Dead fish tattoo meaning (explained)

You’re a little macabre, but we love you. We have just the post for you: what are the meanings of a dead fish tattoo (and where did they come from)? And don’t worry, we researched this one thoroughly to get it right.

dead fish belly tattoo

Sleep death

The first meaning of a dead fish tattoo is “sleep death.” This is an old tradition that comes from ancient Japan about how fisherman would draw a tuna and then go to sleep with it under their pillow. If they had a nightmare, that meant that their catch was bad luck (and therefore unfit for consumption).

dead fish collarbone tattoo

According to the book “Japonesque Tattoos: History and Symbolism“, both meanings of this fish symbol stem from the idea that bad things happen when you’re asleep. That’s why people would tattoo a dead fish on themselves to remind themselves not to fall asleep during important times.

Good luck

dead fish arm tattoo

The second meaning of a dead fish tattoo is that it represents good luck. It’s a throwback to the days when fishermen would go out on the water, catch fish, sacrifice them to the gods and then proceed with their catch. Basically, the people in charge of the supplies needed this symbol to remind them to keep bringing things out onto the water.


The third meaning of a dead fish tattoo is a symbol of good health, peace of mind and abundance. It’s been around since ancient times, and many people still think this way today. In the book “How to Draw Japanese Tattoos,” the author explains that this fish is the symbol for water, life and happiness. Another thing to keep in mind is that the more you have of this symbol on your skin, the better your luck will be throughout life.


Now to the negative meanings 

Self sabotage

Cactus in a dead fish tattoo

The fourth meaning of a dead fish tattoo is that it represents self sabotage. This is because the fish symbolizes life and if you don’t change negative behavior, you’ll bring yourself to your own death. It can also represent giving up because the fish’s mouth is facing down towards the ground, one of its fins is removed, and one of the bones are broken.

Dead fish can also represent missed opportunities. If you had a good time at the party and didn’t meet anyone, it may be that an opportunity came your way but you were too busy to take advantage of it or weren’t prepared for what was asked. richardalois

Blind follower

dead fish arm tattoo

The fifth meaning of a dead fish tattoo is that it represents following blindly. In “How to Draw Japanese Tattoos“, the author points out that the fish is a symbol for life, but it feels like fish has no eyes or mouth to communicate with others. It’s alive and swimming, but dying because it doesn’t know where it’s going or what it’s doing.

So, if you’re thinking of getting a dead fish tattoo, know that the meanings are totally up to you. But it makes a great conversation starter and a great way to put another layer on your look.

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