If you live in a remote area, an area where your local fish stores are poor quality or are sourcing fish unavailable in your local area, online purchase and shipping may be an option you can consider. What do you need to know, what are the risks and how to deal with them?
Unfortunately, buying online does not always guarantee healthier fish stock than in the store. It really is dependent on the store and how well it has housed the fish in a stress-free environment, maintained water hygiene, as well the skill of the agent choosing, preparing and packing your fish. There are additional risks to shipping fish from stress, injury, ammonia poisoning, and temperature fluctuations to name a few.
The key to online purchase and shipping success is “research and knowing which questions to ask”. This analysis will give you an indication of the standard quality of communication/packing and shipping practices of the seller. Let’s consider the following important questions for a purchaser:
1. Does the company provide comprehensive care information on their website? Comprehensive care information is an indicator that they are aware of the exact variety of the individual species, its needs and a sign of proper fish husbandry.
2. Does the company have good reviews for stock quality, shipping and an overall good reputation?
3. How does the company handle fish losses during shipping? Even the best packaged fish can have accidents during transport. There should be a clear stated policy. For example, does the seller offer a Dead On Arrival (DOA) policy and does it at least cover the first 24 hours after delivery? Is physical damage or illness covered? It is important to be aware of and follow the all requirements of the insurance policy to be covered by it.
4. Does the company supply videos of the actual fish you are purchasing? Stores usually will be happy to video their tank if asked so you can choose the fish. This allows you to see the condition/quality/health of the stock you have to choose from. Other companies provide photos or videos as standard practice on Facebook or YouTube. If this option exists, keep all videos and messages saved to ensure the fish you are purchasing is the one delivered to you.
5. Does the seller fast the fish 48 hours prior to bagging for shipping? Fasting (not feeding) the fish for 48 hours prior to shipping serves to preserve water quality by greatly reducing the risk of faeces and ammonia build up in the bagged transit water.
6. Does the seller ship in styrofoam boxes? The insulation factor of styrofoam protects your fish from temperature fluctuations and also provides some insulation against loud, frightening noises associated with transport. The styrofoam boxes may be packed in cardboard to further insulate/protect your fish.
7. What packing is used between the bags in the styrofoam box? I have seen bags packed with a newspaper which loses its ability to hold its shape if one bag breaks and it becomes wet. Some packing peanuts dissolve when they come into contact with water and are not a viable option either. Filter wadding, styrofoam and any other packing that can be moulded to the bags shape and not deteriorate if wet is preferred.
8. Are the fish packed inadequately sized bags and with enough water that they can be upright during transport? Many fish that are packaged without adequate water can arrive damaged or with swim bladder issues. This is a simple and important step sometimes missed.
9. Does the seller double bag the plastic fish bags? This is vital! If it is single bagged and the bag bursts in transit your fish will not arrive in good condition or even alive.
10. Is oxygen used in packing the fish? Many companies will top off the fish’s air supply with pure oxygen to help the fish avoid oxygen depletion during transport (this option is not required for breather bags).
11. Are “breather bags” used for delicate species like shrimp? The special plastic film used in breathing bags generates the constant transfer of carbon dioxide out of the water in the bag through the walls of the bag, and the absorption of oxygen from the atmosphere through the bag walls into the water in the bag. This provides a constant source of fresh oxygen for the breathing of the shrimp, fishes and other aquatic life. Breather bags and a small amount of moss for shrimp to hold onto during transport are much more successful methods for transporting shrimp and other delicate species.
12. What additives does the seller use in the water when transporting fish? Some companies will use ammonia detoxifying additives, stress-reducing additives and, in some cases, sedatives. It’s important to know beforehand what additives are used so you know how to anticipate the state of your fish upon arrival. For example, a sedated fish may appear nearly dead when unboxing but revive as it is acclimatised and added to your quarantine tank. A fish that has travelled several days without an ammonia detoxifying additive may arrive with ammonia burns.
13. Does the seller add heat or cold packs depending on the weather? Transporting tropical fish may require a heat pack to be added to the shipping box depending on the season. This helps keep the fish at a stable temperature for 24 hours or more.
14. Does the supplier provide you with acclimatisation and stress reduction procedures to follow once you have received your fish? Typically, if you have not added the fish to a quarantine tank and acclimatised according to the supplier’s instructions your DOA/illness policy is void. Knowing their requirements for acclimatising and quarantine prior to purchase enables you to prepare in advance.
15. Which shipping company does the seller use? Find out about its reliability and reputation and whether or not they can legally transport live fish. It’s worth asking if overnight shipping is available as this reduces exposure to ammonia spikes, temperature fluctuations and oxygen depletion for the aquatic life in transit. Find out when the company ships as many only ship Monday to Wednesday in order to prevent fish being held-up in mail over weekends/holidays. Companies may also consider weather forecasts and the time of year prior to agreeing to ship to you. For instance, purchasing and shipping tropical fish on a Friday in either a heatwave or subzero weather poses a much greater risk of your fish being delivered dead than posting Monday during moderate weather.
Buying online is not foolproof, and there is the inherent risk with every purchase. Knowledge of standard shipping practices, researching the fish’s suitability for transport and special needs during and after transport, as well as researching the company you are buying from are key to a successful shipping experience. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, do not be afraid to contact the company and ask.
Written by: Marie Gosson