How Long Can Fish Survive In A Bag

“How long can fish survive in a bag?” This is a common and prominent question asked by beginner fish keepers and those who want to relocate their residence. The survival time for a fish in a bag depends on the water amount in the bag, fish size, and amount of oxygen in the bag.

Nonetheless, it is estimated that a fish will successfully survive in the bag for about 9 hours to 12 hours. However, the survival chance increases drastically when expert storekeepers supply proper oxygen in the bag.

Also, as an aquarist, you should know the techniques to carry a fish in a bag. It includes the steps to follow before transferring the fish into the aquarium from the bag. Today, our discussion will tough all these points to make your fish relocation a pie on the cake.

Table of Contents

How Long Can Fish Survive In A Bag?

There are varying and confronting opinions when it comes to the survival period of fish inside a bag while relocating it from the pet store to home or residence shifts. Some say that a fish will survive in the bag around 8-12 hours. However, some say that a fish will survive up to 16 hours or more with an open-mouthed bag.

Some small fish species thrive in shallow water and so will able to live in the bag for around 48 hours or two days at a stretch. As the fish moves inside the bag, the water moves and helps the fish absorb water.

This is why you shouldn’t place the fish carrying bag in a stationary position. Make sure the water continually moves in the bag and accumulates sufficient water.

Are you glad about the statistics?

If so, here’s a piece of bad news for you.

The 48 hours survival possibility isn’t a perfect fact. When you leave fish in the bag for such a long time, other factors such as lack of oxygen and ample movement may lead to some serious health concerns for the fish.

Ideally speaking, the best survival chance for fish in the bag is 4 hours to 7 hours.

Transporting Fish In Ziplock Bag Or Closed Container

Carrying fish in a closed container or Ziplock bag has become a popular choice among fish keepers these days. However, the sad news is that fish will not survive long in a Ziplock bag.

To be honest, a fish won’t survive more than 20-30 minutes in a Ziplock bag. So, it would be effectively best if you didn’t use such bags to carry fish from a faraway pet store or relocating from a distant house. On the contrary, fish will live in the closed container for 2 hours at best.

Either way, we discourage you from carrying the fish in closed conditions. Instead, use a plastic bag and place it on a flat surface so that the water stays inside with a slight movement. When it happens, the fish will breathe in oxygen successfully to survive for longer hours.

How Long Saltwater Fish Will Live In The Bag?

If you need to transport saltwater fish in a bag, the survival period will come down to half. It happens because saltwater starts reacting with the chemical bleaching from the bag often made with plastics. It reduces the oxygen in the bag.

So, saltwater fish in a bag will live around 24 hours and 15 minutes in the Ziplock bag. So, please pay proper and dedicated attention to it when you carry saltwater fish.

Tips On Keeping The Fish In A Bag

At some point in life, we ardently have to relocate the fish either from a pet store or for residence relocation. So, instead of finding alternative solutions to fish relocation in the bag, it is better to apply techniques to increase the fish living success in the bag.

You can apply the following tips when you keep the fish in a bag.

Fill the Bag with Oxygen:

There is a contradiction in this opinion.

When you plan for a short time journey, for instance, 1 hour to 2 hours, you can easily fill the bag with water and keep the fish in it. Then, you can transport the fish.

However, things get extremely tricky when it comes to long-term traveling.

And that’s where oxygen insertion comes in the forefront.

Fish will survive more in an oxygen-filled bag than the air filler bag. That’s why expert pet store owners will fill their fish carrying bags with oxygen. When you plan for long travels, oxygen filling in the bag is a must- according to the above discussion.

There is a simple technique storekeeper apply to enhance the oxygen level in the bag. It follows as:

The bag should contain one-third of the water of its length. The rest two-third section should have air, which ultimately adds more oxygen in the bag.

When you don’t add proper and pure oxygen in the bag, the fish will suffocate and die. Another reason for keeping less water in the tank is that shallow water helps circulating oxygen deep into the bag.

Use Large Bags:

This technique is pretty straightforward. When you use a large bag to carry fish in it, it comes with more space.

And guess what?

More space means more room for oxygen in the bag. Naturally, fish will survive longer in large bags compared to the small ones.

Also, larger bags help fish swim better in the bag, which won’t allow the emergence of other complications for fish. So, bigger containers or bags mean healthier fish.

Don’t Overcrowd the Bag:

During the discussions above, we opined that a fish would survive about 8-10 hours successfully in the bag. When the fish numbers rise in the same bag, this survival period will reduce drastically.

So, try to carry only a fish or two in the same bag during travels or transferring the fish. However, if you have to take more than two fishes in the same tank, try to get a larger bag for it. So, if you carry multiple fish in the bag, transport them in the aquarium as soon as possible.

There are techniques you need to apply while relocating a fish from a bag to a tank. These techniques are essential to increase the fish survival chance in the tank.

We will discuss these techniques in the respective section.

Calm Fish Consumes Less Oxygen:

Did you ever notice that you breathe in fast when you are excited? It happens because, in excitement, your brain becomes hyperactive and, thus, consumes more oxygen.

And this is similar to the fish as well. YES, you HEARD it RIGHT.

When you transport the fish in a bag, it can often excite them. Especially if the water moves too fast in the water, the fish will be more excited. When it happens, fish will consume more oxygen and, thus, will survive less in a bag.

So, try to keep the fish calm and relaxed while traveling. It would help if you handled the fish gently while putting it in the bag. Also, place the bag in an even surface so that the water doesn’t circulate vigorously in the bag.

If fish gets excited for one reason or another, it will try to inhale more oxygen. As a process, it will release more carbon dioxide in the water, causing serious complications. At the worst, the fish may die, or the pH level may increase in the bag.

Maintain Proper Temperature:

If the outside weather is too hot or cold, it can hurt the fish’s health quite adversely. So, when you transport fish from the store to home, ensure that the outside temperature is in an optimal state.

Fish thrive in a moderate temperature. So, when you pick the water for the carrying bag, it should be at an average temperature. And when you travel through traffics, you can apply the following techniques-

  • Try to carry the fish in an air-conditioned vehicle. When the water temperature is around 25° to 30°C, your newly brought fish will remain calm. So, the chance of fish survival will enhance considerably.
  • If you are to ardently travel for long distances or in extreme conditions, try to get hot packs or cold depending on the weather. Use the hot or cold box to regulate the water temperature at a moderate level.

Avoid Stationary and Ziplock Bags:

If you carry fish in stationary or Ziplock bags for a too long period, you should be wary about its health. Ziplock bags contain toxic chemicals which can dilute in the water and harm the fish.

Also, the Ziplock bag lacks an oxygen level in the bag. Similarly, stationary bags prevent oxygen from building-up in the bag. In either case, the fish runs down the risk of suffocating and death. So, be wary of such conditions when you plan to carry the fish.

Be Wary About Ammonia Build-Up:

When there is dangerously too much ammonia in the water, it can cause ammonia poisoning for the fish. It will blacken the fish and slowly cause premature death.

The ammonia in the water comes mainly from wastage and fish feces.

Worried about how to avoid such scary ammonia poisoning?

Well, this is easy and straightforward.

Stop feeding your fish (if it is at home) before one to two days of transportation.

Don’t be surprised. Fish can survive without food for days. So, it can be an excellent solution to transport fish for big distances. Sadly, it does not apply to pet stores since owners don’t know when their fish will sell, and so, they will feed timely.

However, if you keep the water temperature cooler, it will prevent ammonia build-up.

Tips When Transferring Fish From Bag To Container

As you bring the newly purchased fish from the store to home, your natural pulse will force you to put the fish in the tank immediately.

While it is all-natural, we strongly discourage you from placing the fish in the tank immediately.

Float The Bag:

Carefully place the fish carrying bag right on the surface of the tank water. Then slowly move it on the surface as if it is floating on the water.

When you float the bag slowly, it will adapt to the tank water temperature. After that, throw away 20% to 25% water from the pack and replace it with aquarium water. This way, keep the bag for a few minutes.

After that, replace 50% of the bag water with the aquarium water. Then, float the bag once again for the next few minutes.

The entire fish transferring process from the carrying bag to the aquarium may last up to 20 minutes.

When you transfer the fish in the tank water, follow the below-mentioned tips.

  • Don’t permit the water in the bag let into the tank water. Sometimes when you replace the water in the bag, the fish may get excited. Then, it may jump, causing water splashes into the tank.
  • You should use a scoop to port the fish from the carrying bag to the aquarium.
  • When you put the newly bought fish in the tank, observe it closely. Check if it is normal or not. Sometimes, the fish may scratch its scale against walls, which is a sign of alkaline. If such is the case, replace some tank water with fresh water.
  • Before you replace the water, use the dechlorinator for it so that it doesn’t harm the fish further.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Can a fish live without oxygen?

The survival chance for fish without oxygen is bleak and may not go beyond a few minutes. The survival rate will drop down drastically since more water means less space for oxygen. On the contrary, shallow water will circulate more oxygen with fish movements. So, fish will lively slightly longer in shallow water. But in either way, it won’t be more than a few minutes only.

2. Is it really safe to ship fish?

The safety of fish shipping depends on various factors. Firstly, the shipping time shouldn’t be too long or at least less than two days. The bag shouldn’t be a stationary one and have an open mouth. Also, if you ship small fishes such as mollies and guppies, you can accommodate up to 5 pieces in a moderately sized bag. But for large fish, keep the ration one.

The Bottom Line

So, here goes the complete answer to the question, “How long can fish survive in a bag?” Ideally, fish has a better survival rate when the carrying duration is about 6 hours to 8 hours in the bag. But many people say they fish can easily live for 12 hours in a bag.

And with pure oxygen in the bag and calmness of the fish, these may last up to 48 hours. However, make sure at least two-thirds of the bag is filled with oxygen as you ship the fish from store to home.

And when you transfer the fish in the tank, slowly replace the water in the bag with tank water. Also, float the bag on the water surface to adjust the temperature.

Lastly, when you plan to transport the fish for any reason, adjust the feeding schedule, and stop feeding the fish ardently at least one day before. Also, handle the fish with care to increase the survival chance.


  • Russel

    Hi, my name is Russel and I am the founder of I am an ardent fish lover, professional angler and writer, and I hope to share my passion with you.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

      Leave a reply

      Okfisher - All About Fishing Tips and Care