Ordering Fish Online, Beware of These Hidden Facts!

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Ordering fish online can be a great way to stock your aquaponic tanks, but beware, because there are certain risks that come with the convenience.

Not every supplier is trustworthy, and you need to watch out for regulations that could land you in hot water.

With current regulations about buying and importing live fish, the burden of compliance is almost always on the buyer.

That said, here are the hidden facts about buying fish online that you need to know before you click ‘Check Out.’

Do you know what fish you looking to stock in your aquaponic system? If not, we can help check out the article we have written about aquaponic fish click here.

Legit Fish Suppliers vs Sellers to Avoid

Many U.S. states don’t require a special license to sell fish online. That can make it difficult to figure out whether you’re looking at buying from a reputable seller or a low-grade fish mill.

Ideally, the seller you’re looking at will have positive feedback from previous customers, as well as more detailed information about their stock and shipping procedures.

Don’t be afraid to run a web search on the supplier to find more information and reviews.

A good online fish supplier will know how to ship fish so that they arrive alive and healthy.

If the information they provide doesn’t go into detail about how they ship, contact them to ask.

A legit fish supplier ships fish inappropriately sized breathe bags, usually including a heat pack or cold pack when needed.

That packaging will give fish enough room to reduce stress, but not enough that the fish will get jostled around more than necessary.

A legit fish supplier should also have specific timelines for delivering the fish, and will often require someone to sign for the package.

It’s important to remember that for a good fish supplier selling online, the well being of the fish is paramount.

They should have plenty of information telling you exactly how their shipping process works, and how their fish are packed.

Legit online fish suppliers almost always include care information or a pamphlet about how to properly care for the fish you purchase, as well as how to properly acclimate them.

While it’s obvious any supplier is going to put the best pictures of their fish up, they should also include information about the fish in the listing.

Another thing to check out is the supplier’s DOA, or Dead on Arrival, policy.

Ideally, they’ll have this information clearly posted where it’s easily found.

If they don’t it’s more than worth taking the extra time to contact the supplier directly and ask.

Most people have some heavy reservations about buying fish online since they worry about how fish can tolerate being shipped. When it comes down to it, the vast majority of fish you find in your local fish store have also been shipped from somewhere else.

When fish are healthy and shipped properly, it’s uncommon to receive a dead fish, let alone a bag of dead fish.

If that does happen, it’s usually a result of one of three things: first, the fish were unhealthy when shipped. Not a legit fish supplier should have this issue and would go to great lengths to avoid it if they have a DOA policy.

Second, it could be seasonal climate issues.

An unexpected heatwave or cold front can hurt the fish, although most suppliers take steps to prevent this, including restricting shipping to certain months when needed.

The third issue that can result in dead fish at your doorstep? Poor packing.

That’s why it’s critical to examine your supplier’s shipping procedures.

Bags that don’t allow enough oxygen, too many fish in a single bag, poorly insulated packing, poor temperature control, or even just a lack of proper cushioning can lead to a variety of problems from a leaking package to dead fish.

What Regulations Affect Buying Fish Online?

Depending on where you live, where you’re buying fish from, and what kinds of fish you’re buying, you’ll have to deal with local or state laws.

Remember, even if certain regulations do not exist where you live, their still might be laws in areas you’re trying to buy fish from.

Proceeding anyway could cause you a big headache, but legitimate fish suppliers won’t be trying to sell fish against regulation.

For example, in the UK, fish cannot be sent through Royal Mail and must go through specific delivery services.

A great supplier will be able to inform you, but always verify before you buy.

Issues When Buying Aquaponic Fish Online

When you purchase aquaponic fish online, there are a few extra things to keep in mind:

Most states don’t have licensing requirements or much regulation at all when buying and selling fish online for personal use.

The regulations that do exist in most states, are from the state Department of Wildlife and often apply to people importing fish for commercial aquaculture.

While this won’t affect people buying ornamental fish for their aquariums, you’re more likely to run into this if you’re getting fish to put into an aquaponic system.

This is because many of the fish you may stock with your tank with could actually survive in your region’s lakes and rivers.

If these fish were released into a lake, they could easily overtake the species already living there.

Even crayfish aren’t immune from these regulations, so check before you buy.

For example, in Alaska there are heavy regulations on fish used for aquaculture, so you can’t get a non-native fish unless you intend to keep it as a pet, not for consumption.

Note: you should never release fish into a public waterway. Many states have penalties that include fees of several thousand dollars for an infraction.

 Buying Fish Online for Personal Use Vs. Commercial Use

When you’re buying fish online, whether you’re purchasing for personal or commercial use can make a difference.

If you’re doing it for your own, personal aquaponic setup, you have fewer regulations to get around.

That said unless you’re buying ornamental fish, or fish you don’t plan to eat, it’s important to make sure the fish are certified as food grade.

If you’re buying fish online for commercial purposes, such as selling at a local market, to restaurants, or another place where the fish are intended for consumption, there are more regulations.

If you’re importing the fish from another country, not only will you need documentation and approval from customs, you will also need a sign off from the USDA, and certifications from the supplier that guarantees good health, and an absence of chemicals and pathogens.

In many cases, you may also need to apply for an aquaculture permit, as well as additional aquaculture importation forms.

There are also higher import and licensing fees for commercial buyers.

Important Regulations Nationally, and by State

As discussed earlier, each state has different regulations.

This is a brief list of regulations to look out for in each state, however, these rules can change, and it’s important to check with your state wildlife department if you’re unsure.

That said, the CDC doesn’t have specific rules about importing live fish although the USDA has put some rules into place recently.

The USDA regulations come as a response to the SVC (Spring Viremia of Carp) virus. As a buyer, this won’t affect you as much (although you will need the appropriate import permit), since the seller should be taking all necessary steps to maintain compliance. However, it’s important to know which species are affected, and how it could affect getting your fish.


There are 8 species susceptible to SVC, and these are the species facing additional scrutiny:

  • Goldfish
  • Bighead Carp
  • Crucian Carp
  • Grass Carp
  • Sheatfish
  • Common Carp (includes Koi)
  • Silver Carp
  • Tench


Many of these fish aren’t commonly used in aquaponics, but Common Carp, Goldfish, and Koi are popular in aquaponic systems, so if you’re buying online from an international supplier, watch out.

When importing any of these, your supplier will need to provide a certificate of veterinary health in English (or with translation), no more than 30 days old, which is also approved by the origin country’s Competent Authority.


This list of state regulations gives you a brief look at the general rules about importing live fish to each state.

However, laws are always subject to change, so make sure you keep on top of recent changes whenever you import fish.


Remember, most states have detailed specifications on importing fish, so whenever you’re in doubt, check with the Department of Wildlife, and U.S. Customs (if you’re importing internationally).

More information can be found at www.FWS.gov. More information about U.S. Customs regulations can be found at www.CBP.gov.



Aquaculture in Alaska is highly regulated, so aquaponics will have trouble sourcing fish. While non-native species can be owned as pets, they cannot be owned and grown as part of a food production system.

The Alaska State Legislature this link will direct you right where the Legislature begins to talk about aquaculture.


The following live fish are prohibited in the state of Alabama for both personal and commercial use: Barramundi, Nile Perch, Walking Catfish, Chinese Perch, Mud Carp, Black Carp, non-native Sturgeon.



A permit is not required to import live fish into the state, whether used in food production, aquarium hobby, or a fish farm, as long as the fish are sourced from a licensed supplier (according to state or national laws of the source). The exception is if the species is included in the prohibited species list. Some prohibited species include all Bass, Bighead Carp, certain Catfish, Nile Perch, Trout, and Silver/White/Yellow Perch.



To sell or rear non-native species you must register with the Game and Fish Commission as a vendor. There is a list of species that are permitted, although non-native, and they may be kept if for a hobby.



This state has regulations about where non-native fish such as tilapia can be grown, most allowed areas are in Southern California. Other restricted species include: White Perch, White Bass, Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, Yellow Perch, and Atlantic Salmon.

For more information regarding aquaculture in the state of California click here


Prohibited species include: Rusty Crayfish, Walking Catfish, White Perch, Snakeheads, and all Tilapia. Certain species of Tilapia are allowed for scientific, educational, or aquaculture purposes as long as thorough practices are followed to avoid contaminating public waterways. These species include: Nile, Mozambique, and Blue Tilapia. You will need an aquaculture license/authorization to raise these.

Live in Colorado and you desire more information check out the .gov website click here


No permits are needed to import regular aquarium species. Black, Silver, and Bighead Carp, as well as White Bass and Crucian Carp. Recently, all Sturgeon has also been banned.

For more about Connecticut laws and permits check this out.


There currently isn’t a published list of prohibited species, so contact state departments when needed to ensure compliance.

Want more information? check out what Delaware requires for aquaculture.

District of Columbia

No published species restriction list or regulations, contact local government for import questions.



Aquaponic fish for personal systems and users aren’t regulated; however, if you intend to buy fish from a supplier out of state you’ll need a Resident Fish Dealer’s License. Only Blue or Nile Tilapia are permitted.

For all you need to know about Floridas regulations click here.


All species of Walking Catfish are prohibited, as are Bighead, Silver, and Grass Carp.

 Looking for more help for Georgia laws and permits check it out!


Hawaii prohibits all species of Snakeheads. Several Catfish species are also on the restricted list. Many species of Trout, Tilapia, and Bass can be imported with permission, as well as some Salmon.



Green and White Sturgeon are prohibited, as well as Grass Carp and Walking Catfish. Common aquarium and ornamental species do not require a permit for importing them.

 By clicking here you will receive more information For Idahos law.


If importing fish from the approved list, the importer/buyer must apply for a permit at least 4 weeks before the shipment is expected to arrive.

You can find more information about Illinois permits and regulations here.


Diploid grass carp have the heaviest restrictions, and in almost every case an aquaculture permit is required to own, raise, or sell them. Tilapia, brown trout, hybrid striped bass, and rainbow trout may be imported to the state with a ‘fish hauler’s and supplier’s permit.

Getting things straight with Indiana? Find out all you need to know about Indiana permits click here.


Invasive, nonnative fish such as Bighead Carp and Silver Carp are prohibited. The main concern with other nonnative fish (the goldfish for example) concerns their release in public waters.

 Iowa is different then most states see why.


Licenses aren’t required for bringing naturalized or native species into the state, unless it’s included on the prohibited species list. Some species of carp are prohibited, as is white perch. However, the listed carp are also on USDA’s SVC list, except for the black carp.

Kansas provides more information than most states click here.


Some Grass Carp is permitted under certain state permits and certifications, but fish not on the prohibited list may be imported with Division of Fisheries approval.

You will have to search the term ‘aquaculture’ but you will find what you need by clicking here.


To import certain fish you need written permission from the Department of Wildlife. The fish include: all Carp (not including Common Carp, Goldfish and Koi), all Tilapia, and Walking Catfish.

Louisiana can have different laws to see why.


This state does not have a prohibited species list, however they do provide an ‘unrestricted list’ which specifies which species are legal.

Want to see what laws are in place for Maine check it out!


There is a prohibited species list, a large portion of which concerns Snakehead species The (nearly all are prohibited), and require a scientific permit to possess.

This is about all you will need to know about Maryland restrictions.


There’s a heavy emphasis on being wary of purchasing fish online and not assuming legality from the Department of Wildlife. Most aquarium species are allowed, although Tilapia is not included as an ‘aquarium fish.’



Health testing is required for importing most species into the state, and species must be confirmed VHS free, with the except of Tilapia, common shiners, and Lake Sturgeon.

Ordering fish online in Michigan make sure you read the in and outs first click here.


Minnesota prohibited (and invasive) species list includes White Perch and several species of Carp including: Silver, Black, Grass, and Bighead Carp.



There is a prohibited species list, although many of the species can be possessed if a permit is given upon assessing there won’t be a negative environmental impact. Species on the list include Nile Perch, Walking Catfish (air-breathing also), Mud Carp, Peacock Bass, and Pencil Catfish.



The prohibited species list includes Northern, Red Swamp, and White River Crayfish. Some fish species include several Bass species (Largemouth, Smallmouth, Spotted, White, Striped), some Trout (Golden, Rainbow, Brook, Brown, Cutthroat), some Catfish (Channel, Flathead, Blue), Yellow Perch, Bluegill, and some Sunfish (Green, Redear, Longear).



Unless fish are being used personally (in a home or office aquarium, for example) an import permit is needed. Tilapia, White Perch, and some Carp species (Bighead, Black, and Silver) are prohibited.



The only prohibited fish are Snakeheads; all species are illegal.



White perch is prohibited, as is Grass carp (unless a special permit certifies them as triploid, not diploid). It is also prohibited to import Tilapia, Nile Perch, and many species of Carp (including Bighead, Black, Crucian, Indian, and Silver).


New Hampshire

Grass Carp and Walking Catfish are illegal to possess and import, and permits are not issued for these species. Only native crayfish are allowed.


New Jersey

Like Nebraska, the only prohibited fish are Snakeheads (and all species are banned). To possess one can result in fines up to $5,000.


New Mexico

There’s a very specific list of species allowed in New Mexico, for the purposes of aquaculture. This includes: trout, bass, sunfish, crappie, pike, and perch. Tilapia is allowed only under certain conditions, i.e. only Nile and Mozambique tilapia, and the fish must be either incapable of reproduction or all male (as certified by a state-approved expert). The fish must also be imported from an approved supplier.


New York

Almost all Snakehead species are on the prohibited list and need a permit to legally possess. Black, Bighead, and Silver Carp can also be possessed only with a permit.


North Carolina

Certain species need a special permit to possess or import, and Black Carp are the newest species to undergo a process to ban them.


North Dakota

North Dakota does not publish a list of banned or restricted species. If in doubt, contact your local wildlife department to be sure.



The prohibited species list includes: White Perch, Snakeheads, Walking Catfish, Silver Carp, and Grass Carp.



Importing fish into Oklahoma requires a fish import permit. Grass Carp, Walking Catfish, some Carp (Bighead, Silver, and Black), and Tilapia are prohibited.



Possessing non-native fish for personal use, that have no risk of being released into public waterways is allowed, as long as they’re not on the prohibited species list. Both Asian Carp and Black Carp are prohibited.



Nuisance species are prohibited, including Bighead, Black, and Silver Carp, as well as Snakeheads.


Rhode Island

This state does not currently have a prohibited species list, although if you’re commercially growing fish you may have to contact the department of agriculture.


South Carolina

Special research permits are the only way to possess fish on the prohibited list, which includes: Grass Carp, Carnero/Candiru Catfish, Walking Catfish, and Snakeheads.


South Dakota

You need permission to import nonnative fish, and the only prohibited fish are all species of Snakeheads.



Import permits are not required for Goldfish, Triploid Grass Carp, Salmon, species approved for farming, and fish kept in aquariums.



All Carp in the family Cyprinidae are prohibited, as are Nile Perch and Walking Catfish. Several Crayfish species are also prohibited.

For a list of aquatic fish and plants that are banned check it out from tpwd.texas.gov


Any live fish imported from outside the state require an import permit, and must be sourced from UDAF approved supply sources. Several species of Carp and Catfish are prohibited, as well as all species of Tilapia.



As long as the fish you’re buying is on the unrestricted list, or is considered a native species, no special permission is needed to import fish into Vermont.



Certain nonnative fish are prohibited but can be possessed with a permit. These include Tilapia, Bighead Carp (as well as Black, Grass, and Silver Carp), and air-breathing  Catfish.



Prohibited species include: all Walking Catfish, Grass Carp, Bowfish, and all Snakeheads.


West Virginia

Commercial aquaculture operations need to apply for a permit. Stocking permits are required for growing fish in ponds. Otherwise, there isn’t a specific list or prohibited species.



Similar to a few other states, Wisconsin doesn’t provide a list of banned species. As in those other cases, contact local wildlife authorities to check that you’re in compliance.



Most fish species are required to be kept in aquariums unless a special permit is obtained. Rusty Crayfish are prohibited.







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