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Bagging, moving and transporting Koi and other pond fish  

Q: We have just sold our house and are in the process of packing up to move in a couple of weeks. Thankfully the new house does have a pond so I am not worried about where to put my Koi when we get there, just how I'm going to get them there! The journey will be roughly 80 miles. Can you advise me on the best way to catch, bag and transport my Koi? Should I stop feeding them a few days before they travel? Do I need to hire a tank of oxygen for their travelling bags? Will this procedure be the same if I ever transport my Koi to shows in the future?

A: You've done very well to find a house with a pond, ready to take your koi. Do as many preliminary checks of your new pond as possible before the move to ensure that the vendor is leaving it in a mature, healthy and clean state - and ideally free of fish.

I am assuming that your move falls within the spring and summer months, as this will affect a few aspects of advice on how to protect your koi during their move. I also hope that for your own sake, and for that of your koi, your anticipated move in 2 weeks time does actually take place as planned and that you do not experience any last minute legal delays: Estate agents and solicitors - don't you just love them!

Moving koi, thankfully, can be a very straightforward procedure as long as everything is planned well in advance. Koi are tolerant of being transported many thousands of miles for many hours in a plastic bag, and compared to some of their previous journeys, your koi's next trip will seem like a walk around the block. However, this should not make you cavalier in your approach before the move as there are a number of fundamentals to get right when moving koi that have made moving koi across the globe easily achievable.

Step 1. Prepare your koi

You don't mention how many koi you have, or their size. I will assume all are 14" or less. Koi themselves are their own worst enemy during transportation (just as they can be in a new pond) by their ability to pollute their water. Add to that the small volumes of water involved and you can soon see the potential risks you'll have to plan for. But great lessons can be learnt from those with years of experience of exporting pond fish for a living. To keep both solid and ammonia excretion to a minimum during transit, your koi should be starved for 5 days. Starvation suggests this may be a cruel practice, but it is easily tolerated by healthy koi. This will reduce their potential to pollute the water in which they are transported and increase the chances of a safe, low-stress arrival at their new pond.

Step 2: Prepare your transportation equipment

You will be using heavy-duty polythene fish bags, the type in which your koi would have probably travelled to the UK. These bags will ideally need to be inflated with oxygen and then placed in well-fitting cardboard boxes. Your koi dealer will be able to source all 3 of these for you, loaning or hiring the oxygen to you. Just bear in mind that the oxygen cylinder will need to be returned prior to your move - a job you could delegate to someone else while you are on your 80 mile trip.

So that your dealer can advise you correctly, inform them of the number and size of your koi. He will then be able to suggest how many koi should go into each bag giving you a total number of bags and boxes required. Each bag will need to be double-bagged (against leaks and minor punctures while in transit). If you are in any doubt, ask to be shown how to prepare and fill a double bag as well as inflating one with oxygen and sealing each bag with an elastic band. Check that the number of boxes required will fit in your vehicle of choice for the move. To be safe, collect a few extra bags to cover any punctures or other eventualities during the bagging-up process.

Step 3: Prepare the bags and boxes.

Once you are ready to move your fish, and your vehicle is ready, it is time to start the transportation. Don't get stressed by trying to do everything at 100mph (including your 80 mile trip) and take some comfort from the fact that koi are being bagged up and transported quite safely every day across even greater distances.

If you haven't done so already, make up each box and prepare a double bag for each box. Before netting your koi, and disturbing any detritus or algae thereby affecting the quality of you water, fill each bag now with clean and clear pond water to approx 20% of the bag's volume. Once each double-bag is ready in its own box, with neck rolled down, you can start to catch your koi. If you wish, you can add an airstone to each bag to keep the water fresh.

Step 4: Net your koi

You will need a stiff, long handled net with as wide a head as possible. A great deal of care must be taken at this stage as you can stress your koi more than is necessary by prolonged chases - remember any oxygen-debt that an exhausted koi may have from being netted in your pond will have to be replaced from the oxygen in their bag. To reduce the metabolism and oxygen consumption in transit, professional exporters often chill (as well as starve their fish) prior to and during transit.

The best way to net koi is to shepherd them, rather than chase them, guiding the net and koi into a corner. Make sure the net moves slowly at all times and approaches the koi head-on. You will never catch a koi by trying to out pace it from behind. By attempting to do so, you will add to the stress and you'll soon tire and become infuriated. You'll also run the risk of your koi leaping out of the pond out of sheer desperation. Once you've netted a koi, bring it to the edge where you have a number of options:

a. Transfer the koi to a floating basket or bowl by depressing it below the surface and moving the net (with koi) into the bowl. This way, the koi doesn't leave the water. Then lift the koi either manually or in a smaller net or koi sock into the awaiting bag of clean pond water. b. As above, but bring the bag of clean pond water down into the basket and transfer the koi within the pond itself. This way there is no risk of dropping the koi, but there is a risk of murky water finding its way into the bag.

Step 5. Inflating and sealing the bag

Once you have the predetermined number of koi in a bag, check the water volume and check that it is no fuller than 30% and that when placed on its side, water covers each koi. The remaining 70% is to be filled with oxygen. As your koi are only likely to be in a bag for 3 hours, the proportion of water : void is not so critical.

The oxygen cylinder will be connected to a hose which is inserted into the neck of the inner bag. Arrange the neck as you would if you were going to blow into a paper bag. With the hose inserted into the bag, expel all existing air and grip the hose, adjusting the regulator to re-inflate the bag with oxygen from the cylinder. You will feel and see the bag inflate. Once you feel your grip on the bag being 'challenged' by the increase in pressure in the bag, remove the hose and twist the neck of the bag with your free hand, placing several elastic bands over the tight twist of plastic. Do the same for the second outer bag and place in the box. Repeat the same process for all your other koi, sealing each box to help quieten down your koi further.

Once all of your koi are in sealed bags and boxes, it's time to load up your vehicle and set off for your (and their new home). As most of your koi will be small enough to move around inside the bags, it is not critical how the boxes are positioned in the car. Had there been larger koi, these would need to have been positioned transversely across the axel to reduce the risk of them rubbing their noses (and fins) against the bag.

Step 6: Arrival at new pond - unloading and acclimatisation

Even though your koi will have only been in transit for less than 3 hours, they will still need acclimatising to their new pond. Unload each bag, untie the elastic bands and roll down the necks, floating the bags in their new pond. After 5 minutes introduce some of the new pond water into each bag and after a further 5 minutes (or less if the koi are showing signs of distress) empty the koi into your new pond.

Be sure to keep an eye on your koi over the first 2-3 days in their new pond as koi in a new environment can often prove to be a little frisky - looking to jump out of their new pond. Also, if you are not aware of the previous loading of fish in your new pond, be sure to monitor the water quality as you may encounter a slight rise in ammonia or nitrite.

In summary, moving house can be a stressful experience on its own - without koi, but koi can add further to the logistical problems. Moving koi will unavoidably cause them stress, but with a little preparation and good execution, this stress can be kept to a minimum, making the move as smooth as possible for both you and your koi.

Top tips for moving Koi Work with your dealer to:

  1. Secure sufficient bags, boxes and elastic bands
  2. Determine how many koi should go into each bag
  3. Hire / borrow a cylinder of oxygen

Prior to netting your koi:

  1. Prepare double bags in boxes (and check for leaks)
  2. Bag clean pond water for transporting koi

Having netted and bagged your koi

  1. Fill the bags with oxygen
  2. Seal each bag separately with elastic bands
  3. Transport koi in sealed, dark cardboard boxes
  4. Get to destination as quickly and safely as possible
  5. Acclimatise koi into their new pond by floating bags and adding water to them from the new pond

Step-by-step

  1. Remove any airstones and other obstructions from the pond to enhance your visibility within the pond
  2. Using a long-handled, large-head net, shepherd a single koi into a corner.
  3. Approaching it head-on, with very slow and gentle movement of the net, net the koi
  4. Bring the netted koi to the pond edge and transfer into a floating basket by depressing the basket below the surface
  5. Either by bringing the filled double bag down to the basket or lifting the koi up to the double-bag, transfer the koi into the bag.
  6. Dispel all air from the bag and inflate with oxygen, ensuring oxygen fills the majority of the bag
  7. Seal the bag with several elastic bands. Do the same with the outer bag
  8. Place in a box and seal box to reduce stress
 

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