How to Transport Fish When Moving

Moving with fish may seem like a difficult challenge. Fish thrive in tanks that mimic their natural environment, with controlled temperatures and oxygen levels. They’re also extremely sensitive to changes in their surroundings. Placing them into a container, away from the plants and toys they’re accustomed to, generally triggers a stress response that can lead to health issues. But while it takes a bit of effort and a few supplies, getting your fish safely to your new home is relatively straightforward. For pet owners planning a relocation, here is how to transport fish when moving.

Gather Supplies

This is the most important step when moving with fish. Preparation is the key to their wellbeing. To keep them safe, you’ll need:

  • Several five gallon buckets
  • Poly plastic bags
  • Packing tape or duct tape
  • Fish net
  • Siphon hose
  • Air pump (for long distance moves)

Poly plastic bags come in different sizes, depending on what type of fish you own. Large fish should have their own bag, but it's safe to transport up to ten fish together in the same bag. However, you'll need a bag designed for a very large fish to hold that many.

Prepare Your Fish for Travel

Once you have the supplies assembled, it’s time to move your fish into their transport containers. This is one of the few tasks that should be saved until moving day. Wake up early, before the movers arrive, to start getting everything ready.

There are two ways of transporting fish: bags and buckets. Bags are best suited to short trips, while buckets are better for long ones. Fish breathe by absorbing oxygen through their gills. Because a small container of water only holds a small amount of dissolved oxygen, you’ll need an air pump to move your fish more than a few hours away.

Since it’s easier to fit a pump onto a bucket than a bag, they’re definitely the best option for cross-country trips (the largest poly plastic bags only have around six hours of oxygen). If you decide to use a bucket, make sure you buy ones with detachable lids. Otherwise, the water may spill out when you stop or change speeds.

Transporting Fish in Plastic Bags

Roll the top of the bag two-thirds of the way down. This gives it buoyancy. Fill the bag with water from the tank, then leave it floating on the surface while you scoop the fish inside with the fish net. Once you’re done, unroll the bag to its full height and tie off the top with an end knot or double it back and secure it with a rubber band. By the time you’re finished, the bag should be roughly one-third water and two-thirds air.

Fish hide when they’re anxious, so it’s not uncommon for them to swim into the bottom corners when you put them inside a bag, which can be a problem if your fish has spines or rigid dorsal fins. To prevent them from puncturing the plastic, buy ones with rounded edges. If you can’t find any, you can round them yourself by taping them down with packing tape or double bagging.

Double bagging also adds an extra layer of protection, which is why it’s preferred by many pet owners. Lay the first bag on its side and slide the second bag over it, starting from the top. That way, the second bag not only rounds off the edges, but helps keep the first bag tightly sealed.

Transporting Fish in Buckets

Because even small amounts of chemical residue can upset your fish, it’s best to transport them in brand new buckets, so they're as clean as possible. Start by siphoning water from your tank into the bucket until it’s about one third full. (To ensure their environment is as comfortable as possible during the trip, always use water from the tank.) Then scoop out the fish, put them inside, and continue siphoning water until the bucket is roughly three-quarters full.

Though it’s safe to transport multiple fish in one bucket, don’t put fish that don’t school together into the same container. After the fish are secure, drill a hole through each of the lids and thread the hose for the air pump. You’ll want to use an air stone to hold the tube to the bottom, so do this before snapping the lids into place. After the buckets have been secured, tape the air pump to the side of the bucket and switch it on, to start replenishing the oxygen in the water.

Since you won’t be able to clean the bag or bucket during the move, don’t feed your fish for a couple of days ahead of time. Fish can survive up to a week without food, so they won’t be in any danger. Add a few drops of detoxifier as well (experts recommend AMMO Lock), to neutralize any waste expelled during the trip.

Prepare Your Tank

Fish tanks require almost as much care as the fish themselves. Fortunately, packing a fish tank doesn’t require anything you can’t find at a local hardware store. Start by purchasing:

  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam insulation board
  • Packing paper
  • Packing peanuts
  • Packing tape
  • Five gallon buckets
  • Resealable plastic bags or containers
  • Large and small moving boxes

Siphon the rest of the water into the buckets. The amount you need depends on the size of the tank. Don’t dump out any water if you can help it. Save it to reuse when you get to your new home. If there are any plants inside the tank, put them in the bucket as well. Any pebbles should be scooped out and stored in a plastic bag or container. Toys should be washed and dried, then given a layer of bubble wrap and placed in a moving box with plenty of packing paper or packing peanuts.

Once you’ve finished draining the tank, wipe it down with a sponge and some clean water (no soap) before drying it off. Roll up the lid in bubble wrap and set it aside. Then cut a piece of foam insulation and place it on the bottom of the tank. Fill the tank with towels or packing paper and cover it in bubble wrap as well. Finally, place it in a large moving box, cushioned with lots of packing paper and packing peanuts on the bottom and sides. You don’t want it shifting around during transit. Tape the box shut and label it, indicating clearly which side is up.

Unpack Your Aquarium Right Away

Most moving vans aren’t temperature controlled, so fish should travel in the same car as their owners. Once you arrive at the new house, the aquarium should be the first thing you set up. Like most pets, fish don’t enjoy travel containers, so the sooner you get them back into their tank, the happier they’ll be.

Hire a Professional Moving Service

North American is a full-service moving company, with the skills, resources, and experience to ship fragile and important items, like aquariums. We tailor plans to your household, letting you choose which services best suit your needs, schedule, and budget. No matter how great the challenge, we’ll find a solution. Contact us today for a free estimate!