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

WEBSITE UPDATED                         Wednesday  January 12, 2022

Question? Do you know how much Dissolved Oxygen you really need to safely transport live bait and tournament fish in in summer livewells and bait tanks?

Answer: 100% DO Saturation or DO Supersaturation continuously whether transporting (1) 3 lb. tournament fish or 150 lbs. of live bait fish.

More live fish and live bait in livewells and bait tanks always require more dissolved oxygen for summer transports.



DO water quality standards required for LIVE FISH TRANSPORT is not the same as the Federal EPA DO water quality standards required for lakes, rivers and ponds in the natural steady state environments.

All Federal, State, private fish hatcheries as well as the TP&WD ShareLuker Program located at the TP&WD Fresh Water Fishing Center in Athens, Texas  require a very different DO water quality standard specifically for all live fish transport. 

They require 100% DO SATURATION OR DO SUPERSATURATION maintained continuously for all live fish transports to insure minimal safe oxygenation regardless of the stocking density.

The EPA minimal DO water  quality requirements for all lakes and rivers in America is only 5 PPM DO CONCENTRATION which is considered “safe oxygenation” for fish living in lakes and rivers in the steady state in America.

People (fishermen), outdoors writers and many biologist often confuse live fish transport DO water quality standards and US Federal EPA DO water quality standards.

The difference is clearly seen between hours of live fish transport in extremely stressful hot summer conditions (traumatic capture/high stress transport conditions), continuous maximum adrenaline production, sustained high blood cortisol concentrations  vs. the every day living in the low to no stress natural steady state environmental conditions in lakes and river with out additional unnatural extreme fisherman induced stressors. Traumatic capture, unnatural small confinement environments (livewells/bait tanks), elevated livewell water temperature or ice induced hypothermia  plus many other additional extreme unnatural livewell stressors including overcrowding, poor livewell water quality, chronic sustained low oxygen (hypoxic) livewell water lasting continuously 8-9 hours or more during summer transports.

US Fish Hatcheries transport live  fish and shrimp routinely. They  require 100% DO Saturation or greater continuously whether you transport  1 lb.,  200 lbs., or 1,000 lbs. of live bait or mature tournament fish.

This is achieved with continuous supplemental oxygen administration using high pressure compressed welding grade oxygen or LOX. They do not use mechanical aeration to insure minimal safe oxygenation for live fish transport.
100% DO Saturation or greater is also required when transporting  only 1 bass across Texas by the LunkerBass Program to Athens, TX.
Supplemental oxygen administration is also necessary when transporting a prize winning 25 lb. limit of tournament fish in your livewell for 1 hour, all day or several days summer transport and captivity.
Every time you overcrowd your mechanically aerated livewell by 1 or more fish in the summer, all your fish or live bait begin to suffocate from chronic low DO saturations. This is predictable will happen every summer. Your livewell is probably oxygen deficient in the summer if you are using livewells and bait tanks that are mechanically aerated or dependent on water pumps for minimal safe oxygenation. Your bait and fish slowly suffocate.

Symptoms of livewell suffocation and poor DO water quality is fish stress: Fish produce mucus when stressed, any kind of stress. Low oxygen stress is the most serious stressor in livewell water, maximum mucus is produced when fish are suffocated in summer livewells.   Fishermen see the  symptom of serious stress seem when livewell/bait tank surface become foamy and dirty.

Low oxygen stress is caused by insufficient dissolved oxygen in livewell water – unsafe DO water quality. Live bait fish, shrimp and game fish will look and act sickly, lethargic, red-nosed, piping, stacked in corners and at the water surface, dying and dead. During transport, low dissolved oxygen saturation in livewells and bait tanks has long been the deadly summer problem for decades for live bait and tournament C&R fish that are overcrowd aerated livewells in the summer, worldwide. * surface water in livewells becomes foamy, nasty, ugly to look at. This is a serious symptom  unsafe water quality.

The low oxygen livewell/bait tanks problem happens during live transports when you overcrowd your livewell with live bait or tournament game fish every summer.

The chronic livewell suffocation begins immediately when the fisherman overstocks the livewell by 1 bait or 1 fish. The “safe DO Saturation” begins to plummet below 100% DO Saturation as the safe water quality line has been crossed.

*Everything in the livewell begins to suffocate because the biological oxygen demand of the total biomass of all fish or bait has exceeded the fisherman’s capability to provide safe oxygenation for all the fish and bait being transported using ambient air, mechanical aeration and livewell pumps to oxygenate the water. THE SUSTAINED CHRONIC LIVEWELL SUFFOCATION BEGINS LIKE THIS EVERY SUMMER.

Tournament C&R fishermen and live bait fishermen are  familiar with and recognize low dissolved oxygen in the summer. The low O2  problem progressively becomes worse quickly by the minute as the stress of suffocation advances. The low oxygen problem (hypoxia) cannot be corrected bubbling more ambient air in the water or with bigger air pumps or higher volume water pumps because natural air air contains only 21% oxygen.

Diffusers that make small tiny micro-air bubbles, livewell air vents or even pumping massive volumes of fresh environmental water through boat livewells or any popular $400 aerated bait tank brand will not/can not provide the minimal amount of dissolved oxygen required to meet the biological oxygen demand of all the fish or bait being transported if the well is overstocked with fish or live bait… supplemental oxygen maintained continuously @ 100% DO Saturation or DO Super Saturation is the final solution to this summertime low O2 problem.

A fishermen has only 2 choices available to reverse the low oxygen problem he caused; dramatically reduce the stocking density, the biomass for fish or live bait in the livewell or administer supplemental oxygen greater than 21% O2 ASAP with a dependable livewell oxygen life support system.


Only dissolving plenty supplemental pure 100% oxygen corrects the cellular oxygen deficite in overcrowded  summer livewells post traumatic capture and confinement. And to be crystal clear; too much pure oxygen certainly will not, does not poison and kill live bait or tournament fish during live transports. This myth is based on popular uneducated Bro-Science.

It’s always better to have too much O2 than not enough O2 any day in livewell/bait tank water, any hot summer day and 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 and thrive… 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. This cause profound, sustained unimaginable stress that last many continuous hours. The toxic byproduct of all this  fish /bait stress caused by the fisherman is a massive sustained  production of cortisol, a natural steroid hormone.

CAUTION: Do Not, never confuse high stress summer livewell/bait tank live transport DO water quality parameters with the natural steady state safe   Environmental Protection Agency DO water quality parameters for US lakes and rivers.

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.

 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.