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A bounty of goldfish collected from Rock Pond at UMD.

A bounty of goldfish collected from Rock Pond on the Duluth campus.

Losing Nemo

Minnesota Sea Grant leads national effort against illegal fish dumping

By Pauline Oo

From eNews, July 22, 2004

A goldfish, just like a puppy, will grow. It won't get as big as a Golden Retriever, mind you, but it just might not fit that tabletop aquarium any more. Therein lies part of the problem. "People have the expectation that their fish is not going to grow any larger than the size of its container, and so once it does, they don't necessarily want to keep the fish anymore," says Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant exotic species information coordinator. "And when they don't know what to do with it, they may release it into the environment." Early this summer, more than 40 goldfish--along with schools of koi, blue gill, and fathead minnows (a common fishing bait)--were collected from Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota, Duluth, campus. The two-acre constructed pond spills over into--and could pollute--Tischer Creek, a designated trout stream that flows into Lake Superior. "What we found suggested that we had a significant dumping area used by aquarium, water gardeners, and outdoor pond enthusiasts, and by anglers," says Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant exotic species information coordinator. Finding a solution The Minnesota Sea Grant, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council are currently developing a national campaign (to be launched late September) to educate the public about not releasing aquarium and water garden fish and plants into local waterways. Invasive aquatic life--or non-native animal and plant species--can cause ecological and economic harm to area lakes. For example, aquarium fish, explains Jensen, can degrade water quality and carry diseases that can kill native fish. Invasive plants can clog waterways and impede recreation by getting caught on boat propellers. "Instead of releasing your plants, fish, and other animals, you can give them away to another hobbyist, advertise in the paper to give them away, or donate them to a business, school, or nursing home that has an aquarium or water garden," says Jensen. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it is "legal to possess, sell, buy, and transport [regulated invasive species such as goldfish, carp, and koi], but they may not be introduced into a free-living state, such as being released or planted in public waters." Fines can run from $50 to $500. "Rock Pond is an example of what we're trying to prevent," says Jensen. "In this case, we were lucky because it was a constructed pond with a manageable outflow. If similar releases occurred in other area lakes or rivers, attempts to eradicate or control the spread [of invasive species] would be extremely costly." In the U.S., aquarium and water garden owners have accidentally released more than 38 species of unwanted fish and dozens of plants, crayfish, and snails into fresh and marine waters. While environmental and economic consequences for most species are unknown, impacts of some infestations have cost millions of dollars for control and management. To learn more about Minnesota's exotic species laws or for a list of invasive plants and animals, see the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. For a field guide to aquatic exotic plants and animals, see Minnesota Sea Grant.

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