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International Forwarding Association Blog » Specialized transportation » Transporting Live Fish Internationally

Transporting Live Fish Internationally

There are different ways of transporting live fish but where it is shipped is an important consideration. You should not only check whether there are fees and customs charges but also if you can legally ship fish to the place of destination and across borders. You may have to apply for an import permit, and there may be quarantine periods for some types of aquarium fish.

Factors to Account for

Climate is always an important factor as well as weather at the place of origin and destination. Extreme temperatures can affect fish, especially when it sits at a post office in cold or hot weather. Also, different fishes require different temperature ranges during shipping. Cold water fish, for example, thrives at 7°C – 15°C while warm water species do better at 21°C – 28°C. When transporting tropical fish, the temperature range must be 26°C – 30°C.

When shipping internationally and transport times are long, it is important to place heat or ice gel packs to maintain the ideal temperature. Other factors to account for are excretory functions, respiratory rates, and oxygen requirements. Oxygen demands depend on metabolic rate, nutrition, temperature range, and body size. In general, demand increases with activity level, size, and temperature. Also, the number of fish per bag should be reduced when transporting to countries with warmer weather and during the warmer months of the year. Make sure you check with the carrier if re-oxygenation is required. When shipping internationally, oxygen should be in sufficient qualities for fish to survive for at least 48 hours.

Examination prior to Shipping

Ornamental fish is usually moved to a holding facility prior to shipping. Upon arrival, it must be checked for fungal patches, ulcers, ragged fins, and parasites. This is typically done through biopsy and analyzing tissue from the fins, skin, and gill. If there is scale loss, excess mucus, or white spots, it is best to contact a fish health specialist.


In some cases, chemicals are added to water to eliminate pathogens or sedate the fish to be transported. Chemical additives help reduce stress during shipping.

Packaging is also an important consideration when transporting live fish. Square-bottom bags work well because fish remains upright. Pillow bags are also used, and you will find a variety of sizes. When it comes to bag size, it depends on where fish is going, type of species, size, and number.

Oxygen, Ventilation, Labeling

Add oxygen to the bag and place in an outer box. You may also use packaging with ventilation holes, especially for live shellfish. Place labels such as “this side up”, “live fish”, and “fragile”.

Permits and Certificates

When transporting live fish by air, freight forwarders must fill in a Shipper’s Certification for Live Animals. They must provide details such as number of packages and quantity of species, names, and description. Additional details include airport of departure and destination, address and name of the shipper, and air waybill number.