American Airlines Cargo Ships Record Number of ‘Living Works of Art’ Globally


The carrier transports koi carp from Japan to collectors in the US and Europe

American Airlines Cargo is moving record numbers of decorative koi carp, known as Nishikigoi, from Japan to destinations around the globe. These ancient and long-living ornamental fish are highly prized by collectors, and their curated environments often serve as an element of artistic design. The most beautiful of the specimens can grow to more than 100 cm in length and be valued at USD 2 million each.

The Nishikigoi is the national fish of Japan because of its beauty and elegance, and it is considered a sign of great wealth and a source of pride in many cultures. The fish therefore require special handling and care when traveling by air as they are transported from native Japan to aqua culturists who import koi for collectors. The most popular features on the fish are markings of two or three colors including white, scarlet and ink black.

American Airlines Cargo has been transporting koi in increasing volumes for 20 years. Their popularity has grown as ornamental fishkeeping expands globally, particularly in Hong Kong, the US, China, Germany, the Netherlands and Indonesia, which accounts for some 60% of their export value. Approximately 55% of koi breeders are in Niigata Prefecture, 250km north of Tokyo, with most of American’s export business of koi coming from this region.

In 2023, the American Airlines Cargo team in Japan transported koi in record volumes of more than 19,100kgs to LAX and 9,600kgs to DFW alone.

“These living works of art are beautiful creatures and require highly specialized knowledge and training to ship them. Our dedicated team under Keisuke Morita are true experts in their field,” says Emma Oliver, Director Cargo Sales Europe, Africa & Middle East (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC). “The transportation of the Nishikigoi must be on direct flights due to their sensitivity, with great precautions taken to tailor their travel accommodations to their oxygen needs. I am proud of our teams that are trained to handle these shipments with the utmost care and expertise.”

American currently operates two direct flights daily to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) from either Haneda Airport (HND) or Tokyo-Narita International Airport (NRT). As a member of United for Wildlife’s Transport Taskforce, American is dedicated to ending the illegal trafficking of wildlife. American signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration in December 2022, making it the first U.S. airline and cargo carrier to join the organization.

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