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Stop Aquarium Dumping: Humanely Dispose of Your Fish

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Kathy is a freelance writer for Textbroker, Verblio, and Constant Content and published author in Neon Rainbow Magazine.

Huge goldfish are not found naturally in steams, lakes or rivers. When they are found there, they are considered to be an invasive species.

Huge goldfish are not found naturally in steams, lakes or rivers. When they are found there, they are considered to be an invasive species.

Dumped Fish Become Invasive Species

In 2013, a gigantic and strange-looking fish was found in Lake Tahoe here in Nevada. This fish is not native to Lake Tahoe, so researchers needed to figure out how it got there. This monstrous fish was over 1 1/2 feet long and weighed over 4 pounds, which is a size almost unheard of for a goldfish.

When I think of goldfish, I think of a tiny fish swimming along in a bowl. Pet fish are usually acquired as companions and teach kids how to care for another living thing. At other times when I think of goldfish, I think of playing a game at a carnival when I was a kid and winning the prize of a tiny goldfish. I don't think of gigantic, gargantuan goldfish that almost take on the proportions of sea monsters. Seeing a gigantic goldfish pictured in the local newspaper was scary!

Researchers gathered at Lake Tahoe to try to find out if there were more goldfish in the lake. Imagine their surprise to find at least 15 of them swimming around in a corner area of the lake! The only possible explanation, since bright orange goldfish are NOT native to Lake Tahoe, is that aquarium owners and other fish owners were dumping these fish into the lake. Yes, the gathering of these goldfish proved that the fish were spawning and gathering in schools.

The Dangers of "Freeing" Your Fish

The problem with this is that these fish are not indigenous to lakes. When they are present in a lake, they will disrupt the entire ecosystem. So, as pet owners, we have to stop letting "goldie" go in the lake or in a river or stream when we don't want them anymore. People who do this may think they are doing a good thing, kind of like "Free Willy" on a smaller scale, like "Free Goldie."

They might think the fish will have a long and happy life swimming in this huge area of water with plenty to eat, other fish to play with, and sunshine. The reality is, fish released into waterways are in danger from things like not being able to find something to eat, being eaten by larger fish, or being exposed to diseases they would never have been exposed to if they had lived out their lives in their goldfish bowl or aquarium.

What researchers found here at Lake Tahoe is that goldfish are not the only species of fish that are not normally found in the lake. There are other more exotic types of fish as well, fish that do not belong there and are another sign that a trend called "aquarium dumping" is taking place.

Aquarium Dumping Is Pervasive and Destructive

In a recent study, it was found that anywhere from 20 percent to 70 percent of aquarium owners in Texas have taken part in aquarium dumping. Not only do these fish excrete some types of nutrients that can cause harmful algae, but they can also consume species of fish that were there to begin with, causing a disruption in the ecosystem.

The aquarium trade throughout the world is partly responsible for this invasion of species that do not belong in these natural bodies of water. Those who own fish, as well as those who import them, have brought these non-native species of fish to these waters. The introduction of strange species can bring about problems like breeding with other fish to create a new, more destructive breed.

Fish Aren't the Only Problem

These invaders are not limited to goldfish. They also include snails, tropical fish, and types of seaweed that do not belong in these waters. In fact, one type of seaweed known as Caulerpa was introduced. This harmful algae was able to produce compounds that were toxic and resulted in the deaths of many fish. A huge project to get rid of his harmful algae took place in the lagoons of southern California.

Another gigantic goldfish found by someone in a pond. I don't think they are meant to ever get this big!

Another gigantic goldfish found by someone in a pond. I don't think they are meant to ever get this big!

Why Do People Dump Their Fish?

One of the biggest questions in all of this is why do people dump fish in the first place if they don't want them any more?

  • The fish is too aggressive: One of the biggest reasons is that a fish has become aggressive, attacking other fish in the aquarium and the owner wants to be rid of the fish.
  • The fish is too big: Another reason is that the fish have become too big for the aquarium. In this case, owners often don't know what else to do with them.
  • The fish is no longer wanted: A third possible reason may be that the owner has simply tired of having an aquarium or has moved to a new home or apartment and can't have it in their new residence.
  • The fish is ill: One more reason may be that the fish is exhibiting signs of being sick, and the owner wishes to be rid of it. This is probably the most dangerous time to ever consider aquarium dumping because of the effects this ill fish could have on the population of healthy fish already present in the lake or stream.

The Dangers of Flushing Fish

Aquarium owners and those who keep fish as pets are advised to never dump fish for any reason. This includes flushing them down a toilet. We might have heard the jokes about flushing goldie, but that is never a good idea. A sick fish can introduce harmful elements like the disease itself that it was affected by or harmful parasites into the water and who wants to use a toilet knowing these are in the water? I know the thought of that creeps me out!

That and the fact that flushing fish could be considered inhumane. Nobody really knows if a fish is capable of feeling pain and there are some who even believe it is cruel to dispose of fish in this way.

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The Dangers of Releasing Fish Into the Wild

The other common way to get rid of unwanted fish is to let them go in a lake, stream or river. This might seem to be a natural way, but it isn't and can be harmful to the ecosystem of the water that the fish are being released into.

Parents might be faced with kids upset that fish are being disposed of and may decide to tell them that if they are let go in a pond, lake or stream that "we can go visit them!" This would be a natural solution if the type of fish being released into the water already lived there naturally. There aren't natural goldfish, and many aquarium fish are not found naturally in these freshwater places either.

  • The fish will likely die: If a fish is naturally a saltwater fish, it will die in fresh water. Some aquarium fish are not even indigenous to the United States, so to release them into waterways is irresponsible and potentially harmful. Not only that, but things like improper water temperature can kill them, or they can be killed by larger predatory fish.
  • If it survives, the fish may threaten native fish and wildlife: Fish that do survive these obstacles and grow to become huge fish cause other problems. They can become destructive by killing other fish or even by killing wildlife. They can also bring with them new parasites that never would have been in the water if they hadn't been released into the body of water.
  • If it survives, the fish may mate and create a destructive new species: If that isn't scary enough, they can mate with other species and create a species that was never meant to exist. Kind of like fooling around with mother nature. We all know how fooling with mother nature is never a good idea.
Dumping fish into bodies of water is never a good idea. Don't fool with Mother Nature.

Dumping fish into bodies of water is never a good idea. Don't fool with Mother Nature.

Correct Ways to Dispose of Aquarium or Pet Fish

If fish are healthy, chances are you will never have a problem getting rid of them if you keep these right ways to do that in mind. Here are some good, non-harmful ways to dispose of unwanted fish.

  • Find a fish club: Sometimes you can find clubs of fish collectors who would be more than happy to help find a new home for your unwanted aquarium fish or fish you cannot have any longer.
  • Contact pet shops: If you contact a pet shop or a place that specializes in the sale of aquarium, exotic or pet fish, you will most likely find one that can take the fish off your hands for you. Some might even pay for the fish.
  • List the fish on a bulletin board or online forum: Places like Craigslist can be valuable for getting rid of fish. You may also be able to give the aquarium away to someone who really wants it if you need to get rid of that too.
  • Donate the fish to offices, nursing homes, or schools: Any public places where you think the atmosphere could be enriched by an aquarium full of fish may be the perfect place to donate your unwanted fish or those you cannot keep anymore. They will probably be very happy to take them off your hands, and you can probably take a tax deduction as a charitable donation. It is a win-win.

What if My Fish Is Sick?

If a fish is sick, the only advice I was able to find is to euthanize the fish humanely and dispose of it in a landfill. I guess a search of the Internet would be in order to find humane euthanasia methods for fish to do that. You could also try contacting an animal health professional or the fish and wildlife department to see if they have any helpful advice.

Protect Our Waterways From Unwanted Fish

Keeping our waterways clean and safe is important for future generations. Following these guidelines for getting rid of unwanted fish will help to keep waterways cleaner and healthier.

© 2013 KathyH


KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on August 05, 2018:

Hi Willard! That’s good information to know! I guess another option is to try to re-home fish with another aquarium owner or collector. It would be kind of sad to have to kill them, though. It’s a real dilemma! Thank you so much for commenting!

Willard McDougal on August 05, 2018:

All of the pet stores I visit actually have signs saying they won't take donated fish. I can't think of one place that will take donated fish. I think the unpleasant truth is that nearly all fish that can't be kept should be killed. Nobody wants to hear this, but this is the truth.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on October 11, 2013:

That's a great story, Crafty!:-) So glad there was a happy end to it, too! Thanks so much for your great comment! :-)

CraftytotheCore on October 11, 2013:

Wow, I had never heard of this! Thanks for bringing it to light. What a great presentation in your Hub. I love the photos. I had a friend that owned a large salt water tank. He took very good care of his fish. He had live rock, anemones, nemos, dorys, the works. He even had a clam. It was so cool. But he was moving for a job transfer, so the local pet store agreed to take his fish. They didn't pay him though, but he just wanted to make sure they got a good home. Last time I went down there, they were off to their new home and still thriving.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on March 24, 2013:

I totally agree flourish anyway! Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments! I feel the same way about any kind of pets, taking one in is a commitment and should be thought of this way. Glad you liked this. I was hoping to make people think by writing it. Thanks again!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 24, 2013:

Thank you for making people aware of the sad ramifications of "disposing" of their finned friends. It's not out of sight out of mind ... for us or them either, poor creatures. Happy you provided options. I wish folks wouldn't take on responsibilities unless it's "forever."

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 27, 2013:

That is SO true, David! People have no idea the danger they can be causing by flushing things like medications and old chemicals down toilets and pouring them into drains! I hope people get the message and dispose of things the RIGHT way! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! :)

David Harder from Prescott, AZ on February 27, 2013:

A great read Kathy. Although the gigantic goldfish was tragically funny, it points out a behavior of our society that we must address. Like our body excrement, when we flush the toilet we assume it's gone, forever! But alas, we flush medicines, toxic wastes (you know, the containers that were leaking under the sink), chemicals, and other harmful items down the drain everyday. Once it's flushed, it gone - right? Your article is just the tip of the iceberg - it's the things we can't see below the waterline that are so dangerous!

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 26, 2013:

I think we did that once when we were kids too, Jackie! I think it was a very common way to get rid of fish because people didn't know not to do that.

I do remember having one funeral for a fish when I was about 10 or 11, and we buried him (or her?) in a shoebox in the back yard. I wonder if anyone ever dug that up and wondered what the heck it was! Thanks so much for commenting! :) I appreciate that!

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 26, 2013:

Thanks so much, Faith! So glad you got some information from this! :) Thank you for the great votes and shares, too. God Bless you, too. Thanks again! :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on February 26, 2013:

I still feel guilty but I did flush some lovable fish years ago! My kids would not take care of them and I was about crazy with them. I never even thought about putting them in a lake. Good thing I guess. Good info.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 26, 2013:

Wow, great extensive and insightful hub here. Ah, sad too.

Voted up ++++ and sharing

God bless, Faith Reaper

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