How to Ship Fresh Fish and Seafood

Learn how to ship fresh fish and other seafood, how to package these shipments properly, and which carrier to choose
Ship fresh fish and ship seafood
Grab these resources for this guide
Packing Perishable Shipments
FedEx's guide on shipping perishable products
IATA's Dangerous Goods Regulations
Follow IATA's guidelines for shipping dry ice
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Have you ever ordered a plate of salmon or sushi and thought about how it got there? Well, fish don’t just jump out of the ocean and onto our plates. They get shipped, of course! Now more than ever, it’s incredibly common to ship fresh fish and other types of seafood between restaurants and fish markets. Some restaurants even source their fish from very specific locations across the world! Wokuni in New York City, for example, flies in their fish daily from Nagasaki Farm in Hirado, Japan. This guide is all about how to ship fish and how to keep them fresh on their way to their final destination. Ready to dive in?

Your Carrier Options for Shipping Fish and Other Seafood

When shipping fish and other seafood, you’ve got a few different options to choose from. The US Postal Service is the best carrier for sending out smaller parcels, like if you’re shipping mackerel or trout. You’ll get the best mix of affordable rates and fast service when you choose USPS. However, their delivery isn’t necessarily as fast as other carriers’ express services. When it comes to shipping fish and other seafood, speed is one of the most important things to consider…and Priority Mail Express is USPS’ fastest service. Therefore, if you do use USPS for sending out fish, you’ll want to ship Priority Mail Express.

If you’re trying to ship fish that are long or on the larger side, then you’ll want to consider using UPS or FedEx. Both UPS and FedEx have larger size allowances than USPS does, and will allow you to ship heavier weights. Out of all three major carriers, FedEx is the one that specializes in shipping frozen food and perishables. Since that’s the case, we’re more inclined to recommend FedEx in the case of shipping fish. However, note that it will be much more expensive than shipping with USPS.

Here’s the bottom line: whichever shipping carrier you choose boils down to what you need. In general, UPS is better for large, heavier shipments, and FedEx specializes in overnight delivery.

Learn the fastest way to ship with each major carrier.

Keep Your Fish Fresh by Packaging Them Properly

This is the big one, folks. On top of getting your fish to their final destination as quickly as possible, you want to devote significant time to packaging them properly. To save you some time and headaches, we’ve laid out a few packaging tips and tricks for you to follow below.

Pro Tip: Remember, shipping fresh fish means they aren’t frozen! While you may be inclined to choose a similar service for shipping frozen food, it’s an entirely different process altogether. On a similar note, the process of shipping live fish is different, too.

Consider the Container and Outer Packaging

In the case of shipping fresh fish, your inner packaging matters just as much as your outer packaging. We suggest first placing your fish in an insulated styrofoam cooler, and throwing that cooler inside a brand new corrugated cardboard box. If you’d rather be safe than sorry (like we always do), you may want to include insulated liners such as rags on the inner walls of your corrugated cardboard box. These liners will help catch water runoff from any melting ice or ice packs before the water can damage your outer packaging.

Pro Tip: If you want to ship your fish with FedEx, they actually sell special cold shipping boxes for scenarios like this. These boxes come with a one-time-use chilling unit that you activate and put in your package, making it super easy for you to ship perishables like fresh seafood. Pretty cool, right?

Use Wet Ice, Dry Ice, or Gel Packs to Keep Your Fish Cool

Some of the most common types of cooling packing materials are wet ice (literally frozen water), dry ice, or gel packs. If your fish will be transported by air, there aren’t really any limitations for wet ice. However, you’ll want to keep regulations in mind if you plan on throwing dry ice inside the packaging.

USPS will only allow you to include up to 5 pounds of dry ice when using their air services like Priority Mail Express. UPS also only allows up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice per package via air transportation. FedEx is more lenient, allowing you to ship up to 200 kg (or about 440 pounds) of dry ice per package.

Pro Tip: DON’T include dry ice in an airtight container! Dry ice releases carbon dioxide, and that will cause pressure to build up until your package bursts. Trust us when we tell you that no one wants a bursted package of fresh fish.

Get to Know the Regulations for Perishable Shipments

If you’re super serious about shipping out fresh fish correctly, we suggest picking up a copy of the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations handbook. In it, you’ll be able to reference all the different guidelines for shipping perishable items such as fresh seafood. For example, if you’re including dry ice in your shipment, IATA require you to label your package with specific markings. Those markings are as follows:

  • “Dry Ice” or “Carbon Dioxide Solid”
  • A UN 1845 label
  • Net weight of dry ice in kilograms (1 kg = roughly 2.205 pounds)
  • Name and address of the shipper
  • Name and address of the recipient

If you think choosing one carrier over another will exempt you from these regulations, think again! You’ll need to follow these guidelines no matter which shipping carrier you use.

It Never Hurts to Double-Check With Your Carrier

If all else fails, ask your carrier what kinds of packing and cooling material that they allow inside your package, and if there are any limitations. They’ll always be able to point you in the right direction.

Insure Your Shipments In Case They Spoil or Take Damage

Every carrier will allow you to purchase additional shipping insurance on top of your shipping cost. While springing for extra insurance may not make sense in some cases, shipping fresh fish is not one of them. Certain types of seafood can be high value items and expensive to replace, so in our opinion, it’s worth protecting yourself with shipping insurance. That way you’re financially covered in case anything happens to your fish shipment during transit. Plus, it usually only costs a few extra bucks on top of your postage. Why not, right?

Save the Most Money on your Fish Shipments with Online Shipping Software

As is the case with shipping most other items under the sun, you’ll save the most money on shipping fish when you buy postage discounted postage online with shipping software. Some shipping software solutions out there sell discounted postage for all the major carriers, and some only focus on selling USPS postage. Depending on what kind of service you need to ship your seafood, do your research and find out which shipping software solution is the best choice for you.

If you’re looking for a place to start, head on over to our Reviews page. You’ll find hundreds of resources on different carriers, shipping software solutions, fulfillment partners, custom packaging companies and more!

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  1. C

    We want to ship 50 lbs of grinded fish (fish paste) each month. These don’t sell at premium prices so packaging/shipping cost must to be reasonable. Any suggestions on where to find styrofoam to insulate box? Also, I vague remember reading temperate needs to stay below 45 degrees F. Do you think we could get away with freezing fish, adding frozen gel packs, styrofoam insultation and using USPS priority mail? Priority mail could be 2-3 days.

    thank you

  2. Dallas Graves

    I’m going to pick up a few hundred pounds of fresh shrimp and bring 6 hours north to distribute. How’s the very best way to ice them down for transport?

    • Rockwell Sands

      Hi Dallas – this sounds more like a freight question that a transport company may be better equipped to answer, since Shipping School focuses on shippers sending small packages. If it were me though, I’d surround those bad boys with as much cooling material as possible without actually freezing them, whatever that looks like! Think dry ice, gel packs, etc. I hope this is somewhat helpful, sorry I can’t offer more advice!

      • Jeff Congdon

        I need to ship 4000 lbs of fresh fish per week to a wholesale buyer in Florida, how can this be done?

        • Carl

          You will need to freeze it as there is noway around that. The buyer can thaw it & sell as fresh. Your shipping options are by air cargo with major airline, refrigerated truck/rail. For packaging you can get away with corregated heavy duty boxes with sheets of ice on top. Fish needs to be frozen solid (atleast 2 days in freezer. This will buy you about 24 hours.

    • Kim

      Hi, I am traveling to the artic and want to bring back some artic char. I will be flying with a large cooler and ice packs. How long can fresh fish be in the cooler? I have a layer over on my way home.

  3. Erin

    I am trying to figure out the best way to properly package fresh caught but frozen fish from Nashville to California. It fits in a small cooler. I wanted to send FedEx overnight probably using the cooler boxes, but I looks like they are on back order. Should I keep in a cooler with dry ice and then put in a box or use something else?

    • Rockwell Sands

      Erin – I’m sorry to hear the FedEx cooler boxes are on backorder, because that’s honestly the best way! If you don’t want to wait to get them, I think the next best option is to put your fish in a slightly-opened ziploc bag full of ice, throw as much dry ice as you can in a styrofoam box inside of a bigger cardboard box, and send it that way via USPS Priority Mail Express. It might be more expensive then the FedEx cooling box option, but that’s what I would do!

  4. Sienna

    Hi there.. i am trying to figure out how to send 1 ton of fresh fish in the most efficient way. Would you please help? Thanks!

  5. Trae

    I am trying to figure out a fast, efficient and cheap way to ship gulf shrimp. The shrimp is fresh, but frozen in whole. What would you suggest?

    • Rockwell Sands

      Hi Trae, thanks for writing in. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to ship your shrimp, I would probably stick with regular Priority Mail that you can buy with online shipping software for the best discounts. Still, you’ll need to use the proper packing material inside your box to keep the water from leaking out, and to keep the shrimp fresh.

      We actually have a guide specifically dedicated to shipping shrimp with USPS here, in case you want to check it out. You can see all the packing material we suggest as well as the service(s) we recommend, too:


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