Learning How To Ship Successfully Every Day Of The Year
Author: Tim Mousseau
It amazes me as to how many people I get every month emailing me wanting fish or wanting to send fish to a show, but is afraid to ship them. They go on about how many times they have had fish shipped or shipped fish themselves only for them to die in the process. It drives me crazy to think how many fish have been killed to inexperienced shippers; that is why I am writing this article. I am going to point out all the tactics I use to ship fish successfully.
Fasting Your Fish
The number one rule to successful shipping is to fast the fish off for 48 to 72 hours before shipping. I find that 48 hours is sufficient for most males guppies, but females (especially show size females) require more time to fully empty out. With show size females, I recommend a 72 hour fasting time. If you don’t fast your fish before shipping, they will pollute the bags with waste, which will quickly make unsafe water conditions in the bags such as ammonia and nitrate. After you have fasted the fish, it is time to bag them up. It is important to ship each fish individually and double bag when they reach 2 months of age or older. Double bagging helps reduce the chance of a leaking bag. When singlely bagging each fish, it reduces the stress on the fish and leaves more of a chance of survival if the fish do not fully empty out during its fasting time. Less fish per bag equals less pollution in the water.
Choosing The Proper Bags
There are many different bag sizes and water to air ratios that I have seen people use it makes my head spin. Guppies are generally small fish, so you simply don't need anything more than 3" and 4" bags that are 2 mi in thickness. I use the 3" bags for young fish 5 months or younger and the 4" bags for anything older. Please note that size matters more than age, but generally that is the age at which the fish has grown to the point where they need a bigger bag. A 3" and 4" size bag is the most economical all the way around. The smaller the bags the smaller the box, the less amount of water for less weight, which results in a cheaper bill at your mail carrier when you go ship them out.
Water To Air Ratio
For water to air ratio ---- one part water to two parts air ratio has been a proven ratio for years. I generally use 3 ounces of water in a 3" bag and 4 ounces of water in a 4" bag. With some show size females, I bump it up to 5 or 6 ounces as they are larger fish and require more water. You need to remember air is more important than water. When adding air to the bag, never blow into the bag as all you are doing is adding carbon dioxide not oxygen.
Catching Your Air
Also, always catch your air. You catch air by setting the bag on a flat surface letting the bag completely open up while cupping it in your hands and making a quick swoop grabbing the bag and closing it at the same time. You then twist the top of the bag until it becomes stiff and tie off.
Deciding What To Ship In
Most of the time in the summer and all of the time in the winter, I ship in a fully-molded Styrofoam box. With the Styro being fully molded, it keeps the temperature in the box regulated to a safe level and allows no air movement at the seams. We tape the only opening to the box, "the lid" shut, which interlocks to prevent air moment. When not using a fully molded box such as a box with cut Styrofoam lining the sides, we recommend that you tape all seams with duct tape. Duct tape is a very strong thick tape that insulates well. Some people opt in to just a plain paper box in the summer, which is not a good idea. You still find drastic temperatture changes in the summer as you do the winter; the only difference is if it is hot or cold. There are many places in the country in the summer where the temps can raise well over 90 degrees, which quickly becomes unsafe for guppies.
When guppies are in a small bag with limited oxygen levels in the water, temperatures this hot can be fatal. Thus, a Styrofoam box is necessary at all times of the year. In the winter months, a heat pack is necessary. It is important to tape the heat pack to the inside of the box lid and add box filler to keep the heat pack from getting in direct contact with the bags where the bags can overheat. Many heat packs have a red line across them to say which side needs to be facing out and not be covered.
Using Heat Packs
Some heat packs take quite a long time to get going. I have seen some heat packs take three hours before heating to 2/3 of its max heat. A heat pack grabs the oxygen around it to get itself started, so if you where to simply open the packaging of the heat pack and then tape it to the box lid and enclose it it will quickly use up all the air in the box and shut off. I have had people send us boxes that did just that. These boxes come in very cold and the heat pack not working. After opening the box, the heat pack starts up again. Once a heat pack gets started, it takes very minimum amount of oxygen to keep it going. This means there is no need to poke holes through the top of the Styrofoam box as the oxygen in the box is sufficient enough to keep it running.
Use the Proper Heat Pack
There is several different heat packs on the market. They come in different shapes and sizes and lasting life. It is important that you get a heat pack that is intended to be used with tropical fish. I like to use Uniheat heat packs. The difference in the ones that are intended for fish and ones that are not is the maximum temperature. Heat packs that are not made for use with fish often get much hotter which raise the temperature in the box to unsafe levels.
Also, you need to consider how long the fish will be in transit. Proper fish heat packs last from 30 to 72 hours. If you find a heat pack that has a lasting life any less than 30 hours chances are it is not intended for use with tropical fish. When a box is going to be delivered next day, I ship with a 40-hour heat pack and when it is going to be delivered in two days I use a 60-hour heat pack. If you are shipping where it can take greater than 2 days, use a 72-hour heat pack. That gives extra time just in case the heat pack stops working earlier than the manufacturer’s lasting life. I do not recommend shipping boxes that are any more than a two-day delivery in the coldest winter months especially when shipping to or from northern states.
The next important factor is temperature. In the winter months, I only ship on days where it is at least 30'F in both locations on ship out day by us and delivery day to its final destination. In the summer months, we don’t likely shipping unless it is 89' or cooler at both locations. Now you may be thinking 89' is very hot for guppies, which is true, but with a fully-molded Styrofoam box, the temperature never reaches that point in the box. It takes quite a few hours for Styrofoam box to change 15 degrees in temperature. Finally, it is ideal to have somebody available to sign for the package. This makes sure that the package does not sit on a door step and be subject to non favorable weather conditions anymore than it has to be.
All of these things play a crucial part in keeping fish alive during shipment. If you are buying fish, in the rare event of a fish coming in dead on arrival, most breeders have an alive arrival guarantee when using their fastest mail service available. If you see a shipper not doing anything that I have listed above, then that is most likely why their success rate at shipping guppies is not great. Try all of the techniques mentioned above for the most increased success rate of shipping fish!