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Aquarium Outcast Found in Minnesota

September 29, 2005

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel netted a surprise during a routine fisheries census of Caribou Lake, near Duluth.

“We were completely startled,” said John Meerbeek, one of two DNR employees who netted a Lima Shovelnose Catfish in July. “Even before we untangled it, we could tell it wasn’t native. We figured it was an aquarium fish from the Ictaluridae (catfish) family”.

The fish, dubbed “Snidely” (after Snidely Whiplash of Dudley Do-Right fame) by Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant’s aquatic invasive species program coordinator, is an Amazon River native. After being held at the French River Hatchery, Snidely died a few days later. The fish now rests preserved in a jar on Jensen’s desk, part of Jensen’s educational arsenal of preserved invaders.

“Unfortunately, this release is a local example of aquarium releases occurring across the country,” said Jensen. “Many fish, plants, snails, crayfish and other animals are being found in places where they don’t belong.

“This discovery, plus the koi and goldfish found in Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus a couple of years ago show that people are releasing things in our backyard,” Jensen said.

These releases can harm the outcast organisms and the environment, Jensen explained. Once released, non-native animals and plants can impair water quality, compete with native species, and carry diseases that may be transmitted to native fish. Jensen is optimistic that future releases can be avoided once people understand the consequences of their actions. Dumping aquarium contents is illegal in Minnesota.

To raise awareness about invasive species, Governor Tim Pawlenty is declaring October Invasive Species Month in Minnesota. Citizens can help by participating in the activities held during October by various organizations. A list of events can be found on the Minnesota Native Plant Society’s Web site: http://mnnps.org/.

Another way citizens can help is by taking these actions when they have an unwanted aquarium animal or plant:

  • Contact a retailer for proper handling advice or for possible returns
  • Give/trade with another aquarist, pond owner, or water gardener
  • Donate to a local aquarium society, school, or aquatic business
  • Seal aquatic plants in plastic bags and dispose in the trash
  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for humane disposal guidance
  • Know state regulations regarding these alternatives

“If the hobbyist who released Snidely would have known about these alternatives, the fish might still be alive for others to enjoy,” said Jensen. The actions were developed for Habitattitude™, a national public awareness campaign aimed at preventing the release of unwanted aquarium fish and plants into lakes and oceans by aquarists and water gardeners. Jensen has been co-leading the campaign with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA’s Great Lake Sea Grant Network.

Brian Mattson, owner of Superior Aquarium in Superior, Wis., is a Habitattitude™ partner. He joined because, “It’s something we do anyway. It seemed like a good idea to reiterate to people not to release fish into ponds and lakes,” Mattson said.

He said that customer response has been positive. They often call his store before disposing of a fish or plant to be sure it’s done properly. “We actually take a few fish back and try to find them other homes,” Mattson said. For more information about aquatic invasive species, how your organization can join Habitattitude™, or how you can get involved with Invasive Species Month events, contact Doug Jensen at (218) 726-8712 or djensen1@umn.edu.

This page last modified on February 21, 2017     © 1996 – 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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