How to Pack and Move Fish and Aquariums

Discover the easiest and most effective ways to move fish to a new home.

Moving fish and other aquatic life can be a real challenge, but by no means is this an impossible feat. Not only do you have to make sure the fish are kept alive but you’ve got to protect the tank, and filtration equipment from being damaged. For these reasons you should highly consider selling your fish and tank and starting over when you get to your new place. It’s common for some fish to die during moves, due to the stressful conditions and occasional accidents. While it’s expensive, there are companies that specialize in transporting fish, and some pet shops will even store your fish and air mail them to you at a requested date. But if you want to move your swimming critters yourself, here’s some advice.

Start by Planning

Transporting fish requires planning. They should be among the last things you pack and first things you open. You don’t want them out of the tank any longer then they possibly have to be. Thick, clear plastic bags are the most common way to transport live fish, but for longer moves or larger fish use buckets with tight sealing lids. You’ll want to have the aquarium and filtration equipment set up as soon as possible so you can get the fish into their new home before they are too stressed.

Packing the Fish

Start by siphoning water from your tank into the container you’ll use to transport the fish. If your tank contains plants put a few of these in the container as well. When using plastic bags it’s a good idea to first lay the bag flat and layer the bottom half with duct tape to help strengthen the back and prevent leaks. Fill the bag with more than enough water to cover the fish. It should have enough water to move around in any direction and stay under water in the transport vehicle hits a bump. If using a bucket fill the bucket one half to one third of the way full. Make sure at least a fourth to half of the bag is filled with air. Seal the back by rolling the top then taping it with duct tape. Tape the lid of the bucket to prevent leaks.

There are some chemicals you can purchase and put in the water that will decrease the stress level of the fish. Don’t worry about putting food in the container. Fish won’t eat when they are stressed and hopefully the won’t be in the container more than two days.

Pack the bag or bucket into an insulated box. A cardboard box lined with thick foam works well. If you’re moving during cold or cool months, consider purchasing a heating pack. Make sure the bag or bucket fits tightly into the box and mark the top of the box so it doesn’t get turned upside down or laid on its side.

Packing the Aquarium

Drain the aquarium then unplug and detach all filtration equipment. If you have a short trip and a freshwater tank leave enough water to cover the gravel bed and landscaping. If you’ve got a long way to travel and/or a saltwater tank then remove the gravel bed and put all aquatic plants in water filled bags, using the same water they were in. If you decide to remove everything from the tank go ahead and clean it.

Use assistance when transporting large aquariums, being sure to keep it as level as possible and protecting the panels. Even slight movement or twists of the panels can break the watertight seal between them. Don’t stack anything in or on top of your aquarium that could damage or scratch the glass.

Settling In

As soon as possible, fill your aquarium with water, add the proper chemicals (or salt for saltwater tanks) to remove chlorine. Allow the water to get to the proper temperature for your fish then test it to make sure it’s suitable for your critters. Gently place your fish into the aquarium as soon as the water is ready.

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