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Transport considerations

In view of the above, the following should be considered when transporting Koi.

Minimizing Stress While Catching Koi
The use of a holding tank to fast Koi means that the Koi do not have to be moved until assistance is available, which allows the move to take place in an orderly fashion with reduced stress to the Koi. It is imperative that stress should be minimized as Koi are netted, bowled and bagged. Any handling of Koi is a stressor. Frightened Koi will be stressed. Stressed Koi bleed more easily out of their gills, and any blood will instantly pollute the shipping water or holding tank water. Stress is easily observed in Koi with white in their pattern, as the stress brings capillaries to the surface, and has discernable red veining in the white.

Certainly, any Koi may be stressed without necessarily showing it, and this one symptom may be harder to see in Koi with background colors other than white.



When bagging Koi, a new bag should always be used to avoid contamination. Koi should always be transported with a minimum of 2 bags, both to help maintain water temperature and as a safety precaution against leaks.

Some people prefer to move Koi from the bowl to the bag with a sock net. Using a sock net is another opportunity for stress. The best technique is to direct Koi to the handlers with a pole net, and then scoop them up using a transport bag directly from the water. If the bag water is to be different from the source water, the Koi maybe be guided into a bowl and then lifted by hand into the bag. This is done more safely while the bowl is still floating in water.


Quick and Efficient Transport
Koi should be transported quickly and efficiently for two reasons. First, stress is minimized, and second, the physical harm inherent to the time the Koi are exposed to the contaminated water during transport is minimized. It should be noted that only the efficient transport of bagged Koi is being discussed, and speed in capturing and bagging Koi is not being advocated. This quickness and efficiency of transport requires proper preparation and planning. Know as much as possible about the transport effort at the receiving end. Where is the fish going, how is it going to be handled? By whom? Water considerations? Water parameters?

The possibility of transportation delays must be considered. The water temperature should remain stabile and dissolved oxygen should be sufficient for the entire time that the Koi are bagged, regardless of reasonable delays. A sufficient supply of oxygen is even more important for larger Koi, as they will succumb to low oxygen long before smaller Koi. Oxygen is much more important than water, and there should be twice as much air space in the sealed bag as water space. Koi are often shipped together in bags from dealers or farms to minimize shipping costs. In order to maximize the health of the Koi, it is recommended to ship each Koi in a separate bag. The koi should fit comfortably in the bag without bending. Large Koi should be triple bagged. The bags should be placed in boxes that are lined with Styrofoam or other insulation on all sides. Many Koi farms are using coolers to maintain a more even temperature for valuable Koi.

Organizing to Transport Koi
Before the Koi are to be handled, everything must be prepared. The Koi are fasted during that time so that the homeostasis returns to normal after the stress of being netted from the pond, and food clears their digestive system. Koi travel best at cooler temperatures. The optimal shipping temperature is around 7 to 8 degrees Celsius. This is however a problem in South Africa because unless transported in the Highveld during winter, such a temperature can not be reached or maintained safely and more harm than good can be done. It is therefore suggested that one must aim for a stable temperature. If the temperature varies up and down, the stress induced will compromise the Koi’s immune system. Before any nets enter the water, all bags and boxes should be prepared. If ice packs are considered, it should be wrapped, to insulate the Koi from trauma and to stretch the time that the ice lasts, and should be waiting in the box. The goal of adding ice packs is to maintain the existing water temperature for the entire time the Koi are in the box/cooler. The wrapped ice packs should be taped to the sides or top of the box such that they cannot come into direct contact with the Koi bags. Koi bags should be doubled or tripled up  and transport water should be added to the inner bag. The quantity of water should be just sufficient to cover the Koi’s gills when the bag is at rest in the container. Thus the amount of water needed will depend on the size of the bag, the size of the Koi and the relative position of the bag in the container. To facilitate placing one Koi bag inside another, it is often helpful to place a small amount of water into the inner bag and lower it into the outside bag. A little salt can be added to the shipping water to protect the cuticle. Some hobbyists prefer not to add salt because of the reduced capacity of water to hold oxygen, but 0,3% salt have very little influence on a transport bag filled with pure oxygen

Shipping bags should be prepared by rolling down the top edge to make a cuff. The cuff will help keep the bags open while the Koi are being moved. Once all the containers are prepared, the last job is to net the Koi. As each Koi is carefully placed into its bag, the cuff can gently and slowly be straightened. Moving slowly will help keep the Koi calm and reduce stress. Let all the air out of the bag to make space for the maximum amount of oxygen, insert the oxygen line in the bag and while holding the bag tightly around the tube, inflate the bag. When the bag is filled with the desired amount of oxygen, remove the tube and seal the bag with rubber bands. Use two rubber bands for the inner as well as two for the outer bag (a little insurance if one breaks). Make sure the bag fits securely in the box and if the box is too big, prevent the bag from rolling about in the box by packing it securely with another partly inflated plastic bag. Place Styrofoam on top of the bag. Lastly the box is closed and sealed. Bagged Koi must be kept in the shade.

Bag/Transport Tank Water
Since Koi are acclimated to the water at the point of origin, it is common practice to use the source water as transport water to eliminate the additional stress of adjusting to different water quality. The choice of transport water is critical. Even fresh, clean water can have a different pH or temperature from the pond water and Koi stress from differences in water parameters. If the water quality in the originating holding-pond or tank is excellent, then it is the preferred choice to be used for transport. If the water quality is less than optimal, the issues of the original water should be weighed against the problems of the available fresh water, and a decision should be made that minimizes detrimental effects.

Transport medium
If transportation is by air, there will be little control over the handling of the transport boxes. One will have to rely on good faith and a little luck. When transporting the Koi by road, care must be taken to place the boxes lengthways across the vehicle. This will prevent further damage from occurring when the driver has to brake suddenly, because the fish will roll in the bag. If positioned lengthways in the direction of travel, the Koi will be subjected to bumps and bruises when it smashes against the ends of the box. Again, place the box away from direct sunlight.

Un-bagging Koi
The primary goals while un-bagging the Koi at their destination should be to:
1) Remove them quickly and safely from the polluted bag water
2) Make sure that bag water does not end up in the destination water.
If the journey was long, the bag water will be extremely polluted by ammonia and carbon dioxide. The water will be low in pH and high in organic material. Koi should be removed from the bag as quickly as possible, and the bag water should be properly disposed of. The bag with the Koi should be floated for 15 to 30 minutes to help reduce significant temperature differences between the bag and destination water. This must be done in the shade, or the Koi can literally poach in the extremely high heat that quickly builds up inside a bag left in the sun.

Koi often stress and become quite agitated when the bag is removed from the box. Again, one must weigh the dangers between the damage inflicted by an extremely agitated Koi in a bag of polluted water against the shock caused by prematurely releasing the Koi. An agitated Koi can and will damage fins by thrashing in a bag. There is also the possibility that a broken fin ray may puncture the bag itself. But, releasing Koi into water with a different temperature, may shock them, especially warmer to cooler, and will certainly harm their immune system. A variety of sudden changes in a Koi’s environment can trigger a stress reaction, but various genetic, developmental, physical, nutritional and environmental factors can have a modifying effect on the magnitude and duration of the stress response. Koi should significantly calm down within 5 minutes while floating in the bag. If they are still highly agitated after 5 minutes, they should probably be removed from the bag despite the detrimental effects of temperature shock. Once the temperature has equalized between the bag and the destination water, the Koi should safely be removed from the bag. It is not recommended to open the bag and add destination water into the bag. Instead, the Koi should be removed immediately. Moving the Koi safely is the primary concern. It is always fastest and less stressful to the Koi to cut the bags open with a sharp scissors, being careful not to nick the Koi. Never re-use any bag that has had Koi in it. Even if the bags are not cut open, always cut the bands with a sharp scissors or diagonal clipper. Never try and remove the bands so they can be reused, as the activity required will agitate and stress the Koi. Once the bands are removed, the top of the bags should be gently rolled into a cuff, down to nearly the level of the water. The bag may be held by an assistant to keep from tipping. At this point, an experienced Koi handler will reach into the bag and gently lift the Koi over the bag edge and place it into a bowl for examination and photography or directly into the destination water. The bag and all the polluted water should be lifted from the water and safely disposed of.

If the bag is floating in an easily accessible tank where the Koi will be released, and there is no danger of dropping the Koi into anything but water, the Koi should be lifted by hand, as this method will remove the least amount of slime coat and is less stressful to the Koi because it can be done quickly. The Koi may be un-bagged into a bowl, and then lifted into the destination water. While using the bowl may help prevent bag water from polluting the destination water, there is the added danger of the Koi hitting the bowl if it is dropped. If the Koi must be lifted over hard ground and there are no experienced Koi wranglers present, several other options may be preferable to the risk of dropping the Koi. Once the bag is cut open, squeeze an opposite corner of the bag to protect the Koi from being cut, and clip off the small, protruding corner of the bag with a pair of scissors. Drain some of the water from the bag, and use the bag as a sock net to move the Koi. Be sure to support the Koi by holding both ends of the bag such that the Koi’s spine remains straight. When the destination is reached, place the bag in the water and allow the Koi to exit from the open end (not the end with the cut corner). This system is preferable to dropping the Koi, but will remove some slime coat, may cause fin damage, and will move some polluted shipping water into the destination water. The Koi should optimally leave the bag facing the open end, and that may not always be possible. Koi often become severely agitated as the water is drained from the bag, and that stress will add to the existing multiple stresses of netting, bagging and transport.

Using a sock net to dip into the bag and move the Koi is another alternative. It will also strip slime coat and will carry at least some of the polluted bag water into the destination water. Often, the system which causes the least stress to the humans involved will also end up causing the least stress to the Koi. All these options should be considered and a plan formed before the bag is touched.
Large Koi that are moved in a net may sustain trauma through either spinal or internal injuries, and should always be moved by hand or other methods that will guarantee that their spines are kept straight, and their weight is well supported.

The Recovery and Quarantine Tank
The reasons to use a recovery tank are somewhat different than the reasons for quarantine. In recovery, stress is reduced so that fish can regain osmotic and acid-base balances, and adapt to new water parameters. This allows the immune functions and feeding patterns to return to normal. In quarantine, the fish are isolated so that care takers can evaluate the health and the condition of the fish and treat any disease or illness. This is both easier to do in a tank isolated from other fish populations, and it prevents the spread of pathogens to those other populations. At the end of the isolation period, a pond owner may take the opportunity to add a Koi from their existing pond collection into the isolation tank. New Koi may introduce different gut flora to the pond, and while those bacteria may not be harmful in the long run, they may cause the existing pond inhabitants to go through a period of adaptation where they appear lethargic. The existing Koi may have the same effect on the new Koi, so a period of observation and adaptation may be a good reason to extend the isolation until both the new and existing Koi are behaving normally.

Transport Injuries
An important factor to consider when transporting Koi is the correlation between stressful events such as injuries, and how injuries may increase susceptibility to pathogens later on. Physical injuries could include split or broken fins, swelling from bruising, penetrating wounds and loss of scales. Wounds can occur from netting, jumping and hitting sharp objects, rough handling, stressing in the bag or transporting incorrectly.

Being prepared and using the proper tools may prevent injury and will decrease the severity of injuries. Never lift Koi out of water with a regular net. Koi grow to be quite heavy and their bodies are not used to the normal effects of gravity. They therefore need the support of the water. Lifting Koi with a net can cause a spinal cord injury, internal injuries, damaged scales, loss of slime coat and split fins. If Koi jump onto the ground or hit the side of the pond, very similar damages can occur.

Traumatic injuries include those that are noticeable on the body or fins. If the Koi becomes injured in any way, it should be bowled to examine the extent of injuries and to facilitate treatment. That Koi should be transported at a later time, after all injuries are healed and the Koi is less stressed. If a Koi has jumped and impacted a hard surface, rinse the Koi off well and check their gills to be sure they are free of dirt. If the Koi has been knocked unconscious, support them gently with both hands, and aid them to swim slowly forward in a circle to revive them. The Koi may be held over an air stone instead. To avoid damaging their fragile gills, Koi should always be helped to swim in a normal, forward motion. However, if the Koi has been out of water for some time, check the gills to see if they are stuck together. If the gills are stuck together, then a gentle backwards movement with the operculum open is warranted. If the Koi do not recover within half an hour, place them in a closed bag containing good water, pure oxygen and 0.3% salt. Float the bag in the shade until the Koi recovers. If there is swelling on the brain, the Koi will most likely not recover. In some cases, swelling may be effectively reduced by an injection of a steroid which will be discussed in another article on this web-site.

Jumping may also lead to injuries such as torn fins, missing scales or blunt trauma wounds. If a Koi has any injury, it should not be transported. Treatments themselves may strip additional slime coat.