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How To Safely Transport Fish Short & Long Distances

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

fish in bag

If you are bringing your fish home from the pet store, or you are moving homes, knowing to transport fish the right way is crucial to their health and survival. If you transport fish the wrong way, you could end up crushing or suffocating them, or stressing them out to the point of death.

Today we want to talk about how to transport fish short and also long distances safely, the short answer is: The easiest way to transport fish, both longer and shorter distances, is to use a plastic bag, aquarium water, and pure oxygen that can be bought in fish keeping stores.

You can also use the aquarium itself or a 5-gallon bucket, but this is not exactly recommended.

Let’s talk about the best ways and methods to safely transport your fish in more detail.

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How To Transport Fish in a Car

Transporting a fish in a car is really not all that difficult, but you do have to do it the right way, or else you risk killing your fish. Do keep in mind that fish get stressed out very easily, and long-distance journeys can kill them.

If you plan on traveling for more than a full day with your fish, beware that the chances are quite large that it will die, so, to ensure the best possible chances of survival, there are some precautions that you will need to take.

Don’t Use a Bucket

Now, some people try transporting fish in buckets or in the aquarium when driving. This is a big mistake.

Have you ever had to slam on the brakes because some bad driver cut you off? Well, if your fish is in the car and being transported in a bucket, the bucket may spill or tip over, causing your fish to be deposited into your car, which will kill it.

Transporting Fish In The Aquarium

When it comes to an aquarium, especially glass ones, there is really no good way of securing these in a car and being able to drive smoothly enough to ensure the fish’s safety.

If you do plan on moving your fish in the aquarium, remove enough of the water so it won’t spill if you break a little hard, and remove all decorations to ensure that no cracks occur in the aquarium, and so that there are no decorations floating around.

Moreover, if using a bucket, be sure not to fill it up too much so it doesn’t spill while driving. With that said, transporting your fish in the car, inside of the tank, or in a bucket is really not recommended due to many issues that can and often do arise.

Stick with The Plastic Bag Method

The only good way to transport a fish in a car is by using a good old plastic bag. Simply fill up a strong and clear plastic bag halfway with the tank water and put the fish in it.

Be sure to use the aquarium water that your fish has been living in to do this, as it will have the right parameters to keep your fish alive during transportation.

Keep in mind that fish can survive for about an hour or a little more in a plastic bag due to limited oxygen, so if the trip is going to take longer, you must get pure oxygen to put in the bag so the fish can survive, which can be found at any aquarium store.

divider1-goldfish-newHow To Transport Fish Short Distances

goldfish in plastic bag
Image Credit: Payless Images, Shutterstock

Transporting fish short or long distances, with or without a car, is notoriously hard and dangerous. As we mentioned before, fish often suffer big-time stress and may die, even on short trips, so ideally, trips should be kept as short as possible.

The best way to transport a fish a short distance is by using the plastic bag method which we discussed above. Keep in mind that water is heavy, so anything over 2 liters runs the risk of exploding the bag and causing your fish to fall out and die.

Be sure to use aquarium water to fill the bag, and do not place more than one or two fish per bag. Remember that the more water there is, the more dissolved oxygen will be present, but the more fish you have in the bag, the more oxygen they will need.

If you are traveling a short distance and happen to have a wagon of sorts, and are traversing flat and even terrain, you could drag the whole aquarium along or put the fish in a bucket on the wagon. Just be sure to be very careful when doing so. The less jostling and water movement there is the better.

How To Transport Fish Without a Bag

If you do not have a bag that is adequate for transporting your fish, you really only have two options.

These options include using a bucket or transporting the fish in the aquarium itself. There are a few things to remember here. First of all, be sure to use the aquarium water for the bucket, as this will have the proper water parameters to maintain good fish health on a short trip.

If you are transporting the fish in your aquarium, this is not an issue as the water is already there. If you are transporting the fish in the aquarium, be sure to remove all decorations and items, as much as possible.

You don’t want that stuff flying around the aquarium and possibly injuring the fish. Always be sure to drive or walk carefully, because you want to minimize movement wherever possible. Keep in mind that you will want a bucket of at least 5 gallons for this.

If you're interested in learning everything about the safest way to transfer new tankmates into your aquarium, our best-selling book, The Truth About Goldfish, covers everything about ideal tank maintenance and details on the tank transfer method—a seamless way to add new members to the family!

Can Fish Suffocate in Bags?

Yes, absolutely, fish can definitely suffocate in bags, which is something that often kills fish because many people do not seem to be aware of this. In a plastic bag with a couple of liters of water in it, a fish can easily suffocate in an hour, or even sooner if there is less water and more fish.

Obviously, you have to tie the bag shut to keep it from spilling, and for safety reasons, you cannot poke air holes in it either.

The only real option here is to buy pure oxygen from a fish-keeping store so you can put it in the water with the fish. This is something you need to do if your trip is going to take longer than 1 hour.

Can You Transport Fish in a Ziplock Bag?

Technically yes, but only for a very limited amount of time.

The issue with Ziplock bags is that they are quite narrow, and in terms of width, your fish will not have a lot of space to swim.

It is really not the best idea, as the bag should be a large and round bag to give the fish enough space for safety, and a bit of an impact cushion zone in case anything happens.

Moreover, although Ziplock bags are pretty good on their own, the top may leak water, which is of course less than ideal.

fish dividerCommonly Asked Questions

Blood Red Parrot fish
Image Credit: Retro Lenses, Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0 International

How long can you keep a fish in a bag?

Perhaps the best way to transport fish, at least over very short distances, is in a plastic bag, but there is limited oxygen in there. A fish should not be kept in a bag for more than 30 minutes, although depending on the size of the bag, you can stretch this to a couple of hours.

The larger the bag and the more water is in the bag, the more dissolved oxygen there will be.

How long can fish live in buckets?

A fish should not be kept in a bucket for longer than 3 hours. However, if you have a water pump circulating air and water throughout the bucket, a fish could survive in a bucket for a few days.

However, keep in mind that fish need more than just air. They also need filtration.

Can a fish survive in a closed container?

No, absolutely not. A fish should never be kept in a closed container. Whether you are transporting tropical fish or other types of fish, closed containers will certainly not do. A closed container, especially a small one, will not have much oxygen in it, and of course, fish need to breathe.

If you plan on transporting a fish in a closed container, it can only be for a very limited amount of time, 1 hour or less.

Can you transport fish in Tupperware?

Once again, if you have a large Tupperware with lots of space for plenty of water, you could transport fish in a Tupperware container for up to a couple of hours.

However, chances are that you are planning to put the lid on the container, which is not a good idea. Once again, fish need to breathe, and once that oxygen runs out, the fish will be in serious trouble.

How do you fly with a pet fish?

Realistically speaking, any prolonged flight is not going to be ideal for fish. Feed requires the water to be of a certain temperature and they require oxygen too. Any container sturdy and large enough for a pet fish to travel in for an extended period of time is going to be too large to handle for airplane travel.

Simply put, if, at all avoidable, you should never get on an airplane with a pet fish.

How do you transport big aquarium fish?

When it comes to fish tank travel, especially with large fish, there are some key tips that you should keep in mind at all times.

  • If the fish is of medium-large size, using a plastic bag to travel short distances should work fine, as long as the distances are very short.
  • A good way to transport large aquarium fish is by using 5 or 10-gallon buckets, as they have plenty of space and open water surface to allow some more oxygen into the water.
  • Some people do choose to transport their fish in aquariums, but this is not wise as aquariums may break during transportation.
goldfish in bags
Image credit: hairyeggg, Wikimedia CC 2.0

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The bottom line is that you should avoid transporting fish whenever possible, as it tends to really stress them out and can be detrimental to their health, even disastrous. If you can, use a strong plastic bag, lots of good aquarium water, and use some pure oxygen if necessary.

Related Read: How Long Can Fish Live In a Bag?

Image Credit: kao, Shutterstock

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