Main Index of Articles

Main Management Index


Please read the 'Agreement' section on the View Articles page before downloading this article.


Author: Dragonfish Canada
Title: Shipping Large Tropical Fish in Canada: Asian Arowana
Summary: I shipped a large Asian arowana half-way across Canada in the summer time; the process described should work fine for other large fish too.

Contact for editing purposes:

Date first published: 2009 
Reprinted from Aquarticles:
Internet publication (club or non-profit web site):

1. Credit author, original publication, and Aquarticles.
2.  Link to  and original website if applicable.
3.  Advise Aquarticles
Printed publication:
Mail one printed copy to each of:

4131 Bonavista Crescent Burlington
L7M 4J3

Shipping Large Tropical Fish in Canada:
Asian Arowana

By Dragonfish Canada

Original to Aquarticles


September 2008 295.jpg (51989 bytes)

A nine year old, 24 inch Red Tail Gold Asian arowana (from SABF) waiting to be shipped across Canada



Shipping a large fish like an adult Asian arowana would be a daunting proposition for many aquarists; will such a large fish die from lack of oxygen while in transit? Will it get severely injured from thrashing about? How do you catch such a large fish in the first place? How expensive is it to ship a large fish by air?

The following article will explain in step-by-step fashion how a nine year old Red Tail Gold Asian arowana (Scleropages formosus) was shipped by air from Vancouver to Winnipeg, Canada on August 13, 2008. The fish measured two feet in length and came from SABF (Singapore Arowana Breeder Farm). It has had several owners. Recently the Vancouver based owner decided to sell the fish to a serious aro keeper who has large tanks and wants to try breeding the fish. The only problem is that the fellow lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba! I was asked to help out with the shipping and I agreed.

Part One - Choosing your shipper

If you want to ship a large fish across Canada these days you have two main carrier choices: Air Canada or West Jet. Air Canada has better schedules and more flights, but unheated cargo bays. Westjet has some indirect flights and is known to occasionally misdirect cargo - but it has heated cargo bays. Both airlines require shippers to have an account with them. This bears emphasis, as it takes about a week to obtain such an account and there is some paperwork involved. The requirement of having an account for shipping only started in early 2008 and probably has to do with security concerns related to the shipping of unaccompanied cargo. If you plan to ship a large fish, you must either go through the trouble to get your own shipping account or else find someone to help you who already has an account. The cargo booking needs to be made at least 24 hours in advance of departure and paid for by VISA or Mastercard over the phone. You must bring your fish to the cargo drop off location at least 2 hours before plane departure.

In my case, I opted to ship with Westjet as I have an account with them and have used them many times over the past few years to ship smaller Asian arowana across Canada. I also have access to pure bottled oxygen and thus am not overly concerned about Westjet misdirecting any given shipment - provided it is not winter!

Part Two - Preparations

Once you have booked your flight, you will need to prepare to catch and transport the fish. You will need a large styrofoam fish shipping box. These come in two standard sizes, the larger measuring 24"X18"X12. It is VERY IMPORTANT that your box be completely surrounded with cardboard or else the airline will refuse to take it. You might be able to source a styrofoam box inside a cardboard box at your local fish store; if you only have the styrofoam box, you can always make your own cardboard box by cutting and taping one to size.

You will also need to have a VERY LARGE transparent fish bag to catch the fish inside the aquarium. This technique is much better than using a net; it causes the fish less stress and makes much less mess. The trick is to fill the bag with water inside the aquarium and to then "steer" the fish into swimming inside it. This is a fairly easy technique to do with Asian arowana, but could prove much harder with other fish.

Your choice of shipping bag may or may not be the bag you use when catching the fish. I would recommend at least triple bagging a heavy duty 3 mm garbage bag. Asian arowana have very sharp pectoral fins as well as bony tongues; these can easily lead to a punctured bag. The absolute best bag to use is one available from seafood distributors for transporting shrimp and live fish. It is a heavy vinyl, transparent at top and opaque at the bottom.

Finally, you will want to use Bag Buddies as a stress relieving water additive; Bag Buddies are reputed to neutralize small amounts of ammonia in water, add dissolved oxygen, and provide a mild sedative and antiseptic effect on the fish. If you can somehow access some medicinal quality bottled oxygen, I would highly recommend the addition of it in the bag as well. I use a ratio of 1/3 pure oxygen to 2/3 normal air; too much oxygen and you risk killing your fish by oxidation; too little and the fish could suffocate if delayed in shipping. I have had a juvenile Asian arowana survive perfectly well after 24 hours in transit when shipped with a bit of added oxygen. In addition, you will get piece of mind knowing that even if the airline "loses" your fish, it will still likely survive until found.


A Case Study - What Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong!

I set my alarm clock for 4:30 am to get up and drive to the owner's place. I had promised to take care of all aspects of shipping the fish provided the owner took care of providing a bag for shipping. Thus, I showed up all groggy at just past 5:00 am with my cardboard-covered styrofoam box and bottle of Bag Buddies. It didn't take long to catch the fish using a large plastic bag. Then, the fish was transported to a large 3 mm heavy duty garbage bag. In the process of moving the fish, it thrashed around a lot, leading to some water spilling inside the styrofoam box. I neglected to pour this water out...This was mistake number one!


   September 2008 296.jpg (60049 bytes)

Asian RTG arowana swimming in a 180 gallon tank


September 2008 297.jpg (73116 bytes)   September 2008 299.jpg (83529 bytes)

Owner catching the fish in a bag (without using a net)


September 2008 301.jpg (78750 bytes)    September 2008 303.jpg (82536 bytes)

Putting the bagged fish in the box


September 2008 307.jpg (62833 bytes)

Adding tank water with a syphon hose


With the fish finally inside the garbage bag in the box, I added a few Bag Buddy tablets and hurriedly tied the bag shut with a heavy duty elastic band. Then, with both of us being tired and under stress, we collectively made mistake number two - we forgot to double or triple bag the fish! Instead, we bade a hasty farewell to one another; I left in a hurry with the fish, and headed off to another location to spike the fish' bag with pure oxygen.


September 2008 310.jpg (49433 bytes)

                                The shipping additive used                                       


September 2008 314.jpg (67159 bytes) September 2008 315.jpg (77259 bytes)

Adding bottled oxygen to the fish bag, 1:3 ratio used


September 2008 316.jpg (83184 bytes) September 2008 312.jpg (69013 bytes)

Fish is boxed and ready to go to the airport


The oxygen added, I then drove to the airport to ship the fish. Unfortunately for me, the nicely packaged fish began to leak water when put on a dolly to move it to a scale. This led the Westjet lady on duty to tell me that "We WILL NOT take that fish on board the plane! The box is leaking! Take it away!" Luckily, I knew the manager on duty at the Westjet cargo terminal (he used to work for a big box fish store), and I convinced him that it was only extra water inside the styrofoam box that was displaced and leaking. Together we cut open the box, removed the bag, emptied the box of residual water, and repacked the fish. As the lid was closing for the final time on the fish, I thought to myself  "Oh no. Single bagged fish!" As the fish was wheeled away it began thrashing like mad inside the box. Everyone laughed. I felt a little queezy inside...


September 2008 320.jpg (63188 bytes)

Big fish at the Westjet Cargo terminal in Vancouver


  September 2008 323.jpg (59157 bytes)

The fish being taken away to the plane...


My job over, I went home and emailed the purchaser in Winnipeg that the fish was on its way.

The next 8 hours kind of crawled by. I couldn't decide if the fish would make it or not, but was hopeful.

The fish arrived in Winnipeg at 1:35 pm and was released for pick-up about an hour later. Below are the four emails I received from the purchaser over the next few hours:

Email 1 : "Just picked up the arowana now. Will open at home"

Email 2: "I opened the box because I think someone opened it to check.. Half the water was out of the bag...but he is still alive. Rushing home now..."

Email 3: "Got the arowana home. Bag in tank with water dripping in and air bubble. Looking better....not up side down anymore."

Email 4: "The arowana is doing good. He is swimming around his tank. Thanks for doing this.

As you can see from the attached photos, the arowana is adjusting nicely. When I picked it up from the airport, the box was open. I opened the box and discovered half the water was in the styrofoam container. The bag was wrapped around the arowana. It didn't move for a while. I untangled the arowana from the bag and rushed home.

I decided to put the bag in the tank right away. I added an airstone and rigged up a pump to get water into the bag. I normally have the fish on the floor and drip water into the bag. I was afraid that there was a hole in the bag. He/she is now swimming around and looks good so far. I think the box was opened for inspection and they didn't tie the bag that well. A clear shipping bag is good so they don't have to open the bag (for next time).

I am happy and relieved. It is a nice looking fish. I will hopefully get it to spawn. I saw a 15 foot by 4 foot above ground pool at Zellers on sale for $200. I might pick it up for next summer breeding effort. Maybe I will set it up in my basement! :)

The arowana getting an emergency acclimatization in Winnipeg

Aeration in the bag to help the oxygen-starved arowana...

Released in the tank and doing fine!

Another shot of the newly released arowana



* Make sure you have an account with either Westjet or AirCanada or can find someone else who does

* Use a large, clear transparent bag for catching the fish and for transporting it; ideally double or triple bag the fish or use a specialized "sea food" bag

* Use Bag Buddies, and if possible bottled oxygen (ratio of 1:3) for shipping

* Make sure there is no spilled water outside the bag in the styrofoam container

* Make sure your styrofoam container is inside a cardboard box for shipping purposes

* In winter, make sure you use disposable chemical warmers, available from most sport supply stores (they are used as foot or hand warmers by outdoorsmen in winter).