How Long Can a Fish Stay in a Bag?

Most people have been to a carnival or fair where there are goldfish being won by the dozen when a little ping pong ball falls into a tiny bowl of colored water.  Winners are given a fish swimming around in a clear plastic bag that resembles a bubble.  While this is one of the safest and most economical ways to transport a fish, some guidelines need to be followed to maintain the health of the fish.

Fish are often placed into plastic bags for easy transport to their home.  The bags used are called breather bags and allow carbon dioxide to escape and oxygen to get into the bag, which increases the time a fish can spend in the bag to 48 hours.  Typical plastic bags will only allow your fish to survive for 7-9 hours.

When taking your fish home, it is crucial to know how long they have been in the bag when you receive the fish.  In this article, you will learn how long a goldfish and koi fish can stay in a plastic bag, how to transfer your fish from its bag to its new home correctly, and how to spot signs of sickness in your fish.

How Long Can a Goldfish and Koi Stay in a Bag?

Goldfish and koi are notorious, resilient fish that can handle lots of changes.  When you purchase a goldfish or koi, they will likely be scooped into a plastic bag that has been filled with air and tied shut.  While the bag appears to have an excess amount of air for the fish, there is a small window of time the fish can remain in the bag.

  • Goldfish or koi should not be kept in a regular plastic, air-filled bag for longer than 9 hours. 
  • If the bag is a breather bag, the fish can safely stay in the bag for up to 48 hours.

What Happens to the Fish in the Bag?

Putting a fish into a bag for transport is very safe; however, if the fish is not prepared the correct way, it can become ill and possibly die. It is not recommended to put a fish into a bag unless it has been without food for 48 hours, and the water used is directly from the tank. 

If you put a fish into the bag that has recently eaten, they will expel waste into the water.  Fish waste contains bacteria that can change the pH of the water and will ultimately harm your fish.

Because most plastic bags are not made to allow carbon dioxide to escape, the fish will eventually run out of oxygen and will become ill.  If the fish is fortunate to be in a breathing bag, they will receive enough oxygen for at least 48 hours. (Source: The Fish Site)

How to Remove the Fish from the Bag

When you finally get the fish to the desired location, you mustn’t rush removing the fish from the bag, unless you are heading into the critical time the fish has been in the bag.  The bag is handy as you are attempting to acclimate the fish to its new home. 

You will need to float the bag in the bowl or aquarium the fish will live in.  The purpose of doing this is to help the fish regulate its body temperature before being transferred over to the new location.

Follow these steps when transferring your fish from the bag into its new home:

  • While still in its bag, allow the fish to float for at least ten minutes before adding a bit of the bowl or aquarium water directly into the bag.
  • After doing this, allow the fish to float for ten more minutes. 
  • Continue slowly adding the new water and letting your fish float for ten minutes until you have the bag nearly full of the new water. 
  • At this point, you can safely transfer the fish into its new home.

(Source: Hartz)

Is Your Fish Sick or Just in Need of Fresh Water?

If you have spent any time looking at a fish in a bag, you may notice they do not always look like they are the healthiest.  This is a definite concern if you are gazing at a fish that was won at a carnival, but not as likely with a fish you are purchasing from a pet store. It is important to remember that looks can deceive, so you want to know what to look for in a sick fish.

Some signs to look for to see if your fish is sick include:

  • Gasping for breath: If you notice the fish swimming to the surface and gasping for air, the fish doesn’t have enough oxygen in the bag and needs to be removed as quickly as possible.
  • Nicked or torn fins: Often, fish will experience nicked or torn fins when they are in a tank with other fish that may be more aggressive.  While this does not show a problem, it can be a clue that the fish is not the healthiest and warrants careful observation.
  • Lethargy:  If you see the fish hanging out on the bottom of the bag for a lengthy amount of time with limited movement, it may mean that it is sick, either from being in the bag for such a long time or because it was ill when it was placed into the bag.
  • Abnormal looking eyes: Sometimes, when a fish is sick, you will tell by looking at their eyes.  If the eyes are dull looking or seem to be swollen (some fish breeds have protruding eyes), it could indicate an underlying illness.
  • Swimming on its side: When fish are not feeling well or are sick, they cannot find their center of balance and will often swim on their side. If you see your fish doing this, it could show a more significant problem or illness.

(Source: KipKis and Rate My Fishtank)

As you can see, there are many different indicators that your fish is not feeling well or has a disease that will claim its life early.  If you purchase a fish and notice any of these things, return to the pet store immediately.  There is a chance it is an isolated incident with one sick fish, but it is also possible that the tank has a disease or bacteria in it.

If you have won the fish at a carnival or fair, you may return it, but that is not likely. However, if you take the fish to any reputable pet store, they may tell you what is wrong with the fish and if it is something that can be remedied at home.

Final Thoughts

Fish are amazing creatures that have a unique way of being transported.  While a plastic bag is by far one of the safest methods of transporting a fish, it cannot be viewed as a long-term storage solution. 

Remember, you need to remove the fish from the bag. It is in within 7-9 or 48 hours, depending on the type of bag.  If you follow the guidelines for removing the fish from the bag, your goldfish or koi will have a long and healthy life.