If you’ve ever thought about dumping your goldfish in the toilet or freeing them into a local lake or river, don’t.
Whether it was a goldfish or any other aquarium pet, there is a strong movement against releasing them into any Texas body of water.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is urging pet owners to find alternative ways of getting rid of unwanted aquatic pets rather than dumping them into lakes, rivers or down the toilet. By dumping them, pet owners could cause several issues for our ecosystems, sometimes with devastating consequences.
The TWPD said that freshwater and saltwater aquariums could be home to the next invasive species. Aquarium animals are likely not native to Texas, so being released into our waterways could introduce disease, new predators and the damaging of vegetation.
“Several common aquarium fish, such as armored catfish (suckermouth and sailfin catfishes), bluefin killifish, and goldfish, have prevailed in natural, local waters upon release by owners. These aquarium fish pose a hazard to the native fish and insect communities, instream fish and insect habitat, stream morphology, and in some cases water quality,” said BRA Aquatic Scientist Cory Scanes.
The armored catfish is described by TWPD as a “fresh water invader,” consuming significant amounts of aquatic plants and wood. The fish can burrow into river banks and destabilize them, as well as creating a negative impact on water quality. The armored catfish can also out-compete native fish.
Scanes said that armored catfish were considered “environmental engineers” because of their ability to drastically change the habitat around them.
Another example of invading pets is the introduction of lionfish.
TWPD said that the popular pet lionfish is believed to have been introduced into U.S. waters in the late 1980s. There have been 478 separate reports of lionfish sightings in or near the Texas coastline.
Lionfish are venomous fish that are indigenous to the west Pacific. It is believed that owners introduced the invasive species to our waters when they dumped them into the ocean. The medium-sized reef fish prefer to live near hard structures such as oil rigs, wrecks and reefs. The fish also are able to eat both fish and invertebrates and have very few predators due to their venomous spine.
Another common pet seen in lakes and rivers around the country is goldfish. Goldfish are one of the most common pets that have become an issue for local ecosystems.
Goldfish have been described as one of the world’s “worst invasive aquatic species,” according to research conducted by Murdoch University. The fish have been documented to grow to almost four pounds in the wild and feed on plants, insects, crustaceans and other fish to survive. The fish also kick up sediment and mud when they feed, which could damage the ecosystem.
Research also found that goldfish can travel 140 miles within a freshwater system in a year.
Introduced fish can impact our ecosystems harsher than one might think.
“Introduced fish can impact and alter native fish communities by competing for resources or preying upon native fishes, which can reduce a fish population and lead to the possible extirpation (local extinction) of those native species,” said Scanes.
These introduced fish can also be detrimental to water quality. An overabundance of nuisance species could cause changes in water quality, which could lead to events such as toxic algal blooms that kill aquatic life.
Removing invasive species can also have economic impacts.
“Removing or eradicating an invasive or non-native species is economically costly because it requires money for necessary equipment or chemicals and labor,” said Scanes.
Long term, introduced species could cause several issues for local ecosystems. Native fish populations could dwindle because of a loss of habitat, resources or new diseases, as well as changes in the food chain of streams and lakes.
If you are unable to keep your aquarium pets, TWPD recommends alternatives to keep them out of lakes and reservoirs
If you’re able to, find a new family for your fish. TWPD said that if your fish is healthy, give it to a friend or family member with an aquarium or donate to a school or business.
Also, consider selling or trading your fish.
If nothing else, TWPD recommends humanely euthanizing your fish, but not by dumping them in the toilet, as the sewer system conditions could cause them to suffer.