How Much Oxygen Live Bait and Fish Need in Livewells,Bait Tanks

WEBPAGE UPDATED                                       Saturday March 7, 2020

Question? How Much Livewell  Oxygen do you really need during live transport?

Water quality in livewells (DO Concentration and 100% DO Saturation) is very different than steady state environmental DO requirements. The EPA DO requirements for lakes, rivers is only 5 PPM DO which is considered “safe” for fish living in lakes and rivers in America. People (fishermen) often confuse the DO water quality difference required between live fish transport conditions and lakes and rivers steady state environments with out additional capture, elevated water temperature and all the additional transports stressors.

Do you have any idea how much dissolved oxygen (DO) live bait and tournament game fish really need post captured while being confined and transported in livewells and bait tanks all day in the summer?

Answer! They need 100% DO Saturation or greater continuously whether you have 1 lb. or 200 lbs. of live bait, 1 tournament fish or a heavy 25 lb. limit of tournament fish in your livewell for 1 hour, all day  or several days transport and captivity.

If you overcrowd your livewell and your fish and live bait are dying (suffocating) from chronic low DO saturations during the summer. Your livewell is probably oxygen deficient if mechanically aerated and your bait and fish are simply suffocating. They have symptoms of livewell suffocation; they look and act sickly, lethargic, red-nosed, dying and dead. During transport, low dissolved oxygen saturation in livewells and bait tanks is has long been the deadly summer problem for all live bait and tournament C&R fishermen that overcrowd their aerated livewells in the summer, worldwide.

The low oxygen livewell/bait tanks problem only happens during live transport every time you overcrowd your livewell with live bait or tournament game fishand begins when you overstock your livewell by 1 bait or 1 fish. Then the “safe DO Saturation” line is crossed, everything in the livewell begins to suffocate because of low dissolved oxygen and that problem gets worse by the minute all day every summer. That low oxygen problem cannot be corrected pumping more ambient air, smaller air bubbles, livewell vents or even by pumping massive volumes of fresh environmental water through the livewell.

Only dissolving plenty supplemental pure 100% oxygen corrects that summertime livewell problem. And too much pure oxygen does not poison and kill live bait or tournament fish during live transport. That is a popular Bro-Science fishing forum internet myth also common with livewell, bait tank and aerator sales talk and negative advertisement.

Too much dissolved oxygen in livewell water will certainly not harm fish or live bait in any way. It’s always better to have too much O2 than not enough O2 any day, especially a hot summer day/night… and you can bet your boat keys with confidence on that.

You can be sure that traumatic capture and all day livewell transport and captivity is not the steady state environment where fish live… traumatic capture and live transport for every wild fish is a real sustained and continuous life-threatening crisis of biblical proportions and totally unnatural for all wild fish.

CAUTION: Do Not, Never confuse summer livewell/bait tank water quality parameters to the natural safe environmetal steady state water quality EPA parameters.

FACT: Fish metabolism (scientifically measured by the amount of oxygen a fish actually consumes via a swimming exercise test) is REGULATED and CONTROLLED by water temperature; fish metabolism LIMITED by the volume, concentrations and availability of dissolved oxygen in it’s environment (livewell/bait tank/environmental open water).

FACT: The total biomass of live fish or live bait you caught or bought being transporting in your livewell need/require enough dissolved oxygen in livewell water to immediately reverse the hypoxic stress crisis you caused during capture.
You must  reverse the cellular oxygen debt you caused immediately to restore aerobic  metabolism ASAP and reduce the lactic acidosis.
You must provide and insure a constant supply of oxygen of high concentration to satisfy the oxygen demand continuously for all the fish in your livewell for the 8-10 hour transport and  livewell confinement … especially if you overcrowd your livewells and bait tanks in the  summer.
The acute oxygen debt you cause is reversed with supplemental oxygen > 21%, not with air, mechanical aeration, air venturies, spray bars or high volume water pumps.

Mechanical aeration and livewell water pumps work great in the fall, winter and spring when the environmental water is cool. The 20% oxygen in air is plenty and supplemental livewell oxygen is usually not necessary…. unless you want to “SUPERCHARGE” your live bait with oxygen.

FACT: OXYGEN IS NOT AIR –  Do not be confused between livewell oxygenation and bait tank aeration, knowing the difference is vitally important.

FACT: Do not confuse EPA Environmental DO standards  in lakes, streams and rivers with dissolved oxygen (DO) standards required for live fish and live bait transport (livewell, bait tank and live haul tank).

Live transport DO requirements are special. DO standards used by Federal, State  and  private fish hatcheries are very different than EPA Environmental water DO standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated many years ago in the last century that 5 PPM (parts per million) dissolved oxygen concentration is safe for fish living undisturbed in natural steady state environmental waters (lakes, rivers, ponds and streams).

The EPA says 5 PPM DO is an acceptable, safe and satisfactory dissolved oxygen water quality parameter for undisturbed wild fish living in steady state environments found in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, ponds, etc. provided the fish are not under constant, severe, extreme  stress or captives like commonly found in live fish transport conditions in hostile overcrowded fishermen’s livewells and bait tanks every summer.

Do not confuse water quality DO requirements between lakes and ponds and high stress capture , hours of confinement and transports in  boat livewells, bait tanks and tournament live release boat haul tanks in hostile  hot summer conditions.

Fish hatcheries and fishery biologist require 100% dissolved oxygen saturation continuously for every live haul (1 fish or 2000 fish), the  100% DO Saturation  “Gold Standard” required when they transport live mature and juvenile bait fish and mature tournament caught game fish.  Fish hatcheries  always administer plenty of pure compressed welding oxygen or LOX for every live haul.

When it comes to how much dissolved oxygen is required and  necessary to have a  safe DO water quality in livewell/bait tank, providing enough supplemental oxygen to insure continuous 100% DO Saturation is absolutely necessary for all fish hatchery transports and especially for fishermen that overstocked their livewells in the summer.

Fishermen transporting live bait and tournament fish in overcrowded aerated boat livewells and aerated  bait tanks in harsh hot summer conditions for 8-10 hours daily  is NOT A SAFE livewell ENVIRONMENT by any stretch of the imagination. Summer tournament mortality and high live bait mortality testify to that fact. All summer live bait fishermen and summer tournament fishermen know that.

Transports in summer livewells and bait tanks is high stress, serious continuous CRISIS INTERVENTION all day, this is not normal  low stress steady state conditions . Real life support systems are necessary if any real success is expected.

FACT: 5 PPM DO is not acceptable safe oxygenation for live fish transport.

 FACT: 100% DO SATURATION OR GREATER (DO SUPERSATURATION)  is required and considered minimal safe oxygenation by all fish hatcheries for all live fish transports… even for transporting only 1 fish (TP&WD “Share a Lunker”- Bass Conservation Program in Athens, TX).

 FACT: 100% DO SATURATION OR GREATER (DO SUPERSATURATION) must be sustained with the maximum fish or bait load inside the livewell – NOT JUST A LIVEWELL FULL OF WATER WITHOUT FISH OR LIVE BAIT IN THE WELL.  This may be 1 fish in 20 gallons of water or 60 lbs. of fish in 20 gallons of water summer or winter.


What’s DO Concentration and DO Saturation all about?

DO Concentration is measured in parts per million (PPM DO or ml/L DO)

DO Saturation is measured in volume % Saturation (% DO Sat) Unfortunately there is not simply one DO concentration water quality standard used to define minimal  healthy dissolved oxygen environments for wild and cultured fish being transported and living normally in natural wild environments. That is because transport environments, stocking densities and water quality conditions vary and are not “steady state.” The DO requirements are different. Live fish and live bait being transported must have more oxygen than normally found in the steady state environment. Fish are exposed to many environments in the wild and diverse, stressful captive environments. There are many water quality standards and requirements, specifically safe dissolved oxygen (DO) requirements that apply to different aquatic environments and  specific live fish transport conditions. Oxygen deprivation kills in seconds and minutes in live transport tanks, boat livewells and bait tanks. We’ve all heard of and are familiar with 5 PPM DO. This is the EPA DO Concentration Standard for lakes, rivers, ponds, etc. that applies to normal “steady state environments.” Fishermen transporting captured live wild bait fish and mature tournament caught game fish, then transported all day, 6-8 hours, in small overcrowded aerated boat livewells in harsh summer tournament conditions  is as far from the EPA “steady state environment” and controlled fish hatchery environment as we are from the moon. The difference is vast.

EPA Environmental Water and Waste Water – Professional

• Dissolved oxygen EPA Standards for Environmental Water – 5 PPM DO concentration • Sewage waste water discharge – 5 PPM DO concentration

Home Aquarium -Tropical Fish – Non-Professional

• Aquarium water at home – 3-5 PPM DO concentration

Fish Culture – Professional DO Standards

• Hatchery – pond water – 5 PPM DO concentration

• Hatchery – intensive live haul transport water – 100% DO Saturation

• Hatchery – intensive fish culture water – 100% DO Saturation

• Hatchery – intensive closed culture recirculating system water – 100% DO Saturation

Sport Fishermen – Boat livewell, Bait Tanks, tournament release Boat Tanks and Holding Tanks – Non-Professional

• Livewell water in sport fishing boat livewells (small water volume to high stocking density) – 100% DO Saturation

• Fishing tournament live release boat tanks – 100% DO Saturation

• Fishing tournament holding tanks – 100% DO Saturation All State, Federal and private fish hatchery dissolved oxygen standards for live fish transport is 100% DO Saturation or DO Supersaturation >100% DO Saturation whether transporting one live fish or one thousand pounds of live fish.

Contrary to some beliefs, you cannot harm, kill or poison live fish during 6-8 hour transport with “too much pure oxygen.” Too much oxygen during transport is better than too little oxygen anytime.

You can harm captive fish and live bait with excessive mechanical aeration… to much mechanical aeration. Air is 80% Nitrogen gas. Dissolving excessive nitrogen in transport water can cause gas bubble disease or pop-eye. Fish and live bait can be harmed with tiny micro-bubbled of pure oxygen that are too tiny to escape the livewell water column , they make the livewell water look milky.

Fishermen hunt and catch baitfish or gamefish in the natural steady state environment anytime or anywhere. After the catch, fishermen must deal with the cellular hypoxia and  oxygen debt they caused, the crisis intervention, transporting, netting, hooking and fighting extremely traumatized gamefish exposed to extreme livewell hypoxia, serious sustained anaerobic stress and exhaustion. Fishermen then transport these stressed fish in small overcrowded aerated boat livewells and bait tanks under continuous high stress, overcrowded conditions and poor livewell water quality for eight/nine hours in small boat livewells and bait tanks. Fishermen transporting live fish  in small aerated livewells and bait tanks in the summer is serious “crisis intervention” at best,  certainly NOT considered a controlled steady state environment compared to hatchery live transport or a lake or river with an optimum healthy environmental water quality. Transporting traumatized wild gamefish, bait fish and bait shrimp requires more oxygen than the 5 PPM recommended by the FDA for fish living in the normal steady state environmental waters with no stress or overcrowded conditions. Fishermen transport live gamefish and live bait in serious crisis and continuously highly stressed 7-8 hours or more  during fishing tournaments and fishing trips. Fact: Reversing that cellular oxygen debt as quickly as possible, seconds after landing the fish or netting the bait is vitally important for fish health if reducing acute and delayed tournament mortality is a goal. Fact:  Ambient air is not oxygen and air will not ensure minimal safe livewell oxygenation regardless of the volume of air or water you pump through a livewell or the number of pumps or air stones used in your livewell. Henry’s Gas Law –’s_law



100% DO SATURATION OR GREATER IS THE MINIMUM AMOUNT OF OXYGEN FOR LIVE FISH TRANSPORT BY ALL FISH HATCHERIES    Cooling livewell water temperature 10 degrees F. (86.0 F. down to 75.2 F.) with ice (inducing hypothermia) will reduce metabolism a little and minimally increase the DO concentration only 0.08 ppm for every 10 degree change in water Temperature. That’s less than 1 part per million which isn’t much! The negative effects of the temperature shock you cause often outweigh the benefits of inducing hypothermia if your desire is fishing with high quality live bait. The BIG shock and disappointment occurs when you hook up that chilled bait and toss it into that hot environmental water. When chilled hooked bait hits hot environmental water, the bait becomes lethargic quickly, often dying on the hook in minutes – that’s the negative effect temperature shock.



LIVEWELL STOCKING DENSITY – More fish and live bait in the livewell always require more oxygen, not more air or more nitrogen.

It is very  important that the fisherman can adjust the dose of oxygen he delivers into his livewell. This requires a dependable precision dose, adjustable oxygen delivery system.

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