Transporting aquarium fish

It sometimes happens that you need transport fish further than a room away. To relocate your fish on longer distances, you have to take into account some safety requirements. It does not have to be always unpleasant for your fish but you need to follow some rules to reduce the risks associated with transporting fish.

This can be harder if it is your first fish tank. Imagine yourself being already in the pet store, buying future inhabitants. If you hadn't prepared yourself before and you don't have any experience, this could result in quite a big challenge.

a fish in a plastic bag

Plan carefully

First of all, a new home for your fish need to be prepared. There is no option that your fish are going to wait in a plastic bag many hours until you do all the chores around the aquarium.

Moreover, if this is your first fish tank, we strongly encourage you to read about the basics of setting up the aquarium, including the filtration, fertilization, nitrogen cycle, substrates etc. In a nutshell, if you plan to pour tap water to the aquarium, then add plants and fish it's the worst idea ever. Don't do it unless you want to see them dying.

Can you transport your fish safely in a plastic bag?

Probably you are familiar with the view of somebody carrying a plastic bag with fish inside or at least you watched a popular movie about a fish father who wants to find his son. There were some scenes in which plastic bags were involved.

But these looks can be quite deceiving. Those things mustn't be normal plastic bags that we use at grocery stores to carry vegetables or fruits. Even though they are similar, there are two huge differences: the classic ones do not have leak-proof guarantee and you can't be sure what material they are made of. It is easy to break it up or overlook a hole in it. By the time you reach your final destination, there will not be much water left. Moreover, some low quality plastic bags from a regular shop may release harmful toxins upon contact with water. Not to mention that larger fish with sharp fins can easily damage it.

These are the exact reasons why you can find a special plastic bag at your local pet store. It is made of a material that keep fish safe. It has also got rounded edges. It prevents a fish from stucking in a sharp corner.

fish in plastic bags

What do I need to know when transporting fish in plastic bags?

Let's face the truth, a fish bag is not an ideal environment and most fish won't be happy because of that. However, there are some ways to make it more bearable.

First of all, if there are multiple fish, you will need more fish bags to do it. It is wise to keep large fish separately and the smallest ones can be kept in groups up to 10 individuals depending on their size.

During the journey, except for the water, the next thing that fish need is oxygen. Fish bags should be filled from 1/3 to 1/2 of capacity with water and the rest should be oxygen. More water is not necessary. If there is possibility, pure oxygen is the best choice and fish will be able to breathe without problems.

Moreover, the same bag should be whenever possible kept in one position. For God's sake do not put the fish bags into the car's trunk or the back seat. Uncontrolled bags will move and flip over. Try to transport your fish with another person that will keep them safely.

In addition to that, a kind of a sealed container would be useful to keep it steady.

Are plastic bags the best solution to transport fish?

No matter what, do not use buckets as an option to transport fish. After hard braking, all the water will spill out or some too curious fish will jump out. It's the worst idea.

If you transport fish on short distances, there is no need to purchase other equipment than plastic bags. However, if you have to cover a long distance, a transport container is required especially when you transport fish in winter or summer. Fish's water must not have high water temperature fluctuations because they can't stand this. Plastic bags have such a small capacity that can overheat or cool down really fast.

In this case, the best choice is an insulated container. Fortunately, you don't need to buy anything, a simple picnic cooler will be fine for this project. A sturdy container made of styrofoam will work too.

In the aquarium trade, there are other options available too. For instance, small containers with water tight lid. They enable you to abandon plastic bags and transport fish in a small tank.

a fish in a plastic bag

How to transport other supplies?

This is simpler than moving fish. Firstly, if you want to place decorations in your aquarium and you have already bought some, use the bubble wrap and a rubber band and that's all- ready to go.

When it comes to live plants, it is recommended to keep them in the aquarium water in i.g. a bucket. Try to submerge them to avoid drying out during the transportation.


Here comes the last part of our journey. No matter, which method you have used, remember that it is not wise to just drop your fish into the tank water- a sudden change in water temperature and parameters could kill them.

Instead of that, if you have used plastic bags, you should put the entire bag in the aquarium. You don't do it for your fish to meet its room mates... but who knows? You do it to adapt the temperature gradually. You can also add a glass of water into the bag, wait some time and finally introduce your fish to the new home.

If you have used transport containers, you should replace the water progressively.


Whether which method you have chosen to transport fish, bear in mind that that is almost impossible to make it stress free for fish. Try to take as little time as you can to do it. To provide more comfort for your fish you can dim the lights. This can help to reduce the stress a little bit.

Fish are not the best travelers but it doesn't mean that you have to leave them behind when you relocate. If you plan everything carefully, you will keep your fish healthy for the whole trip.

a fish tank