Problems with shipping fish?

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FreshyFresh

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I started a thread last week or so with my experience in regards to buying some fish online. It was the first time I had ever purchased fish by mail order and I was blown away by the speed and efficiency of this particular transaction. The seller had the fish in the USPS's hands by 0930 on a Wednesday and they made it to me, ~1200 miles away by ~11am on Thursday. Per the tracking info, actual transit time was like 12hrs from the time they left the seller's USPS to my doorstep.

Fast forward to today... Not so much..

I ordered 5 gold barbs from the same seller on the 12th. The seller had some delays and there was a Monday holiday, so they didn't ship until the 19th. The seller used FedEx this time and the fish have been in transit over 3 days at this point and still somewhere many states away in transit.

I realize a lot of it depends on how they're packaged, but could they still make it? I'll feel horrible if they come DOA. The seller said they'll refund / replace if that winds up being the case.

What are your good / bad experiences with live goods mail ordering?
 
Apr 2, 2002
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I have shipped fish for many years. I mostly now only ship rarely as I hate the work. But, how long fish can survive in transit depends on a lot of things. I live in New York about 35 miles NNE of NYC. Years ago I used the USPS to ship fish. I will no longer use them for this. However, Years back when I kept BN plecos they spawned like mad and I had to ship lots of them all over.

In early April one year I sent a box of BN to Alaska. For some reason it was delayed and arrived in just over 4 days in transit. All the fish were alive. A couple of years ago I sent a box of 20 zebra plecos to Texas via USPS. By then FedEX was moving most sucj packages for the USPS. An accident in a Chicago area facilty fropped a barrel of toxic chemical which broke open and anything in the facility stayes there for an additional 24 hours while they cleaned up.

I had packed the fish to arrive overnight and only used a 24 and a 40 hour heat pack. My mistake. The box took about 55 hours to arrive. Fortunately, I read all those research papers and one of the things I researched was acclimation. In particular, I read about what happens to fish if their water gets too hot or too cold. the researchers want to know two things. At what temperature will at least half the fish die and how do they behave as they approach fatal temperatures.

One such study also wanted to know if they saw the fish acting as if they were in the "death zone" could they be rescued. It turns out the answer was yes, but the way to do this was as quickly as possible to get the fish back into their normal temperature range. No acclimation was used, they moved them from near death directly into the right temp. This is how you save them.

So, when my "lost" box of zebras was located and they told us what time it would be delivered to my buyer, I contacted him and told him as soon as the box came he should immediately get the fish into warm water in the proper range. Incidentally, zebra plecos live warm. I keep them in the low to mid 80S F. To trigger them to spawn, keepers will often take the water temp. into the low 90s for a coupld of weeks and then drop it rapidly by 15+ degrees.

When the box of zebras arrived, there were 3 dead fish. My buyer took took the temperature of the water in all 3 bags and it was 59, 60 and 60F. The fish mostly survived. He did lose two more about 3 days later. Of course I refunded the cost of the 3 DOA. Because he had the rest for 3 days before the other two died, I sent him a refund for one, but he resfused to accept it. If he had tried to drip acclimate or even acclimate for 15 minutes, he would likely have lost a lot or all of the fish.

A good shipper knows how to pack. I now use more heat than needed to accommodate delays. Except for very young fish, I purge them by not feeding them for one to three days depending on their size. I add a small piece of Polyfilter to every bag as it will absorb ammonia and organics from the water. I do not lose many fish in transit and never have.

Perhaps the most important consideration when shipping fish is to hold the amount of water used as low as possible while knowing it will be sufficient to keep the fish alive for some time. The reason for this is when it comes to the cost of shipping fish, the fish do not really matter, it is the water that is being shipped. More water means the box needs to be bigger and will weigh more. Too little water means dead fish.

Finally, one must consider how many fish to pack in a bag. If there is more than a single fish in a bag and one dies, this can kill everything in the bag. If the fish are small, this may not happen. Also, the fewer fish per bag, the more water it will take and the cost to ship will be more. Here is the problem with this. I one can import common tetras for between 25 and 50 cents each depending on how many and their size. These fish normally sell for anywhere from about $2.50 to as much as $5 each. (I do not sell tetras but I do buy them for my display tanks.)

If a seller ships such fish they usually cram as many onto bags as feasible. if a few die, the lost to such a seller is small. If a seller shipped them 1/bag instead of one paying a couple of dollars a fish the cost from shipping will double or triple the cost per fish. There would be little reason to pay this much and the seller would never sell any fish.

The last time I bough any fish by going to a store, I picked up an 8+ inch clown loach. That was at least 5 years ago. I can say that, either in terms of numbers of fish or dollars spent for fish, 99% were for fish shipped to me. I have bough as direct imports, wholesale and from home based breeders/sellers. Rarely have I bought retail and had the store ship them. I have not bought on AquaBid since early 2006.

So to answer the original question, it depends. It depends on how healthy the fish are going into bags. It depends on how well packed they are. It depends on how long they are in transit. Finally, even if all the fish arrive alive, often trying to acclimate them will do more harm than good. All of the people I know who sell fresh water fish plop and drop. This means when the fish arrive, we open the bag and immediately put the fish into their Q tank. We do not float the bags to match temp. We do not drip acclimate. We do not do other methods folks often use to acclimate. We lose a lot fewer fish this way.

It is important to understand that there is a big difference between fish being shipped and therefore are in bags for close to a full day to as many as several days and the fish one buys retail and which are only in bags short term- from the store to home. There is another consideration here. When I sold fish at weekend events I always put more water in the bags than if I were shipping them. Since the buyer was carrying the fish home from the event, the weight of the water did not matter. This also applies when one buys from a shop in person. They can use more water and not have it raise the overall price of the transaction.
 

FishAddict74

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Dec 8, 2020
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I started a thread last week or so with my experience in regards to buying some fish online. It was the first time I had ever purchased fish by mail order and I was blown away by the speed and efficiency of this particular transaction. The seller had the fish in the USPS's hands by 0930 on a Wednesday and they made it to me, ~1200 miles away by ~11am on Thursday. Per the tracking info, actual transit time was like 12hrs from the time they left the seller's USPS to my doorstep.

Fast forward to today... Not so much..

I ordered 5 gold barbs from the same seller on the 12th. The seller had some delays and there was a Monday holiday, so they didn't ship until the 19th. The seller used FedEx this time and the fish have been in transit over 3 days at this point and still somewhere many states away in transit.

I realize a lot of it depends on how they're packaged, but could they still make it? I'll feel horrible if they come DOA. The seller said they'll refund / replace if that winds up being the case.

What are your good / bad experiences with live goods mail ordering?
I buy probably 90% of my fish online and I’ve only had three negative experiences. One was the one I posted on here where I got a jag cichlid instead of a Cuban. The seller offered a replacement but I decided to just keep the jag. The others turned out well, I ordered a WC Senegal bichir and it got stuck in the mail for 8 days, the seller assumed it would arrive dead and sent a second , but it arrived in great shape but the second one arrived in rough shape and ended up dying due to a bacterial infection, I posted about it on another forum when I was trying to save it. The seller must’ve been on that forum because he emailed me that he heard what happened and sent me a WC weeksii bichir. So that turned out pretty well. One other thing that happened was I did a big order from liveaquaria a mix of salt and freshwater fish and two of the fish were wrong, so they said they would refund me for the two fish but they ended up refunding the entire $300 order, the wrong fish were only around $15, so that turned out well too. So I guess I really only had 1 negative experience lol
The way I look at online ordering is that it makes sense if you’re into less common fish or if your LSF is far enough away that it’s cheaper if you consider time and gas to just pay shipping. For me if the store that has what I want is 45 minutes away, that means it’s gonna be two hrs out of my day including time to go in and buy it plus $10 in gas, so ide rather pay $35 to have it delivered
 

FreshyFresh

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On the seller's site, they recommend a drip acclimation process for shipped fish. I knew that going into it and I knew based on what I've read from TwoTankAmin and researched from other sources I was NOT going to do that. When my weather loaches were on their way, I had my wife and/or kids setup with a bucket and net and instructions on how to get them into the tank ASAP.

The seller uses 72hr heat packs and foam insulated boxes. It's looking like the earliest my package will arrive is tomorrow. This means the fish will have been packaged, in transit for at least 4 days, maybe a bit more. I'm not so much worried about temperature because gold barbs are sub-tropical, I'm more worried about oxygen and the fact I ordered 5 of them. They'll surely be packed together in one bag.

I've packed and shipped lots of things, but never live goods. Isn't there any special process USPS, FedEx or UPS uses for live goods?
 
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FishAddict74

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On the seller's site, they recommend a drip acclimation process for shipped fish. I knew that going into it and I knew based on what I've read from TwoTankAmin and researched from other sources I was NOT going to do that. When my weather loaches were on their way, I had my wife and/or kids setup with a bucket and net and instructions on how to get them into the tank ASAP.

The seller uses 72hr heat packs and foam insulated boxes. It's looking like the earliest my package will arrive is tomorrow. This means the fish will have been packaged, in transit for 4 days.

I've packed and shipped lots of things, but never live goods. Isn't there any special process USPS, FedEx or UPS uses for live goods?
From all my ordering experience, 4 days is usually fine. I have had zero DOAs and some had been in transit for over a week
 
Apr 2, 2002
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FedEx makes one pass a test to be allowed to ship fish. You have to send them a box with everything on it but no fish in the bags. They have rules for shipping fish which no experienced fish keeper would follow. They require one put oxygen in the bags. Like anybody shipping labyrinth fish, corys or any other fish that gild air at the surfice would add oxygen. While many living thing need ogygen as part of the gasses they breath, 100% pure oxygen is fatal fairly fast.

The people I know who use FedEx pass the test and then they ship the right way. I am not sure what UPS requires. They had a similar oxygen rule but I got an account years back without needing to do a test box. However, when I went to sent my first box the experience was so bad I closed my account. These days I ship so infrequently that I have friends approved to ship fish who allow me yo use their account with FedEx ad I reimburse them.

And I do not care how cold fish can take it, In winter months in most places the temperatures are freezing and below. Adequate heat for 4 or 5 days is not so easy. The shorter duration heat packs like the 20 or 24 hour kind will heat up rapidly to their hottest output which will then decline from there. Longer heat packs, like the 60 or 72 hour ones take much longer to reach their max. output, but they will maintain a level output from then on until they are almost spent. Most good shippers will put in both types- short and long duration.

Finally, I always open heat packs and shake them up and then wait to confirm they are heating up before I use them. Like I said above, how long fish can last in transit depends on how good any shipper is at this task.

Of course there is one more factor involved here. That is how many times have you had fish shipped to you and how many fish were involved, over the years the I have gotten many 100s of fish shipped. I once received a box that contained 99 zebra plecos at 1.75 inches. They were all packed in one giant bag, There were 3 DOAS and I lost one more during the unbagging. U was moving them about 10-15 at a time into tanks. One passed away in the bucket.

Last March I did an import deal with a partner. We imported 330 zebra plecos, Most were 1.5 inches but 50 were close to 2 inches. They arrived in country packed one fish per bag. Would you believe there is a machine for individually bagging fish. I assume it is for smaller sized fish. My partner did the import part and he was happy at the individual packing for the survival factor and pissed that he had to spend so much time unbagging them. The fish came from Asia and there were no DOAS. The total fish arriving was 350.
 
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Wyomingite

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I have never had any issues with fish arriving dead. Once I had one fish arrive dead, but it was a freebie that the seller threw in because it was the last one and he said it wasn't in especially good health anyways (I had actually wanted to order six). FedEx has proven to be much more efficient than UPS here, so I always use FedEx if that is an option, but I suspect a lot of that probably depends on local terminals and how they are operated and managed. I've never had a late shipment with Fedex, but I have had several with UPS that went into the second day, and had 100% survival. I've even had a live box turtle shipped to me second day air with no problems.

I only have fish shipped from mid May to early October, and I keep really good track of the weather forecast at the ends of this time. The weather is too unpredictable here in Wyoming during those late winter through early spring months to even risk it, IMO.

WYite
 
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FreshyFresh

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I only have fish shipped from mid May to early October, and I keep really good track of the weather forecast at the ends of this time. The weather is too unpredictable here in Wyoming during those late winter through early spring months to even risk it, IMO.

WYite
Weather is a major concern of mine, which is why I reached out to the seller before placing my first order. The responded quickly stating it was no problem to ship to winter climates. They do it regularly and typical ship time is 2 days.
 
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the loach

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I'm not mail ordering fish again unless it is from a private breeder like TwoTank or Noodles someone like that, who would send pictures of the actual fish they're shipping. I have done it several times in the past, never had any issues with DOA's but most of the fish were either very poor quality, that you would never ever buy in a LFS, or it's not what you ordered.... you pretty much get whatever gender or color that is available, not paying any attention to the actual order.
 
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