When you think of goldfish, your mind may jump to the carnival or fair. Maybe you picture the thin plastic bag of water with a tiny, orange-red pet swimming around in circles, being hurriedly carried to the car. Or perhaps, you think of your own home aquarium or small pond where you would watch the big-eyed creatures swim and explore. Whatever your association may be, odds are you’re picturing a small aquatic animal, around 7 inches long and weighing under a pound. Well it turns out, that might not always be the case.
Authorities in Burnsville, Minnesota are now dealing with a raging goldfish crisis in Keller Lake. The City of Burnsville tweeted the morning of July 9, 2021, urging residents to stop releasing their unwanted pet goldfish into local ponds and lakes. When released into the wild, the adorable fish turns destructive, resulting in overgrown goldfish usurping the lake and its resources.
“Please don’t release your pet goldfish into ponds and lakes!” the tweet warned. “They grow bigger than you think and contribute to poor water quality by mucking up the bottom sediments and uprooting plants.”
Please don’t release your pet goldfish into ponds and lakes! They grow bigger than you think and contribute to poor water quality by mucking up the bottom sediments and uprooting plants.
Groups of these large goldfish were recently found in Keller Lake. pic.twitter.com/Zmya2Ql1E2
— City of Burnsville (@BurnsvilleMN) July 9, 2021
Since goldfish are an invasive species, they can have a detrimental impact when released into wild, preserved habitats. These fish carry diseases and parasites and, when given the freedom of living outside of a glass bowl, can balloon in size. Goldfish disrupt the dirt at the bottom of lakes and ponds when searching for food, and have even been known to eat the eggs of native animals like salamanders. They can live for up to 25 years and reproduce rapidly, taking over a small body of water with ease.
Therefore, it’s no wonder that the Minnesota authorities are taking care to educate their residents about proper goldfish disposal. But unfortunately, this wasn’t the first case of expansive goldfish populations in local waters. In November of 2020, another Minnesota lake, Big Woods Lake, was found to have thousands upon thousands of goldfish taking over the waters.
“It was the most densely populated discovery of goldfish staff had seen,” said the Carver County Water Management Organization. Officials ended up netting an estimated 500,000 goldfish from the lake, removing them by the truckload. Similar instances occurred in local lakes in Boulder, Colorado and Lake Tahoe, Nevada over the past few years.
This act of disposing unwanted fish in local ponds and lakes is actually already illegal in many states, including Minnesota. And yet, there seems to be difficulty in expressing just how detrimental this act, known as “illegal fish stocking,” can be to our natural wildlife. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources recently released an article in their magazine, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, in an attempt to emphasize the importance of following the fish stocking laws.
“Illegal stocking can upset the delicate balance of existing fish communities,” the article reads, “spread fish disease, and bring other unintended consequences that can linger for years.” The piece continues to detail how fish stocking should be left to trained professionals, and that some lakes are being more heavily impacts by illegal stocking than others. “Stream trout lakes are a concern for us,” notes DNR Finland Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Paron. “We spent a lot of time and money to make these lakes, for the most part, fishless besides the trout. We know illegal stocking occurs, but we never observe it firsthand.”
For those wishing to be rid of their goldfish without causing environmental damage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends a few different options. Try finding a new home for your fish with a friend or family member, or donate it to a pet store, school or veterinarian. They also suggest checking online for adoption forums for unwanted pets, or even contacting your local aquarium. Whatever you choose to do, please refrain from disposing of your goldfish in any local body of water, as just one invasive fish can wreak havoc on an entire ecosystem.