important Tips & Tricks

Goldfish in a plastic bag

If you just purchased a fish and want to safely transport them home, or you are wanting to move them to a new aquarium or take them with you when you move, you need to make sure they are transported safely. Fish are more difficult to transport than other types of pets because you need to make sure that the fish’s water is within the ideal temperature range and has the appropriate water parameters.

We have compiled some tips and tricks that are important to consider when transporting your fish long or short distances.

pets 6The 7 Tips for Transporting Fish

1. Use a Plastic Bag

goldfish in plastic bag
Image Credit: Piqsels

Plastic bags are the most popular way to transport your fish. You can purchase large, clear plastic bags from your local fish store. The plastic bag should, naturally, be free from any holes that can cause the water to leak through.

The bags should be strong and be able to support a large volume of water, so it is best to avoid plastic grocery bags because they have been constructed to hold solid items and not water. You can place two plastic bags inside of each other for extra support in case one of the bags breaks during transport. Tie the top of the bag securely with an elastic bag once you have placed your fish inside.

2. Add In Old Aquarium Water

putting fish on a plastic bag
Image Credit: Anze Furlan, Shutterstock

When placing water in your fish’s transport bag or container, make sure that you fill it up with about 80% to 90% water and leave a layer of air above the waterline. The water in your fish’s aquarium will contain traces of beneficial bacteria and the same water parameters that your fish is used to so that you do not stress out your fish.

Avoid filling the transport bag or container with new tap water that has not been dechlorinated yet as chlorine and other heavy metals found in tap water are harmful to fish.

3. Use a Portable Air Pump for Oxygen

If you are transporting the fish for a long time, they will need oxygen. You can use a portable air pump hooked up to airline tubing and an air stone that can be placed inside of the bag or container to provide your fish with surface agitation for oxygenation. This is only necessary if your fish is being transported for more than a few hours because the air in the plastic bag will eventually run out.

4. Place The Plastic Bags In a Container

man holding plastic container
Image credit: Stanislav71, Shutterstock

Try placing the plastic bags with fish into a container so that the bags do not roll around if they are being transported in a moving vehicle. If the bag is constantly moving around and falling over, it can stress your fish out even more.

The plastic container does not need to have a lid as the bag should be placed inside for extra support. The container will also be useful in case the bags were to leak, as you can place the fish inside the container during an emergency.

5. Use Disposable Gel Heating Packs for Tropical Fish

If you are transporting tropical fish a long way, you can use a disposable gel heating pad because the water will start to cool down to the surrounding temperature during transportation. This is necessary if you are transporting tropical fish for more than an hour.

The disposable gel heater should not be placed directly against the bag because it can cause the water to become too warm or damage the plastic and cause a leak. Instead, the tropical fish should be placed in a bag inside a container and a towel or blanket should separate the heating pad and plastic bag.

6. Do a Water Change In The Aquarium

Pumping out water
Image Credit: GaViAl, Shutterstock

You should do small water changes in the fish’s aquarium several days before you plan to transport the fish for a long distance. This will ensure that the water you fill in the plastic bag or container they are transported in will be fresh. The water in the bag will not retain its freshness for long, so it is essential to ensure the water being used has an ammonia and nitrite reading of 0ppm (parts per million).

A water test can be done to get a reading of the aquarium waters’ ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels before you use the water, as unstable water parameters can be deadly for fish.

7. Avoid Feeding Your Fish During Transport

hand holding a plastic bag containing goldfish
Image Credit: HomeArt, Shutterstock

Fish can survive a few days without food, so it is not necessary to feed them while they are being transported. Most fish will be too stressed to eat, and food can quickly cause the water to become foul and toxic for the fish as the ammonia level rises. Any food that your fish does not eat will sink to the bottom and start to dissolve which alters the water parameters. You can feed your fish once they have reached their destination and are placed back into the main aquarium.

How Long Can Fish Survive In a Bag? 

Most fish can survive in a plastic bag for up to 48 hours, which is usually plenty of time for transporting fish. The fish will have a higher chance of survival in a plastic bag when being transported if there is a large volume of water in the bag and enough space for oxygen to be sealed inside. Tropical fish are slightly trickier to transport because you need to ensure that the water is being slowly heated to their desired temperature range.



Transporting fish can be quite stressful so it should only be done when necessary. Most fish will have been transported at some point in their lives, as breeders will usually transport fish in plastic bags to pet stores or customers if you ordered a fish online.

It is important to make sure you place your fish in a secure bag that has clean aquarium water inside, and that you avoid feeding them during the time they are being transported. Most fish will be stressed and disorientated after being transported, so they are likely to hide away and act abnormal a few hours after until they become settled again.

Featured Image Credit: Alina Veneralova, Shutterstock

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