Pet fish creating a big problem in natural habitats - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, Florida-

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Pet fish creating a big problem in natural habitats

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so many of America's waterways have been distorted by unwanted aquatic invaders that they don't fit the criteria to be classified as "wild" or "scenic" anymore.

Of the nearly 10,000 non-native aquatic species living in our waters right now, some are causing severe damage to the ecosystem.

Invasive fish don't swim into new waters. Sometimes they're carried to a new area during a flood, but all too often, these foreigners end up in new habitats because humans are meddling with Mother Nature.

To you, a goldfish may appear to be nothing more than a colorful, low-maintenance pet available at your local pet store retailer.

Often, when the routine of feeding and cleaning a fish tank becomes too much of a chore, these fish are dumped down a storm drain or flushed down a toilet.

Wildlife biologists consider goldfish to be one of America's first foreign fish species. 

Once they're introduced into nature, some of them are capable of quickly reproducing and wreaking havoc on the habitat other native fish call home.

The goldfish, Lionfish, Asian Carp, jellyfish and several other species are not innocent sea creatures in new waters. They're what biologists call "invasive species" because they compete for food, oxygen and spawning habitats.  

With fewer natural predators to keep the invasive fish population in check, the invasive species could potentially take over any body of water within a matter of time. 

"The biggest issue is once those fish are established, there's little to nothing we can do about them," says Lawrence Dorsey, a biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

If you want proof, press play on a number of fishing videos featuring the Asian Carp. You'll see where their takeover of entire rivers has turned into online entertainment, with some of the fish actually jumping out of the water and landing in a fisherman's boat!  

According to some wildlife officers we interviewed, sometimes fishermen are the reason these stowaways are invading our waterways. 

There have been reports of fishermen introducing a particular species of fish into a waterway so they can catch them in the future.

"Not only is it not the right thing to do for the ecosystem, it's also against the law," Dorsey points out.

Check the laws in your state before you dump bait or pets.

It may seem like releasing a fish into the wild is a humane way of disposing of them, but remember, it only takes two invasive fish to erode an entire ecosystem.

Instead, marine experts recommend you create an end-of-life action plan for your aquarium by either finding a new home for the fish or euthanizing them.

"A humane way to euthanize the fish would be to put them on ice, to freeze them, and then once they've died, just throw them away," says Peggy Sloan, Director of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

If an icy grave, however, gives you the willies, contact a local wildlife office or aquarium for assistance.

Any marine life you bought for a fish tank simply can't be terminated at your nearest storm drain or stream.

Bringing them back to nature may seem like a noble idea, but with all we now know about the impact of invasive species, they should never be introduced into non-native waters.


Additional Information:
  

The following information is from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

  • Invasive species: introduced into a non-native ecosystem and cause (or are likely to cause) harm to the economy, environment and human health.
  • Every region of the U.S. has an invasive species problem.
  • Most invasive species have a high rate of reproduction, high dispersal rate and high genetic variability. They are also typically long-lived, tolerant of a wide range of conditions, and have a broad diet.
  • Consult local natural resource guides and guidebooks about how to handle your situation, find help at a local park/nursery/university/zoo/aquarium, contact your State Department of Natural Resources office or your local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office, or contact the USDA to identify the plant/insect/pathogen.

Click here for a list of all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Offices.

The following information is from the article "Frequently Asked Question About Invasive Fish."

  • Ninety-two to 98% of the linear miles of rivers and stream are so altered due to aquatic nuisance species that they do not fit criteria for National Wild and Scenic Rivers or United States Geologic Survey Benchmark Streams.
  • Approximately 10,000 non-indigenous aquatic species are currently present in U.S. waters, many with severe ecological consequences.
  • Between 33% and 75% of aquatic species are rare or extinct.

The following information is published on the The Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers website in an article entitled "Protect Your Waters"

  • "Aquatic hitchhikers" include Sea Lampreys, Asian Swamp Eels, Asian Carp, Zebra Muscles.
  • Do not release fish into a body of water unless they came from that body of water, including live bait. Either dispose of unwanted live bait on land or give it to another angler for their use.
  • Do not release your catch into other lakes and ponds.

Click here to read more about "User Specific Prevention Procedures: Aquarium or Pet Owners" from the website Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers.

The following information is from the USGS website

  • The goldfish is thought to be the first foreign fish species introduced to North America (DeKay 1842; Courtenay et al. 1984).
  • In nature, goldfish often hybridize with common carp Cyprinus carpio producing reproductively fertile offspring; cross fertilization and back-crossing is common in some areas.
  • The use of goldfish as baitfish is prohibited in some states.

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