By Liz Bruckner
Call it a humanitarian move or a last-ditch effort to relocate fish once housed in an aquarium. Either way, the number of people dumping live, non-native fish species into Alberta’s lakes, ponds, rivers and streams is on the rise.
According to Michael Short, host of Let’s Go Outdoors, dumping aquarium contents is nothing new. “People often think it’s the kind thing to do. Little Johnny can’t take care of his fish anymore, so the family heads down to the local pond to let it swim free,” he says. “It seems innocent and good, but the issue is that, beyond the fact that the practice is illegal, foreign species can be reptilian, amphibious, and can do incredible damage to a waterway’s ecosystem.”
Another problem, Short says, is that some of these invasive species – he cites goldfish, Prussian carp, and some forms of cat fish as those most often found in public and private waterways – are put there purposely. “For whatever reason, there are people who think they know best in terms of what species should be in a pond. They decide they want to increase their fishing opportunities and perhaps want to control which fish are found in it,” he says. “Obviously there are many problems with that thought process, but one of the major issues is, some species overtake their new environment – such as Prussian carp – and in record time. Their introduction to a waterway always has serious repercussions for the rest of the ecosystem, because they take out other naturally occurring critters in the environment as their numbers increase.”
So what’s the fix? Never deposit invasive fish species into any waterway (toilets included), and when in doubt, call an Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer to discuss proper disposal techniques. “There have been giant, 20-centimetre goldfish found in different areas of the province recently, and there’s evidence that these fish are breeding and surviving through the cold winters,” says Short. “This finding proves just how resilient invasive species are, and because they compete with native species for food, how potentially harmful they can be to an eco-system.”
To help enforce the practices above, Alberta has introduced a campaign called “Don’t Let it Loose!”, which warns against flushing live fish down the toilet, and includes a fine for up to $100,000 under the Alberta Fisheries Act to ensure compliance.
“With Alberta’s ongoing issues with invasive mussels and lampreys, having an overload of invasive fish could land us in the kind of trouble that Florida has,” says Short. “They have all kinds of issues with people putting alien species into the ocean and it’s to the point now that divers have to go in and try to take these species out because there aren’t any natural predators.”
The bottom line: “What people need to ask themselves is, ‘does what I’m about to put in the water normally live there?’ If the answer is no, then it shouldn’t be going in; it’s as simple as that.”