How to Ship Aquarium Fish in the Mail
In a previous article, we talked about how to breed and sell aquarium fish to help offset the costs of your aquarium hobby. Selling to a local fish store is much easier because you can safely transport the animals yourself, but if you do not have any stores nearby, selling fish via online classified ads or auction websites like AquaBid is an alternative to consider. While Aquarium Co-Op no longer sells fish online, we have plenty of past experiences and best practices when it comes to shipping live animals through the United States Postal Service (USPS).
How to Ship Live Fish, Shrimp, or Snails
1. Gather the materials: USPS Priority mail flat rate medium or large box – 0.5-inch thick foam board insulation or Styrofoam sheet – Breather bags, fish bags – Rubber bands – Packaging tape and scissors. 72-hour heat pack with a paper lunchbag or cold pack with fabric and Ziploc bags. Fish net Specimen container
1. You will need the recipient’s zip code to check the weather forecast for both your departure and destination locations. Try to avoid shipping animals if either location’s temperature reaches below 32degF (0degC) or above 90degF (32degC). 2. Do not feed animals for at least 1-2 days prior to shipping. 3. Attach the USPS Priority Mail Box to a piece of tape. Next, cut 6 pieces of insulation that will fit into the box’s top, bottom and four sides. The top and bottom should completely cover the base of the box. To prevent them from falling, the four sides should be interlocked. Insert the bottom and side insulation pieces into the box.
Styrofoam insulation sheet in shipping box
1. For hotter weather, wrap the icepack in fabric. To prevent condensation, place it in Ziploc bags. If the weather is on the colder side, remove the heat pack from the plastic wrapper. Once the heat pack is confirmed to be warming up, wrap it in a paper bag. 2. Scoop out some water from your fish tank into the specimen container or catch cup. Net out the fish that will be shipped and place them in catch cup. Gas-permeable breathing bags are used for most animals. They allow fresh oxygen to enter the animal and carbon dioxide to leave. Split up the fish into multiple bags or place only one fish per bag to minimize causalities if a bag bursts or a fish dies. Use as much water possible to ensure the fish’s water parameters remain stable and allow for more movement. You can squeeze as much air out of the bag as you like, twist the neck and tie a knot. Attach a rubberband below the knot to loop it around as many times as you can.
Breather bag with no extra air inside, sealed using a knot and rubber band
If you’re shipping betta fish that need air or fish with spines, use regular fish bags. Fill two-thirds of the bag with water and the remaining one-third with air. The first bag should be sealed with a rubber band. Slide it upside-down into the second fish bag. Seal the second bag using a rubber band. – When shipping shrimp, some sellers add a piece of fabric mesh so that shrimp have something to hold onto while in transit.
1. For 10 minutes, place the fish bags onto a towel or newspaper to check for any leaks. If using breather bags, wrap them with a porous material (e.g., paper towels or newspaper) so they won’t touch any nonporous materials that may interfere with gas exchange (e.g., Styrofoam or other plastic bags). 2. Add the cold or heatpack to the box and then the fish bags. Add packing material or a piece of cardboard between the fish bags and the cold or heat pack. This helps to prevent animals from getting too hot or cold. Fill the remaining gaps with packing material so that the contents are snug and the box does not rattle.
Shipping Box with a heatpack in a brown paper bag and two breather bags containing fish.
1. Tape up the box by placing the last piece insulation board on top. Attach the mailing address and “Live Fish” labels to the box, and cover them with packaging tape so they won’t get wet. If necessary, reinforce the box with additional tape strips.
Many fish retailers ship only on Mondays or Tuesdays, so their fish will arrive before Sunday. However, Priority Mail Express and specialty packages are not usually delivered by the USPS. Other sellers choose to drop off their fish on Saturdays because the shipping volume can be a bit lower and mail is still transported over the weekend. To increase your chances of receiving your fish within one to two working days, you may choose to offer Priority Mail Express shipping.
Because of potential delays in shipping (especially during the holiday season), we always use heat packs that last longer than the intended delivery time. If you are mailing live animals during the colder seasons, make sure to include a 72-hour heat pack to keep your fish warm and healthy while in transit.