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Transporting koi

Equipment and supplies

This section will deal with the supplies and techniques that have been found to most effectively transport Koi.

Equipment and Supply List:
  • A Seine net to gather Koi into one corner of the pond
  • A Koi pole net to guide Koi into a bowl
  • A bowl of sufficient size to easily hold the largest Koi
  • Koi Bags: at least 20” x 40”, 3 mil thick, clear plastic
  • Bag Additives (Salt)
  • Strong Rubber Bands or Koi bag closure bands and applicator tool
  • Ice packs, well wrapped in newspaper, bubble-wrap or other insulation
  • Boxes lined on all sides with Styrofoam, or coolers
  • Oxygen bottle with hose and a sterilized fill nozzle
  • Emergency supplies

Seine net
The seine net should be at least 4 feet larger than the maximum width of the pond, and in the other dimension, it should be 3 feet higher than the deepest part of the pond. A larger net is always preferable to one that is too small. The bottom should have sufficient weight such that the entire bottom edge of the net will remain on the pond bottom while the net is being slowly pulled through the water. The top of the net should extend at least 2 feet (higher is always better) above the water in order to turn back any jumping Koi. The mesh should be soft and the holes small enough to assure that the smallest Koi cannot become stuck.

It is often easiest to roll each side of the net onto long poles that can be more easily guided along the pond sides, and thus extra width of the seine is recommended. The seine is gently placed in the water along the back edge of the pond, opposite to the area where the Koi will be removed, and allowed to fall to the bottom. A minimum of 2 people are required to seine most ponds. The assistant on each side of the pond keeps their side of the net or their pole up against the wall on their side of the pond while very slowly advancing from the back of the pond to the front. It is imperative that the seine is moved very slowly through the water. The slower that the seine is advanced, the easier it is to keep the edges of the net or the poles against the sides of the pond, and the easier it is for the weights to hold the net onto the bottom of the pond. Any gaps will quickly be exploited by the Koi, as Koi learn very quickly. If the Koi escape the net once, they will try again, and each time they are successful, the more determined they will become to escape the next time. Koi that are calmly and efficiently collected with a seine don’t learn to jump or try to escape. If a Koi reacts to confinement by jumping and is turned back by the net, it will be less likely to jump again. Each time Koi are seined and people interact with them, there is an opportunity for the Koi to learn and to influence how the Koi behave. If the Koi have a low-stress experience, they will be even less stressed the next time the net is introduced. If they panic and jump and need to be re-seined several times, they will be in much worse physical condition from the stress, and it will be much harder to catch them the next time. The Koi should be collected into one corner of the pond where it will be easy to reach them with the pole net.

Seine nets may even be used in irregular-shaped ponds, so long as the net can make several wraps around the poles being held on each side, and is still wide enough to stretch across the widest area of the pond. As the helpers advance to narrower areas, the extra net may be slowly wrapped onto the poles, and then unwrapped again where the pond gets wider. Extra care and time should be taken with irregular-shaped ponds. Ponds with islands or central features are not as suitable for seining. To seine ponds with islands, 2 seines are required. One is left in place to block the water between the island and one edge. The other net is dropped into the water near the stationary one, and is worked in a circle back to the stationary net to trap the Koi between the two nets.

Seine nets may be adjusted for different bottom configurations by changing the amount of weight at the bottom of the net. Most seine nets can be rigged to ride over bottom drain covers without catching. Deeper and smoother ponds may require additional bottom weight. If the bottom is rocky or very irregular, weights may need to be removed. The heavier the bottom weights, the more quickly the seine net may be moved. Light seine nets require tremendous patience in order to move slowly enough to keep the net on the bottom at all times.

Pole Net
The Pole Net should be a net specifically designed for handle Koi. The head of the net should be large and round and the netting should be quite shallow. A standard size Koi net would have a 25-inch diameter head, and the netting would be less than 10” deep. Most Koi nets have a 6-8 foot long handle, unless they are very large, and then the handles may be as long as 12 feet. The netting should be designed for Koi and should never be larger than a 3/8-inch mesh. The mesh should be made of polyester, and coated to resist barb penetration and scaling. The area on the frame where the mesh netting is attached should be designed in such a way as to prevent any possible injury to the Koi. Many ingenious methods have been developed to protect Koi from being injured, and there are many excellent net designs available to choose from.

The net should be black to decrease its visibility to the Koi. The handle should be at least 2” in diameter and designed to reduce twisting. If the handle is made of wood, it should be oval in shape to resist twisting due to the resistance of the large head being moved through the water. If it is made of aluminum, it should have a foam grip. Some nets have hollow metal handles which can fill with water and become very heavy, hindering the maneuverability of the net. Wooden handles float, and make the net lighter and easier to use.

The head of the net should be larger than the largest Koi. The larger the head, the harder it will be to move through the water, and the slower it will be, due to water resistance and drag. Larger nets will try to twist as they are being moved. It is much easier to catch small Koi with larger nets. Smaller Koi can dart around very quickly and easily escape smaller nets. The key to catching Koi is to move the net very slowly under the Koi until the Koi is selected, and then use the net to guide the Koi towards the bowl. Position the net under the Koi’s head and as the Koi turns, continue to slowly follow the head (rather than the tail) while guiding the Koi to the surface. The net should never touch the Koi. It is often desirable to use a net large enough for the net to then be used to cover the bowl while it is being moved, thus preventing injury to the Koi as a result of jumping.
Koi should never be lifted out of the water with a net, regardless of the Koi’s size. All Koi depend on water to support their body weight, and the internal organs or larger Koi can be seriously damaged by being lifted them without proper support.

Koi Bowl
Most Koi bowls are round and made of heavy blue plastic. It should be big enough to easily hold the largest koi. The color blue has been found to provide the best contrast to Koi colors, and is the only color used at Koi shows. The blue color makes an excellent background for photographing Koi. The bowl should be larger in diameter than the length of the largest Koi. While the Koi is being guided towards the bowl by one person, another person should be holding the Koi bowl. The bowl is tipped vertically, so that 1/2 the bowl is in the water and 1/2 is out of the water. The open side of the bowl should face towards the Koi, with the bowl back facing the bowl handler. The biggest mistake made by ‘bowlers’ is that only the lip of the bowl is kept in the water, and the Koi must be forced up and over the lip to get into the bowl. The Koi then panics because the bowl does not have enough water, and no matter how carefully the Koi was guided to the bowl, it is now highly stressed. Keeping the bowl 1/2 in the water, and swimming the Koi into the bowl slowly, will greatly reduce stress.

Once the Koi is in the bowl, the bowl is allowed to slowly tip to its normal appearance and float on the water. The bowl will be nearly full of water. More water may be added by tipping the edge of the bowl nearest the ‘bowler’ under water and allowing water to flow in to the desired level. Water may be removed by slowly raising the back of the bowl up in the air, and allowing excess water to run out of the front of the bowl towards the ‘bowler.’ This does not require strength - the total weight of the bowl should be supported by the water as it is floating. If the bowl is tilted slowly, the Koi will swim towards the flow into the back of the bowl and will not be poured out with the water. Some Koi have a tendency to jump from a bowl that has deep water. Generally, just enough water should be used to cover the Koi’s dorsal fin. Once in the bowl, the Koi should be examined for health, and then bagged directly from the bowl. Most Koi farms will gently turn the Koi upside down and examine the belly for signs of disease. A small camera can be used instead, and will cause much less stress than the handling required examining the Koi’s belly.

If a Koi is agitated and resists handling for examination or being picking up, it often helps to make the Koi dizzy for a moment. This can be accomplished two different ways. First, one hand may be placed next to the Koi’s head and other hand near the tail to gently spin the Koi several times about the axis of its middle, until the Koi has lost its orientation and will stay in one place when it stops spinning. If the Koi bowl is in the water or on a very smooth surface, it may be preferable to simply use both hands to spin the bowl. This system has the advantage of not having to handle the Koi or accidentally remove slime coat, but may take a bit longer. In the moment of confusion after spinning, most Koi can usually be handled without a battle. If the bowled Koi passes its examination, it may be bagged. If there are any areas of redness or signs of disease or damage, the Koi should be moved to a quarantine tank and treated. Only healthy Koi should be shipped.

Koi Bags and Number-of-Koi-per-Bag
Koi bags should be made of heavy clear plastic. Heavier plastic will make the bag hard to seal with the bands, and thinner plastic may stretch and tear when the bag is moved. Double bagging is recommended for smaller Koi, and triple bagging is recommended for larger Koi. Koi should not be shipped together when the final health of the Koi is the only concern. Increased crowding in bags increases the stresses from the whole transport experience, and may contribute to Delayed Mortality Syndrome. For the purposes of transporting Koi to shows, all Koi should be packed individually.
For all Koi bags, just enough water should be added to cover the gills (the dorsal fin may be slightly out of water), and the remainder of the bag should be filled with pure oxygen. Koi bags, after being banded, should always be longer than the Koi. Larger bags and wooden crates will be required for Jumbo Koi. The corners at the bottom of the bag should be tucked under, when transporting fry to prevent them being trapped and suffocated in these corners.

Rubber bands
Each Koi bag, whether it is used as the first, second or third bag should be sealed individually. To properly seal the bags, leave a 10 to 15 cm tail after the inside bag is filled with pure oxygen. This tail should be very tightly twisted to assure the best seal with the band. Either heavy duty rubber bands or special Koi bagging bands may be used. The band is stretched and twisted and placed over the neck again, and then as many more times as possible. This takes quite a bit of strength. This first band should be placed low on the neck away from the open end to prevent the neck from untwisting. The tightly-twisted tail of the bag should be doubled over and a second and third band should be used to very tightly secure the tail, thus providing a secondary seal. Each bag should be banded the same way, always starting with the inside bag and working towards the outside bag.  Some people prefer to twist the neck of the bag, then double it back and use a single band only on the doubled neck. This system is not recommended. It is difficult to get a good seal against the doubled neck, and a disaster may occur if there is band failure.

Ice Packs
Ice packs can be found in many sizes and shapes. It is always preferable to use one larger ice pack than many smaller ones. Ice melts faster if it has more exposed surface area, so larger ice packs last much longer. The ice pack is used as an air-conditioner in the Koi box, and should not be in direct contact with the Koi bag. Ice packs should be wrapped in multiple layers of newspaper, bubble wrap or other insulation. Insulated ice packs prevent any sharp edges from puncturing the Koi bags, prevent injury to a jumping Koi, and slow the melting rate of the ice to make it last longer. Each standard 16 ounce reusable gel ice pack will last between 4 and 8 hours, depending on the air and water temperatures. For short shipments under 6 hours, one ice pack should be sufficient. If the shipping time is longer than 6 hours or if the air temperature is high, multiple ice packs should be used.

Koi should not be transported only in bags. The bag with the water and fish needs to be supported in a sturdy container. Unsupported bags roll around with the slightest movement, and even the forces encountered when making a corner can shift a heavy bag so violently that it will burst the bag or band. Koi can be badly injured in a sudden stop, and may severely damage fins during even a short transport without the stability provided by a container. It is important to have the correct size box for the Koi Bags that are being used. The Koi bags should lie on their sides on the bottom of the shipping container, with the banded necks at one end, and the bottom of the bags at the other end. Care should be taken to assure that there are no wrinkles in the bag. The bag should fill the entire bottom of the box so that it will not shift during transport. If the box is too big, a second inflated bag can be used to wedge the transport bag. It is also recommended to use a plastic liner on the bottom of the box that extends a few centimeters up the sides. The liner will contain any water leaks and prevent the water from destroying the box. The box should be clearly marked to indicate the right side up, and should be labeled to indicate that live fish are enclosed. All sides of the box including the top should be insulated with Styrofoam to help maintain the air-conditioning effect from the ice pack(s). Coolers are sometimes used instead of boxes for the transport of valuable Koi. The coolers are much more crush resistant, hold water, and will keep a more consistent inside temperature in warmer conditions.

Some have built-in handles and easy-to-close lids that make coolers easier to work with. Ice packs should be well secured to the sides or top of the cooler with duct tape. Koi containers should always be placed perpendicular to the direction of travel. This is especially important with large Koi that cannot turn around in their bags. If the container is parallel to the direction of travel and makes a sudden stop, the Koi may badly injure its nose or tail. Shipping Koi sideways is more comfortable for the Koi and prevents injury. It is never advisable to put Koi containers in car trunks. A trunk may be subject to extreme temperatures – both hot and cold. Bubble wrap should be used to line all sides around bags that contain heavy or large Koi. The bubble wrap will greatly cushion any sudden movements and prevent injury to the Koi. This is more important in a hard sided cooler, but should also be practiced when using a box for heavy or large Koi.

The amount of pure oxygen in the shipping bag is more important to Koi survival then the amount of water. The purpose of the water is to provide a medium to get oxygen to the Koi’s gills. Water holds very little oxygen. Increased oxygen in the water makes it easier for the Koi to breathe during their journey. The best way to make sure that there is enough oxygen is to replace the air in the bag with pure oxygen. Air contains only 20% oxygen. Filling a Koi bag with pure oxygen provides 80% more oxygen that can be dissolved into the water for the Koi to breathe, thus allowing the Koi to survive for a very long time in a very small amount of water. A larger Koi Bag simply can hold a greater amount of oxygen. In large shipping bags filled with pure oxygen, medium sized Koi have been known to survive over 72 hours when the properly prepared shipping boxes were delayed. Cold water can hold more oxygen than warm water, and is another reason to ship Koi in cooler water, and add pure oxygen to the bag.

Koi owners should keep a tank of pure oxygen for emergencies and transport. A cylindrical oxygen tank can be obtained from any welding supply store, or smaller tanks may be purchased. Filled tanks from gas companies are usually rented. Most koi keepers in South Africa must have had a run-in with this monopoly that charge exorbitant prices and demand a monthly rental. If a large tank is chosen, the company will come out and refill the tank at the user’s request. Remember to sterilize any portion of the rubber tube that comes into contact with Koi water to diminish the risk of spreading pathogens. Oxygen is only added to the inner Koi bag; the one actually containing the water and Koi. The bag should be purged of air and filled with pure oxygen. To accomplish this, hold the neck of the bag loosely in one hand. Use the other hand to very gently press the surface of the bag onto the water, allowing all the air to escape from the neck of the bag. Then grip the neck of the bag tightly to prevent any room air from entering the bag. Carefully insert the plastic tube attached to the air-filling nozzle inside the neck of the bag in your hand, and clamp the bag tightly around the nozzle to prevent room air from entering the bag. Slowly squeeze the air-filling valve and expand the bag to nearly full. Oxygen should be added along the side of the bag slowly enough to not distress the Koi. When the bag is nearly full, remove the air-filling valve and quickly twist the neck of the bag to prevent the pure oxygen from escaping. Place the bands on the inner bag according to the above instructions, and then band the outer bag(s).

If the Koi are to be transported by air, it is imperative to leave some space in the bag, and not completely fill the bag with oxygen. The air inside the bag will expand if the transport vehicle travels to higher ground and the outside air pressure decreases. An airline baggage compartment is kept pressurized – but only to a pressure corresponding with 8,000 feet. If the Koi are bagged at sea-level and then the container is placed in a baggage compartment, the reduced pressure of the compartment air (similar to 8000 feet) will allow the higher pressure air inside the bag to expand about 5%. If sufficient room is not left inside the bag for this expansion, the bag will burst, and the water will leak out, killing the Koi. A Koi bag prepared for air shipment should have at least a 10% space for expansion. If Koi are transported by ground, 5% expansion room will be sufficient

Emergency Kit
It is always advisable to carry an emergency kit when transporting Koi. That kit should include a 20 liter container of shipping water, extra Koi bags, extra bands, and a small oxygen cylinder with filler valve. While the bags and bands will fold into a tiny packet, traveling with an oxygen cylinder can be a risk some owners prefer not to take. Some owners choose instead to carry a cooler and a small battery operated air pump and air stone. Small battery operated air pumps with air tubing and an air stone are sold in the fishing departments of large discount stores, and are used for bait buckets. 2 D-cell batteries will run one of these small air pumps and produce enough air to keep a Koi alive for several hours. If a bag were to burst or leak, the emergency kit should contain all the equipment needed to keep the Koi alive until the destination is reached.

An Alternative – Live Haul Tanks
Most Koi farms use live haul tanks to transport Koi between locations. These tanks are often custom made to fit onto farm trucks, but there are also reasonably-priced models that are available in moderate sizes for the consumer. Consumer models feature a frame that is constructed of sturdy PVC pipe, which supports a tank made of heavily-treated plastic fabric - identical to that used for show tanks. Ideally, a transport tank would have soft sides to minimize any impact damage to the Koi. A spare battery is often used to run an efficient air pump and air stone. When choosing the water to be used in transport, the considerations are the same whether the water is used for bags or live-haul tanks, and shipping tank water should also be amended with salt. Most Koi farm managers use transport tanks, and are convinced that the Koi are less stressed when transported by tank. It is certainly far less labor-intensive to move Koi into-and-out-of a transport tank than to properly bag and box the Koi. Tank weight is the primary consideration, as not all vehicles have the facilities to carry or hold the weight securely. Tanks with large doors or lids make loading and unloading much easier and reduce the rough handling sometimes associated with net dipping, especially in tight quarters. Extreme care must be taken to reduce stress while getting Koi into and out of transport tanks. All transport tanks should have safety features including overflow-drains and air vents that allow the dispersal of carbon dioxide, a by-product of Koi waste. All transport tanks must have an aeration system to ensure the addition of adequate dissolved oxygen into the water. Make sure the air pump’s inlet is removed from exhaust fumes of the vehicle, and precautions should be made to have a back-up power source for the aeration. An overcrowded transport tank without oxygen quickly becomes deadly to Koi.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2008 16:31