Picking-Up Fish from the Airport


If you're outside Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto OR you're ordering from a seller out of province, you are inevitably going to be faced with the challenge of picking up fish at the airport. I know that my first time picking up fish at the airport was a nerve-wrecking and exciting experience, and I hope this post alleviates some of the confusion for future first-timers.

I will be covering two situations in this post:

1) Picking up fish shipped across provinces

The easier of the two situations, this requires that you pick the fish up at a cargo carrier warehouse. For most orders shipped within Canada, the airline of choice is West Jet. Most major airports have a cargo carrier that is contracted by West Jet to coordinate inbound and outbound cargo shipments. West Jet is great, but they are notorious for changing carriers (especially here in Toronto), so be sure to receive the most up to date carrier information from your seller.


1) Get the cargo carrier contact details (name, address, phone number, hours of operation) from your seller
2) Copy your Airway Bill Number (AWB), Flight Number and Arrival Time
3) Prior to heading to the cargo carrier, use the West Jet flight tracker tool to ensure your flight has not been delayed.
4) On average, it takes about an hour for the cargo to be unloaded from the plane and arrive at the cargo carrier warehouse. If you don't enjoy sitting around, I'd recommend showing up an hour after your scheduled flight arrival.
5) Speak with a cargo carrier representative and provide your AWB. Most carrier will ask for photo ID until they get to know you.
6) They will lead you into the warehouse, where you may pick up your prize!

Things to note:
- Pay close attention to the carriers hours of operation. As anyone who's been on a commercial flight knows, flights tend to be delayed quite often. It may be the case that your flight arrival time comes dangerously close to the closing time of your carrier. Not to worry; most carriers offer a late pick-up service, provided you call ahead and ask. For any arrival times that risk coming close to closing time, I'd recommend doing this. Depending on the carrier, it may cost a nominal fee (well worth it for the health of your significantly more expensive fish).

2) Picking up fish shipped internationally

International cargo has the added complication of involving customs. There are a number of additional steps you need to take in preparation for your fish's arrival:

1) If you are ordering a fish that is a Class 1 endangered species under CITES, you require a CITES certificate from both a) the country of origin and b) Canada (if you are buying through Dragonfish, we take of this for you<-- shameless plug :)). Do not underestimate how long this process takes. You're typically looking at 6-8 weeks from the date your seller receives payment

2) You must set up an import number with Canada Customs. It's free, easy and can be done by contacting your local Canada Customs office. The first time I imported internationally, I found this out the hard way. If you do not have an importers number at the time the shipment arrives, you will become the subject of intense scrutiny by the customs officer. There's also a good chance your shipment won't be cleared. Trust me when I say you want to be prepared.

3) Make sure your seller provides you with a readable copy of the invoice. Again, if this is not in order, you will be put under a microscope.

3) Just like receiving Canadian cargo, your seller will provide an AWB number and flight number. Follow the same steps to locate the carrier and arrive on time.

4) When you arrive at the cargo carrier and your cargo has landed, the carrier will provide you with a stamped copy of the AWB, acknowledging that the flight has landed.

5) Take this documentation, along with everything above, and drive to the Canada Customs office. This is usually within driving distance of most carrier, however with large airports (Toronto, for example) it can be kilometers, depending on your carrier.

6) When you enter Canada Customs, you will need to fill out your information on an automated system (Note: this may vary by office, but is the case in Toronto). The system is an old mainframe program and is not the most user friendly, but follow the steps and you should be fine. You will need to provide the AWB, your importers number, data around the cost of your cargo, etc.

7) Print this out and, along with the stamped AWB provided by your carrier, proceed to the nearest customs officer

8) Once you are cleared, you will pay duties on the cargo and receive your stamped documentation. Take this documentation to your cargo carrier, and you receive your prize!

Things to note:

- Incase I didn't stress it enough, make sure you have all the proper documentation in order before you book the cargo arrival
- If you're a first time importer, expect to go through a scrutinous process, including having your cargo searched by a customs officer. This can add hours onto the process. The good news is if you plan on doing this again, it does get easier once they get to know you.

Hopefully this gives those picking up fish at the airport for the first time some insight into the process.


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Super Moderator
Good notes Brandon!...one add on as well...ensure you have the contact number of the shipper and ensure if something happens to your shipment that you are able to get a hold of them at or after the arrival time. I've had a shipment once that was slated to arrive close to midnight and IT didn't arrive! to make it worst it was in the winter time!...the Cargo (Westjet) called around and found out that the 3 boxes was left at the departure airport (Montreal) as they had too many baggage from the passengers and needed the room to accommodate them first so I had a few thousand dollars worth of fish potentially sitting on the tarmac somewhere in the cold!....I was able to reach the seller and he drove immediatly to the airport, gave them shit took it home to re acclimatize them and repackage them in a few hours and back to the airport....everything went well....BUT be prepare to contact the seller if your package doesn't arrive!