Can You Bring Fish Back to the US From Canada

It’s no secret that Canada has some of the finest fishing on the North American continent.  From halibut and salmon on the Pacific coast to walleye and crappie found among thousands of Manitoba lakes, Canada has it all.

Many US anglers are itching to explore the vast fishing opportunities Canada has to offer.  However, if you are a planner like me then you have probably wondered how to transport your catch back across the US border.  

Since I am planning a road trip along BC’s famous fishing highway, I decided to do some research to learn if I can legally transport fish back to the US from Canada and how to do so properly while driving.

So, can you bring recreationally caught fish back to the US from Canada?  Yes.  You can legally transport one daily limit for each species of fish caught in Canadian waters with a valid license back to the US across the border.  All fish must be processed so that the species, size and quantity can easily be determined by any fish and wildlife or border patrol officer.  

Like me, you still probably have some questions and the rest of this article is spent going over as many details as possible. 

How many fish can you bring across the US border

When you put in all the effort it takes to plan an out-of-country fishing trip, it’s nice to come home with some tasty fish fillets.  Although, you need to be aware of how much fish you can legally drive back across the US border.

In my review of Canadian fishery regulations, it is consistent among provinces that each angler can transport one daily limit of each species across the US border.  

In general, possession limits (fish caught on multiple days) are the same as daily limits. Although some areas may allow two daily limits in possession.  

It gets complicated but the main take away is that you should not run into any problems with the law if you only transport one daily limit for each species kept. 

On occasion, you may be given fish by anglers not traveling with you.  As long as you have a signed letter of permission from the angler with contact, license and catch information, you can drive across the border with additional fish.  Each province treats this situation differently so review the regulations before hand.

How should you package the fish

Another important consideration is how to package fish for transport.  With all the various size restrictions and individual species identification requirements, it can seem daunting to know how to package each type of fish.

Most provinces require that any kept fish needs to have both fillets present in one package with the tail and head attached to one fillet.  You don’t always need the head attached if the tail and fillet are greater in length than the minimum legal size of retention but you should always leave the tail attached.  Skins should also be left attached to the meat.

If in doubt, you can simply remove the guts and package it whole with the head and tail.  You can fillet the fish when you get home.

Just remember, you need to be able to determine length, species, and quantity of fish after it is packaged for your drive home.

Ziplock or vacuum sealed bags are the perfect solution because they provide clean storage with clear visibility of the contents inside.

Can you mail fish home

When you have a long drive home or other plans after a fishing trip, the most practical means of getting your well earned fish fillets home is by mail.  Shipping fish home requires additional preparation and money to ensure you receive a fresh product.

You’ll need a proper insulated shipping container and a refrigerant that will keep fish from spoiling during the duration of the trip.  Nothing is worse than ending your trip with a package of bruised or spoiled meat.  

Process your fish by filleting and vacuum sealing.  If you have the ability to freeze the meat you can eliminate the need of a refrigerant.  Regardless, foam boxes or a CF-60 box is the most reliable way to ensure your fish stay fresh.

Many guide services provide options for shipping fish home but double check with them before leaving home.  You may need to arrange for shipping materials to be available ahead of time.  

Keep in mind that daily catch quotas still apply even though you are sending fish by mail.  You should avoid sending more than the allowed possession limit for the region you’re fishing.

Ask local fishing guide services how they do it

Experience matters.  Few people are as well practiced with processing, shipping and transporting fish than local guides.  If you have any doubts, send your questions to guide services in the area you plan to fish.  Even if you are not planning on booking a trip with them, most are helpful and willing to share their knowledge of laws.

For those of you going on guided fishing trips, most of the processing and packaging will be handled for you.  It is nice to have a worry free trip but always be sure to inform your guides if you plan on driving across the border back to the US.  If they have packaged more fish than one daily limit, they should be able to ship excess fish back to your US residence.  

Are there different rules for each Canadian province

There are 6 Canadian provinces that border the United States and you should be familiar with the regulations of where you plan to fish.  Whether you’re in Manitoba or British Columbia, each province has specific regulations for transporting your catch.

In most cases, shipping or driving fish across the Canadian border to the US requires similar packaging and preparation.  Make sure you review all regulations prior to your trip.  You can find each Canadian province’s fishing rules online here

How do you keep fish from spoiling during transport

Now that you have the basic understanding of fish transport regulations, it’s time to figure out how to keep your fish fresh on the drive home.  

It’s never wise to leave fresh fish at room temperature for more than an hour or two.  Both to preserve flavor and to prevent bacterial growth.  In most cases, you can keep fish at refrigeration temperatures for up to 5 days without any significant loss in flavor or quality.

To keep your fish fresh longer, you need to invest in a high quality cooler.  Your fishing trip may last several days and fish caught at the beginning need to be kept cold.  In addition, you’ll likely have at least a day or two of driving back to the US.  

Very few budget coolers can hold the ice cold temperatures required for the duration of the journey.  Dedicated anglers that are looking to travel should invest in the highest quality cooler possible.  

Yeti, Pelican and Orion make some of the finest coolers available.  Most of us who travel to remote fishing locations invest in one of these coolers.  In particular, I think the Yeti Tundra 65 is the best choice for the money.  Consider it a small price to pay for bringing home some of the finest seafood in the world.

No matter what cooler you choose, it’s important to pack it right to make the ice last as long as possible.  Pre-chill or freeze your vacuum sealed fish and pack the cooler tight with ice.  I always try to keep a 2:1 ice to fish ratio for best performance.  Try super cooling crushed ice with coarse ice cream salt at a ratio of 20 to 1.  One pound of salt will treat 20 pounds of crushed ice.  

Final thoughts

A recreational fishing trip to Canada is one of the most memorable outdoor experiences you can partake in.  From rugged coastal waters to wild alpine streams brimming with trout, you will find your angling paradise.  

Come prepared and take the time to learn how to transport your catch back home.  You will have more fun with less stress and hopefully, a cooler full of fish!