Driftwood: Keep, store aquarium fish where they belong

During my college days at Purdue University, I kept a smallmouth bass in a 55-gallon aquarium. His name was Walter. I caught him in Wildcat Creek just east of Lafayette the summer after my sophomore year. Walter moved numerous times, and was a good pet. At the end of my senior year, though, I was headed to Denver and taking Walter along just didn’t seem feasible. So unbeknownst to me at the time, I broke the law and put Walter back in the same spot I had caught him from two years earlier.

Walter was a native. He belonged in Wildcat Creek, so putting him back wasn’t something I thought would be an issue. In reality, it is against the law to stock any fish into an Indiana body of water without a permit. What would have really been bad is if Walter had not been a native. Releasing exotic species in non-native waters can devastate an ecosystem. So don’t do it. Simple enough?

Recently, Mike Durfee of Portage caught an 8-pound, exotic Amazonian catfish commonly known as a redtail catfish out of Lake Michigan. Redtail catfish are native to South America’s Amazon River system. They are a popular aquarium fish in the United States. There is little to no chance the catfish wound up in Lake Michigan by accident. Someone dumped it there.

Even though it is believed that the exotic cat could not survive the cold water of Lake Michigan in the winter, it could have survived if it found one of the warm-water discharge areas located along the industrial coast. The International Game Fish Association world-record redtail catfish was caught in 2010 on the Amazon River and weighed more than 123 pounds. You can imagine the damage thousands of hundred-pound catfish could do to the native populations of popular game fish like perch, smallmouth bass and salmon.

The fish Durfee caught likely was purchased when it was 2 to 4 inches long and raised in an aquarium until it outgrew the aquarium, according to Eric Fischer, aquatic invasive species coordinator in the Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish & Wildlife.

“The first response of some owners may be to release unwanted fish into the closest natural water body, thinking they are helping their pets out by setting them free,” Fischer said.

In Indiana, it is illegal to release aquarium fish into public waters. In fact, like I said earlier, it is illegal to stock any fish in Indiana public water without a fish stocking permit. If you have an unwanted aquarium fish, you must find another way to get rid of it besides releasing it into the wild. Contact local retailers who may take it or put you in contact with another aquarium enthusiast. Also check to see if you have a local aquarium society that is capable of caring for the fish. If none of those options is viable, you might have to kill the fish. You can freeze it and throw it away, or take a more natural route and bury it in the backyard.

“Some aquarium fish, exotic snails and aquarium plants can permanently disrupt the natural environment,” Fischer said. “Exotic species impact our native wildlife by increasing competition for aquatic resources and introducing diseases.”

Sightings and reports of exotic species should be reported to the DNR through the online reporting systemdnr.IN.gov/dnr/6373.htm or by calling 1-866-NO EXOTIC (866-663-9684).

For more information on the dangers and risks of releasing aquarium pets and plants into the wild, visit habitattitude.net.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler is a Bloomington-based outdoors writer whose column is published each week in The Herald. Contact him at sports@dcherald.com or head online to visit his blog at driftwoodoutdoors.org.




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