How Long Can Fish Live In A Bag

I have ordered and shipped fish in bags and containers for many years now. I know a thing or two about how long a fish can live in a bag. I share everything I have learned about how long can fish live in a bag in this article.

How Long Can Fish Live In A Bag

A fish can live in a bag for roughly 2 days. The bag needs to have sufficient oxygen.

Note: Regular atmospheric air in a bag has inadequate oxygen levels. For this reason, fish pet stores normally add pure oxygen into the bag. This goes miles in keeping fish alive as they don’t use atmospheric air.

On top of that, to extend the life of fish inside a bag, you need to expose them to as minimal stress levels as possible. Once you seal the bag, fish tend to consume more oxygen than normal. Therefore, adding oxygen is necessary.

Moreover, they become restless.

Some of the factors that determine how long fish can live in a bag include:

  • Size of the bag
  • Number of fish
  • Size of fish
  • Whether they are packed with room air or oxygen

Another factor is whether the water is treated with something to help your fish with nitrite poisoning. However, this is most common with commercial shippers.

How Long Does It Take For Fish To Die Without Oxygen?

Fish can die within two days of no oxygen.

Here’s what you need to know – when fish happens to be in shallow water, its movement forces water to circulate. This, in turn, helps it to grab some oxygen from the water surface.

Fish can thrive or survive in the shallow water conditions for roughly 2 days. If you only have one fish in the tank, it can live for longer.

In a crowded scenario, competition for oxygen will ensue which leads to depletion. This means that the fish can even die sooner than 2 days.

It is important to note that how long your fish survives without oxygen is dependent on an array of factors. They include:

  • Water condition
  • Number of fish
  • Type of fish

How Long Can Fish Stay In The Pet Store Bag?

Fish can stay alive in a pet store bag for 48 hours.

Some can live for longer if the conditions in the bag are friendly to them. Most pet store owners are quite helpful when it comes to giving you care tips related to the handling of fish in a bag.

Before you step out of the store and head to your home, be sure to ask as many questions are possible.

The last thing you want is to have dead fish upon arrival at home because of the poor handling of the fish bag.

Tropical fish have a shorter time frame since their requirements are different as we shall learn in the next section.

How Long Can Tropical Fish Survive In A Bag

Tropical fish can survive in a bag for 24 hours. Since this fish species need their water to always be at optimum temperatures for them to be comfortable and healthy, if you keep them at these temperatures, they can survive for a long time.

Tropical fish need water temperatures to be between 25 degrees to 27 degrees C. However, this is just general. Different species have specific requirements.

It is wise to always double-check with the pet shop specialist when shopping for specific species of tropical fish.

Once you buy and transport them to your home, mixing them with the cold water types. Having a mixture of the two will be challenging for you in terms of care.

Another thing you need to know about tropical fish is the fact that due to their messy nature, you need an effective and high-quality filtration system to diffuse the high ammonia levels in the tank.

High ammonia levels can be quite toxic if your filtration system is not up to scratch.

Finally, yet importantly, contrary to popular opinion, aquariums for tropical fish are not hard to manage. You only need to control the filtration, lighting, and heating systems and you are good to go.

How Long Can Fish Live In A Ziploc Bag

Your fish should not stay in a Ziplock bag for more than 30 minutes.

Technically, you can transport your fish in a Ziplock bag. However, they can only last for a limited amount of time.

If you opt to transport your fish inside a Ziplock bag, you need to ensure it is not only clean but also does not have any holes.

On top of that, make sure that the bag is the biggest. Finally, yet importantly, strictly put only one fish inside.

Water quality inside the Ziplock bag also determines how well or long your fish survives in the bag.

The downside of Ziplock bags is the fact that they are narrow. This means that with the narrow width, your fish will be restricted in terms of swimming space.

Therefore, transporting your fish in a Ziplock bag is not recommended. The bag you use for fish transportation needs to be round and large to provide them ample space for safety.

Spacious fish transportation bags also offer some cushion if something like an accident happens.

While Ziplock bags are good on their own, their top part might leak water which is a health hazard for your fish. Leaking and poorly designed Ziplock bags might cause air to escape or even leach chemicals into the water thus causing pollution.

Avoid leaving your fish in a Ziplock bag for long as the bag can collapse any time hence resulting in oxygen depletion.

How Long Can Saltwater Fish Stay In Bag

If you are using a Ziplock bag to transport salt-water fish, do not put the fish inside for more than 15 minutes.

Saltwater quickly gets polluted with chemicals that leach from the bag.

Note: Saltwater fish tend to be more sensitive when it comes to tank fluctuations in comparison to freshwater fish. The main reason for this is that in nature, freshwater fish are easily acclimatized to new conditions in their water compared to saltwater fish.

For this reason, you need to exercise the utmost caution when dealing with saltwater fish. For them to survive, you must make sure that their environment is not only stable but also falls within certain parameters.

Some of the favorable conditions for saltwater fish include:

  • Proper salinity levels
  • Appropriate pH levels
  • Low to no nitrites and ammonia

Poor quality of water contributes to infections, immunological weaknesses, and generally poor health.

When dealing with saltwater fish, make sure that you maintain premium water quality by doing the following:

  • Avoid overstocking the aquarium
  • Always add trace minerals
  • Regularly balance the pH
  • Install proper filtration
  • Institute partial water changes from time to time

How Long Can A Fish Live In A Small Container

Fish can live in a small container for 24 – 48 hours if all the necessary requirements for a fish transport container are met.

One way of transporting your fish is in a small container. It needs to be sturdy and with a lid.

Fill it with water from an isolation tank; not tap water. This is very important. The last thing you want is to expose your new friend to chemicals or bacteria from unclean or chemical-laden water.

Ensure the lid is firm and secure in such a way that your fish does not fall out or water does not leak out.

Small containers are handy to transport fish species that feature sharp fins or those that can get out of plastic bags easily.

Make sure that the container you choose for fish transport is big enough to handle the size of the fish as they need adequate space for movement even during transportation.

Although they do not require a ton of room, you need to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

The container, even though small, must have enough oxygen for your fish. This goes miles in making sure that they survive through the journey home and arrive healthily.

The other thing you should avoid doing is putting items inside the container with the fish. Refrain from adding things such as a plant or rock into the container. Adding such items might move around in your journey home and harm your fish.

How Long Do You Leave Fish In Bag Before Putting In Tank

You should leave fish in a bag for not more than 20 minutes before you put it into the tank.

Before you put the fish in the tank, you need to follow a set of steps that’ll ensure the whole process is a success. By following these steps, you will not only maintain the fish’s good health but also make the transition to the tank, less stressful.

Step #1: Once you get your fish from the pet store, it is prudent to keep them in a dark place for your trip home. Most pet store owners put fish in a clear plastic bag for you.

By hiding the world around the fish and keeping things dark, you will mitigate stress on the trip home. Make sure that you get home as quickly and safely as possible.

Avoid running errands with the new pet fish on the way home. Do not panic if you notice your fish has lost color. It is normal.

It will recover its color once you put it into the tank.

Step #2: Once you get home with your fish, place the bag with the fish inside, in your aquarium. Allow it to float without opening it for 15 – 20 minutes.

Step #3: As this happens, you can be re-arranging your tank’s decorations. When you move things around, you break up existing fish territories.

This results in less fighting as new fish find their place in their new small world.

Step #4: Once the 15 – 20 minutes of the bag floating has elapsed; the temperature will have stabilized. By now, the new fish is acclimatized to the aquarium’s temperature.

Note: You should avoid putting water from the bag into the tank.

Cautiously open your bag and get an equal of water from your tank to the bag. A cup is handy in this regard.

After doing that, your bag should have double the amount of water you got from the pet store. Allow the bag to float in the tank for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Ensure the bag’s hood at its edge is tightly closed to prevent it from spilling water contents into the tank.

Step #5: After the additional 15 – 20 minutes have elapsed, your fish should be eager to be removed from the bag and put into the tank. Now is an appropriate time to release them.

As I already aforementioned, make sure that water in the bag does not find its way into the tank. If you have more than one fish in the bag, carefully net each one of them at a time and put them gently into the tank.

Step #6: There you go. Enjoy watching your new friends get used to their new surroundings.

By following the above steps, you can alleviate or eliminate all the stress to your fish.

One of the things I cannot get tired of insisting is to ensure water from the bag does not get into the aquarium or tank. The main reason I keep on harping about this is that pet stores have numerous fish that come in and go out.

This means that fish can easily contract a disease from the water. By exercising the utmost caution and making sure that the store water does not mix with that in your tank, you reduce the risk of your fish contracting a disease.

The lower the number of diseases you have in your tank, the fewer bucks you spend on seeking medication.

How Long Can Fish Live In A Bucket

You should not keep fish in a bucket for more than 3 hours.

Nevertheless, if you have put a water pump that circulates air and water throughout, your fish can survive for several days. Of great importance to note is that the fish not only need air but also filtration.

Your bucket needs not to be closed. Regardless of the type of fish, you are transporting, you should never use a closed container to move them.

Fish cannot survive in a closed container. They don’t have adequate oxygen levels to make the fish survive. This means that your fish cannot survive.

If you choose to transport fish inside a closed container, you can only do it for a limited time. Perhaps not more than 30 minutes – 1 hour.

If you extend this period, your fish will certainly die as conditions become unfavorable for them. For example, pH levels might sharply increase or decrease after some time inside the container.

Because of these reasons, it is prudent to avoid putting your fish inside a closed container for not more than the indicated time-frame.

How Long Can Fish Stay In Shipping Bag

Fish can stay in a shipping bag for 24 – 48 hours provided you follow all the packaging and shipping protocols for fish. We shall look at these protocols and steps in a few.

Proper preparation and bagging of the fish for shipping are necessary if they are to stand any chance of arriving safely and healthy in their destination.

More on proper bagging and preparation later in this article.

However, just to prep you, the accumulation of ammonia is one of the things that kills fish during shipping. You also need to try your best to reduce carbon dioxide levels as much as possible. If possible, make sure the levels are zero.

How Long Can Carnival Fish Live In The Bag

It is prudent to put carnival fish in a bag for not more than 24 – 36 hours.

Just like with other fish species, how you handle your carnival fish from putting it in a bag to when you shall arrive home is highly important to their survival.

Chlorinated tap water, distilled or bottled water, or overly alkaline or acidic water can kill your carnival fish. Therefore, ensure you purchase a solution that not only gets rid of chlorine but also adds minerals or nutrients to the water.

While at it, try your best to maintain the water temperature at roughly 70 degrees. It is also prudent to have a filtering system to eliminate waste that contains toxic ammonia.

How Long Can Fish Live During Shipping?

Fish can survive for 24 – 48 hours during shipping. If you follow all the fish packaging and shipping guidelines I have shared below, your fish can even live for 72 hours.

It all narrows down to how you effectively prepare your fish for shipping.

What I have not mentioned below is that to increase the chances of your fish arriving safe and sound at its destination, you need to be careful at how you handle some things.

For instance, these environmental factors need to be within an acceptable range:

  • Water quality
  • Temperature
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Oxygen
  • Ammonia/nitrogenous waste


The fact that fish are cold-blooded means that they can’t regulate their body temperature. They pick the temperatures of the surroundings.

As I aforementioned, the best thing to do is to ship them at temperatures lower than their normal or optimal. This goes miles to slow down their metabolism.

Doing so also reduces the rate at which the other environmental factors wane in the box.

Carbon Dioxide

Fish produce carbon dioxide through respiration. When put in a shipping bag, carbon dioxide levels can reach toxic levels.

Since carbon dioxide in water is acidic, it reduces the water pH level. This can be lethal and stressful to your fish if you do not take measures.

You can minimize the nasty effects of carbon dioxide by adding buffers.

Effective management of carbon dioxide can also be managed by:

  • Reducing fish biomass inside the bag
  • Avoiding feeding the fish 24 hours before shipping
  • Lessening the shipping time
  • Reducing fish metabolism by maintaining lower temperatures


When shipping fish, one thing that is necessary to have is dissolved oxygen. Because oxygen amounts are limited during the shipping of fish, it is important that you maximize it during shipment.

A great way to achieve this is by opting for pure oxygen rather than atmospheric air. Just like with the other environmental factors, it is necessary that you reduce the shipping time as much as possible.

Ammonia/Nitrogenous Waste

Through their gill membrane, fish excrete ammonia to eliminate nitrogenous waste from their bodies. An effective way of managing this waste during fish shipment is by making sure that you do the following:

  • Reduce fish biomass inside the bagAvoid feeding the fish 24 hours before shipping
  • Lessen the shipping time
  • Reduce fish metabolism by maintaining lower temperatures
  • Add a substance to the water to get rid of ammonia

Water Quality

The quality of water you use to ship fish is highly important. It affects all the other environmental factors.

Fortunately, if you manage them properly, water quality parameters can be optimum.

Is It Safe To Ship Fish?

Yes, it is safe to ship fish. However, you must do it the right way.

If you have plans of buying or selling live fish outside your local area, it is necessary that you learn not only how to bag but also how to ship them.

It is important that you have the right supplies, and prepare your fish for travel. You also need to learn how to correctly bag and box your fish.

By following the right steps, a significant majority if not all of the fish will get to their destination in good health.

Steps To Ship Fish The Right Way

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is have the right bags and boxes tailored for fish transport. Plastic bags as already know are the best for this. Your choice of the plastic bag needs to feature flat bottoms when full.

On top of that, ensure the bag is 3 – 4 mils thick.

You can also opt for fish shipping containers. They must have inner Styrofoam boxes and sturdy cardboard outer boxes.

Once you have your bag and boxes (they are available in different sizes), it is now time to embark on fish packaging for transport. Experts recommend that you put one fish in each bag.

The best thing to do is choose a bag or container that is three times wider as your fish’s average length. As for the box, settle for a box size depending on the number of fish you’re shipping.

Step 2

The second step entails placing your fish inside an isolation tank for 24 – 48 hours. During this period, you are not supposed to feed them. This reduces the amount of waste from the fish during transportation.

Ensure the water in the tank is set at the fish’s ideal water temperature.

A filter and aerator are handy at helping you keep the water oxygen-rich and clean. During the isolation period, you need to be on the lookout for any signs of diseases.

The last thing you want is to ship diseased fish particularly if you are transporting it to a paying client.

Another thing you need to do during the isolation period is to regulate the water temperature. During the period, gradually reduce the water temperature to the fish breed’s lower healthy lower limit.

By doing this, you will reduce their metabolism meaning they shall produce less waste and carbon dioxide and consume less oxygen.

Step 3

The third step entails bagging your fish or putting them into a container. Remember the isolation tank had water?

Scoop some of that water and fill your bag with it. The amount of water should just be enough to sustain your fish during the journey. Ensure you leave some room for free movement of the fish.

Try your best to leave ample room for oxygenated air inside the bag. After putting water into the bag, take the fish inside an aquarium fish net and put it into the bag.

When scooping the fish from the tank into the bag, do so in steady movements rather than jerking motions. These might frighten the fish.

Step 4

Now it is time to add pure oxygen into your bag (s). Have a canister of condensed oxygen? It should be handy when it comes to inflating your bag once you have added fish and water.

Doing this provides both the fish and water with oxygen that is necessary over the journey.

If you do not have a canister, a hand pump can be handy to do the same thing. However, in this case, what you will be filling the bag is room air.

It is sufficient to sustain your fish for 2 – 3 days at most.

Note: Refrain from inflating your bag by exhaling into as if it is a balloon. Doing this only fills it with carbon dioxide. Chances of your fish surviving the shipping journey are next to nil with carbon dioxide inside the bag.

Step 5

In this step, the first thing you need to do is secure your bag’s top as tightly as possible with rubber bands. After you have done that, fold the flap over the bag’s top as you continue wrapping and twisting the rubber band over the flap.

Do this as many times as possible. To further enhance the security of the bag, add a 2nd and 3rd rubber band.

Although just one high-quality bag will get the job done, you are on the safer side by quadruple-bagging your fish. It is prudent to secure the tops of the additional bags once you have sealed the primary bag.

Step 6

Now that you have your fish properly sealed in a bag, they are ready for shipping. You must use a shipping company whose policy accepts live animal shipments.

Refrain from being cunning and try to sneak an unlabeled box just to save money. Just be straight and honest upfront and notify the company of your plans to ship live animals.

The U.S Postal Service does not have any issues with live fish shipments provided you follow all their labeling and packaging requirements.

Note: FedEx does not ship live fish. Nonetheless, you might benefit from their business-to-business service via their Live Animal Desk.

Step 7

If possible, pay for express/overnight shipping. In terms of fish shipping, you need to take as little time as possible. Although paying for overnight shipping tends to be costlier, it offers your fish a higher chance of arriving in great health.

You should work with your shipper to arrange as few layovers and transfers as possible. If you have plans of shipping the fish through the air at any point, you need to plan for some climate-controlled storage in the air journey.

You stand to enjoy impressive results if your fish arrives at their destination within 24 hours after packaging. 48 hours might be risky but can turn out to be okay.

Longer shipping time than this can become dicer.

There you go, that is how you bag and ship your fish like a professional!

Final Words

If you are an aqua-culturist like myself, carrying fish in bags or containers is a familiar thing. We are always ordering fish online or buying from the local pet store.

Because of this, learning how to properly handle your fish in a bag is highly important. The last thing you want is to spend your hard-earned money buying fish only for it to arrive at home dead or sick.

In this article, I have shared almost everything you need to know about proper fish care as you ship or transport yours in a bag.

We have established that while different factors affect how long fish can live in a bag, their average survival time or period is 2 days.

It can be longer if you adhere to all the things and tips I have highlighted above.

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