Michigan DNR warns against releasing aquatic pets into nature

Goldfish, native to east Asia, have been found in Michigan waters.
Goldfish, native to east Asia, have been found in Michigan waters.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is warning pet owners against releasing their aquatic animals into bodies of water when they no longer want them.

Animals released into the wild either aren’t prepared to survive or can threaten the survival of native animals, according to the DNR.

“Pets released from confined, artificial environments are poorly equipped to fend off predators and may be unable to successfully forage for food or find shelter,” said Nick Popoff, manager of the DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit. “Those that do succeed in the wild can spread and have the potential to spread exotic diseases to native animals.”

Popoff also said that if an animal survives and reproduces, it can disturb the natural ecosystem and become an invasive species.

Invasive species are ones that are not native to an area, and cause harm or have the potential of causing harm to the environment, the economy or human health.

Also, releasing fish and other aquatic animals is illegal in Michigan. A permit is required to release aquarium fish such as goldfish or farm-raised fish from private ponds into bodies of water.

A statewide campaign, Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes, is working to educate pet owners about the proper ways to dispose of their unwanted aquatic animals that doesn’t include dumping them in rivers, lakes or streams.

“If your fish or other species has outgrown its tank or has begun to feed on your other fish, you should consider donating or trading it with another hobbyist, an environmental learning center, an aquarium or a zoo,” said Jo Latimore with Michigan State University Extension and RIPPLE.

Other options include checking with the store you purchased the animal from to see if they will take it back, or talking to a veterinarian or pet retailer for humane disposal options.

The DNR asks that if you catch an unusual fish or other aquatic species, keep it and preserve it on ice. If that isn’t possible, take photos of the fish but do not return it to the water.

Contact Seth Herbst, DNR aquatic invasive species biologist, at 517-284-5841 or herbsts1@michigan.gov, for assistance identifying the species.

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