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How I Ship Fish

Fish Folk

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I’m going to share my process for shipping aquarium fish. I’m a novice, with lots to learn. I gladly welcome your perspectives, critique, etc.

Let me say first off… I do not think it is reasonably possible for a mere hobbyist (like me) to make a lot of money this way. Keep your day-job! For every 1-gallon of water, I think I easily spend $10 / year. That’s $1,000 into a 10-gal. aquarium after 10-years. I don’t think you can easily recover that unless you are utterly dedicated to making a profession of this. I’m not.

But I am addicted to _breeding_ fish. Which means I need a way to effectively sell them. To sell, I use a variety of means. But here’s how I pack and ship. This will be the first of a number of posts on this thread this week and next.

(1) I use USPS Priority Mail boxes. You get these free at your P.O. and pay when you ship. For this first box, I use a medium-sized box.


I’ll try to add more here after a while.

Edited by Fish Folk
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I never actually had success selling anything online so I've never shipped, but I've always wondered what the best method is to insulate the packages. The foam boxes from U-Line blow whatever $1 profit you might get immediately. Ever used like half inch rigid foam from a hardware store? Seems like a cheap way to go about it. What do you use?

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On 2/16/2022 at 12:20 AM, Rory Waliser said:

I never actually had success selling anything online so I've never shipped, but I've always wondered what the best method is to insulate the packages. The foam boxes from U-Line blow whatever $1 profit you might get immediately. Ever used like half inch rigid foam from a hardware store? Seems like a cheap way to go about it. What do you use?

Yes! I use 3/4-inch panel foam / DIY insulation kit. 6-pieces, 13 5/8” x 48” for $10.00 (Lowes).

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So here I am cutting 3/4 inch panel foam to create an insulated lining. This is semi porous enough to allow _some_ air exchange. Plus I don’t typically seal it all up, so air can make it in. But the heat pack(s) still pump enough heat into to box to keep water semi-warm in winter.

I tape the box carefully. All seams taped, but corners left untaped  barely.


I measure and cut a foam bottom.



Then cut the sides. I create a little Tetris-style interlocking pattern. This keeps it from collapsing in on fish bags.







Bottom pushed down…


Sides pushed down…


Top cut and fitted…


Once the box is taped up, pressure holds this design together.

Edited by Fish Folk
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On 2/16/2022 at 10:04 AM, Fish Folk said:

Then cut the sides. I create a little Tetris-style interlocking pattern. This keeps it from collapsing in on fish bags.

This is very clever!  I’ve not seen this before, but this extra step alone would make me a repeat buyer.

Edited by Odd Duck
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When the day comes to ship fish, I move  them into breeder nets if they are small enough. Sometimes, I catch them the day / night beforehand to make sure I don’t run into a time crisis with catching…




Next I label my breather bags…



Then I siphon exactly 2-cups of water from the tank, using a small fine pre-uplift sponge to keep duckweed, algae, etc. to a minimum.



This 2-cups I add to a clean specimen container…


Then I add just a few drops of Kordon Amquel


Next, I catch the fish from the breeder net, abs move the the prepared specimen container…


From here, I pour into the breather bag…


I try to get the air out of the bag, since the respiration happens through the plastic specially designed to let Oxygen in, abs CO2 out.





A rubber band _under_ the knot adds a layer of security…


I’ll explain boxing in a future followup! 

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Today, I am packing up some German Blue Rams to sell. Very tricky to successfully get these to buyers in the cold weather.

First, I move the fish to be sold into a safe iso container to easily catch the evening before, since I have planted / structure-filled tanks. I never want to be up against a clock trying to net fish from a busy tank the day of shipping.


I also prepare the shipping items…


Bags are carefully pre-labeled…


Box is built, styro cut (I still have the walls and cap to add here)…


And the heat pack(s) are readied. Because these fish are very susceptible to the cold, I am using 2x heat packs. There is risk here. I will explain that more in the next posts.


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Ok. Here’s the blow-by-blow on packing up these Rams. I’m shipping 2x pairs today. Ready? Here we go…

(1) I lay out my two uni-heat, 72-hr slow release heat packs. Normally I use only one, but it is cold, I’m shipping north, the weather is looking dodgy, and these are Rams. You must, must, must get these going for 1-hr _outside_ the box before shipping because the chemical reaction uses the _most_ oxygen in the first hour.


(2) Start a timer…


(3) When the pack is getting warm (30-45 mins) slip it into a paper bag. Stay mindful of the side with the red line. Keep that pointing away from the styro.


Tape to the bottom.


(4) Now, I add a piece of filter foam to keep direct heat off of bags. Probably overdoing it…



(5) Next, I put paper towel balls in the corners for padding.


(6) Now I catch and bag the fish (as described above) 



Note: I like using colored rubber bands for males / females

(7) I wrap the fish in paper towel.


Place that in a corner.


Repeat for all four fish, and make a paper towel ball between each bag against the sides.


Finally a large ball in the middle…


And two pieces over the top…


(8) Now, I put the 2nd heat pack in a paper bag, tape to the inside top, and close up the lid.



(9) I print out a shipping notice with basic info on the fish, how we keep them, and how to breed them.


(10) Very important, I also print out acclimation instructions for the fish — especially important with breather bags.


(11) Now the box is carefully taped shut. I do leave corners open so air can breathe.


(12) Finally, I always have a sheet printed out “Fragile / This way Up” — and tape these around all sides, and on top.



Ready to go to the P.O.


Edited by Fish Folk
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Your packaging looks great and what a thorough and well thought out process! I think the only thing I would suggest (if I may) is to add another label that specifically says "tropical fish inside" 

When I had snails delivered, my mailman made sure I was home so it wouldn't be sitting out in the cold. I know a label wouldn't guarantee a mindful delivery, but it might make a difference.

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Box is now in the mail. I send the buyer something like this:



Your fish are on the way! 

USPS Tracking# ________________

Shipped to:

[Buyer’s address]

Live fish should not be left outside once delivered. Acclimation instructions are included. The Rams are in breather bags which should not be immersed in water to temperature acclimate.

Hoping for the best!

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  • 2 months later...

@Fish Folk very excellent job  & very interesting  My Mom use to make jewelry  i use to do here online shop and shipping   i could imagine doing fish or plants and have to get to the customer alive and well  way more details then jewelry 

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