View Full Version : Acclimating after Shipping?

11-13-2008, 2:23 PM
So, I always acclimate my fish by placing their bag in my aquarium bucket and running a slow drip line to it.

I recently ordered some fish online, and the sent an e-mail explaining how to acclimate the fish when they arrive, and they said to NEVER mix bag water and aquarium water. And that I should just net the fish and dump them in. I posted part of the e-mail below. What are everyone's thoughts on this? Should I do what is described?

Gently pour off most of the water from the bag through a net. Then release the fish from the bag directly into the aquarium. Another good method uses a plastic container with sieve holes in the bottom (a smooth plastic spaghetti strainer with small holes works great). Gently scoop or release the fish into the container, drain the water and place the fish immediately into the aquarium. Large specimens can often be simply hand placed into the aquarium. If these methods are not applicable, place a large net over the top of a clean container with enough water to cover approximately a third of the bottom of the net. Open the bag and carefully pour some of the fish into the net and immediately place them directly into the aquarium. Try to avoid a net full of fish as they will ball up in the net, and the ones underneath can be damaged from compression and friction. Remember that water from the bag may react with the water from the aquarium, and could be very harmful. Never mix bag and aquarium water! That evening feed a very small meal and over the next few days slowly up the feed.

Like other animals, fish produce carbon dioxide as they breathe. When carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, an acid is formed, lowering the pH of the water just like in a carbonated beverage. Fish also produce ammonia, which can be very damaging. Ammonia is present in water as NH3 or as NH4+, or as a combination of these forms. The toxic form of ammonia is NH3. The proportion of NH3 versus NH4+ is dependent on pH. The lower the pH, the lower the amount of NH3, and the greater the proportion of the less damaging NH4+. In the wild, freshwater fish naturally experience wide changes in pH.

One of the reasons fish are able to be shipped long distances in closed bags is because the pH in the shipping water drops, making the ammonia non-toxic. The carbon dioxide acts as a tranquilizer. The moment the bag is opened, and exposed to the outside air, carbon dioxide escapes, the pH of the water immediately begins to rise, and ammonia becomes deadly. Fish tissue damage will then occur very quickly. NEVER add water from a shipping bag into your aquarium, as you do not want all that harmful ammonia in your aquarium. NEVER add water from your aquarium into the shipping bag. Acclimate the temperature by floating the bag in the aquarium water, and then immediately open the bag and release the fish into the aquarium, minimizing the introduction of the bag water, however, read further along before making that decision.

What About Temperature Acclimation?

Temperature acclimation, in fishes, typically takes 10 days or more. That means that whether the temperature of the water a fish is increased slowly over a period of 20 minutes to 1 hour or is done almost instantly, the fish still requires several days to acclimate to the temperature change. It is also a fact that rapid temperature changes which occur in a fish’s environment are stressful.

In a shipping bag all kinds of stressful changes occur. First, the temperature typically changes, and often, by more than just a couple of degrees. Secondly, the fishes excrete ammonia (NH3) and carbon dioxide (CO2) from their gills during respiration. Thirdly, the pH changes; typically it drops, and solid particles from feces can accumulate. The water in the shipping bags is polluted by the inhabitants.

Also, due to the fact that there will always be small amounts of dissolved and suspended organics in the bag water there will also be an increase in the bacterial count. Many, in not most, of these bacteria can be pathogenic (disease-causing).

****** uses Ship Right (http://www.junglelabs.com/pages/details.asp?item=J032-9)to relieve the physical stress the fishes suffer when netted prior to packing and to replace any damaged skin slime (which always happens when fishes are handled with nets) and remove ammonia from the water during shipping.

Given the conditions which typically occur in a shipping bag, even with proper treatment of the water as ******** does, there will still be conditions in the bag at the time of receipt that requires getting the fishes out of the bag and into their receiving tanks as soon as possible.

One should keep in mind that not floating the bag of water is not the entire story. One should get the fishes out of the bag’s water and into the aquarium environment in which the fishes will be maintained as quickly as possible. This means that dumping the contents of the bag into a bucket or other container and slowly adding water from the aquarium is not much better than simply floating the bags. Similarly, one should not adjust the pH in the bag to match the aquarium and one should not adjust the pH in the aquarium to match that of the bag.

It is, therefore, not logical to expose the fishes to the conditions inside the bag any longer than necessary. Floating a bag of fishes means that the water in the bag usually increases in temperature (especially if the fishes have been shipped during the winter months). A temperature increases of just 5ºC means that the un-ionized (toxic) ammonia level in the bag will increase by almost 34%! In saltwater that same temperature increase will lead to a nearly 40% increase in the toxic ammonia content.

Increasing the water temperature also increases the fishes’ metabolism. That means their oxygen consumption increases, their respiration rate increases and the amount of ammonia and carbon dioxide being released into the bag’s water increases.

In general, then, floating a bag of fishes simply means that the conditions inside the bag are made worse rather than better.

**** Is where I changed the company name.

11-13-2008, 2:27 PM
I know I have always heard you should not float a breather bag. As far as just dumping them in the tank I think it is a BAD idea, especially with many inverts. Not mixing tank water and shipping water is meant that you shouldn't dump the shipping water directly into your tank. I am sure others will join in the discussion but I would go with the drip acclimation, that's the way I do it too:)

11-13-2008, 2:29 PM
I never float the bags either. I think my drip method handles the temperature acclimation just fine.

I don't plan on dumping the bag water into my tank either. However, they seem to be saying that I shouldn't drip line because the ammonia will become "deadly" in the bag water. That's the part I am unsure about...

11-13-2008, 2:50 PM
While I do know folks that use the dump-it-in-quick method, it is definately a method that is rarely advocated. If the livestock was obviously about to crump anyway from horrific bag conditions, that's one thing. But generally, the the gradual mix of water as the bag floats or the add water to a bucket or drip method are the way to go. The affects of the ammonia build up begin to be dissapated as fresh tank water is introduced. Obviously all acclimation water should not be added to the tank. For my marine fish and inverts, I definately take it slower.

Overall, most fish are pretty tough, and adding a little more water every few minutes for about a half-hour or so will do it for both temperature and water condition acclimation. Once I get to about 80% water change in the bag/Bucket, I introduce the fish to the tank. I can count the fish I have lost using this method over the past 40 years on one hand, with plenty of fingers to spare.

11-13-2008, 2:53 PM
Thanks. I'm thinking I will stick to my usual method.

They are pygmy cories....so I know they don't ship well, and can be really sensitive. :( Keep your fingers crossed for me!

11-13-2008, 2:55 PM
Yeah, Best way imo is to add some Prime or similar conditioner to the bag as soon as you get it, then use the drip method.

11-13-2008, 2:57 PM
I call that the 'drop and plop' acclimation.

works for freshwater fish. marine fish however, maybe a bit different as the tds may vary from bag and be a problem if the tank SG is higher than the bag.

11-13-2008, 3:01 PM
Oooo, I usually don't add prime to the bag. Since, I think of prime just as a chlorine/chlormine killer....but it also reduces ammonia too, doesn't it? I'll try that then. Good idea.

11-13-2008, 3:03 PM
Yup, Prime handles ammonia, plus nitrite and nitrates too.

11-15-2008, 9:29 PM
Actually, if you have a bag of fish that has been in shipment for a while, many shippers would recommend a plop and drop approach. It is not at all the same kind of water chemistry that you deal with when you bring fish home an hour after they were bagged. In the case of shipping, there is very little water for each fish in the bag, the fish has been in that small amount of water for at least a day or two and the text message you put in the original posting makes sense in that context. The shipping water is very likely to be seriously degraded by the time you get the fish and if you are not careful the CO2 that is holding down the pH will come out of solution and the water will become quite toxic. You don't want your new fish in the water when that happens.

J double R
11-16-2008, 12:19 AM
yeah.. definitely follow the "drop n plop" instructions, the risk of toxicity is just too great from drip acclimation (for fish that have been shipped).

11-16-2008, 2:01 AM
its one thing often people miss..... lower ph water the ammnoia isnt as toxic as high ph water. old man has it right in that case. a lot of people also just flush it meaning adding a lot of water quickly so they are dumping out the ammonia water and very quickly adding new water.

11-19-2008, 4:48 AM
its one thing often people miss..... lower ph water the ammnoia isnt as toxic as high ph water. old man has it right in that case. a lot of people also just flush it meaning adding a lot of water quickly so they are dumping out the ammonia water and very quickly adding new water.

wouldn't this put the fish into shock though? Or is it less serious than the toxic conditions that would be brought on by drip acclimation?

11-19-2008, 5:37 AM
No. pH shock is a myth. Osmotic shock exists, so you've got to watch for big GH differences, but pH is not an issue.

I wrote about this a couple of days ago on this thread: http://www.aquariacentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=173230

11-19-2008, 6:12 AM
Plop and drop definitely. I know that just about all of the discus keepers do the same thing just because during shipping, the ammonia levels just get too toxic, and once you open the bag, things only get worse.

I temp acclimate them for 15 minutes and then plop and drop. Have done so with 19 discus so far. I always acclimated other fish in the past, but will plop and drop them in the future.

11-19-2008, 7:11 AM
This is very informative. I've never received fish in the mail before but I'm planning on buying some online after the first of the year. I'm glad I read this otherwise I would have treated them just like the fish I get from the LFS

11-19-2008, 12:31 PM
I was wondering when someone was going to mention what happens when you open a shipped bag... As soon as fresh air hits that bag, the water becomes TOXIC! If anyone has ever taken water samples from a shipped bag, you can see why shippers to not advocate the drip method. Ammonia is typically 9 or greater. My test set doesn't go any higher, so I really can't be sure how high it is. The low PH in the bag water keeps the ammonia at a less toxic state. Basically you are trying to match temperature as best you can. Floating for an hour gives the temperature bump. With the CO2 in the bag keeping the water at a low PH, it shouldn't hurt the fish by adding it right to your tank after an hour of temp acclimation. The PH in your tank may be a little higher, but a bump up in PH is much better that a drop in PH.

11-19-2008, 12:35 PM
what about with breather bags where there is gas exchange?

11-19-2008, 12:44 PM
a lot of people also just flush it meaning adding a lot of water quickly so they are dumping out the ammonia water and very quickly adding new water.

This is how I deal with shipped fish.

11-19-2008, 2:21 PM
Very informative posts.

11-19-2008, 5:13 PM
what about with breather bags where there is gas exchange?

Likely to be worse; there's less CO2 to depress the pH and keep the ammonia safe.