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Snakehead Visits Midwest

Why fish should never be dumped

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The summer of 2002 will be remembered in many circles for stories about the toothy, air-breathing, land-walking family of snakeheads that took up residence in a quiet pond behind a Maryland shopping center. Much like a hit horror movie there was bound to be a sequel, and in the fall of 2003 the aggressive snake returned, this time checking out the scenery in a Wisconsin river.

Mistakenly Let Go
Not accustomed to finding snakeheads swimming in their waters, authorities in Wisconsin mistook it for a local fish and let it swim merrily on it's way without so much as warning for trespassing. Later the error was discovered and a team dispatched to check out the vicinity. The snakehead had vanished, and it is hoped the visiting fish will not survive the bitterly cold Wisconsin winter.

Unfortunately, snakeheads are known for their survival skills. They can breath air, walk short distances on dry land, and survive droughts by burrowing into the mud. That fact was once again brought to mind in 2004 when Snakeheads were found in the Potomac, and most recently near Chicago.

The repeat appearance of a snakehead, which was banned from import in 2002, is disconcerting to say the least. It is becoming increasingly apparent that despite warnings, aquarium fish owners are continuing to release unwanted fish into local waters. In most cases, the owners have no idea that their cast off fish can damage the habitat they are released into. That lack of knowledge is the very reason the problem continues to grow.

The Impact of Non-Indigenous Fish
As any cichlid enthusiast will tell you, non-indigenous fish (in other words, fish that don't belong where they are dumped) can have a devastating effect on the native fish living there.

At one time Lake Victoria was home to a thriving population of cichlids. Several hundred unique species existed there, and only there. Then the Nile perch was introduced, and quickly took over. As a result two hundred species of fish have vanished. What happened in Lake Victoria is just one example of what has happened elsewhere, and will continue to happen as long as fish are released in waters they don't orignate from.

What Can Be Done?
If the steady stream of displaced fish is to be impacted, the public must be educated about the damage that is done when an innocent looking aquarium fish is dumped in a local waterway. Fish clubs have long preached the perils of dumping fish, and have offered to take in unwanted fish. However, to reach a larger number of people, the message must be carried by other groups.

There is little doubt that pet shops could have a major impact on the problem. If every fish purchase were accompanied by information about dumping fish, the number of dumped fish would decrease. An even better approach would be to take it a step further, and extend a blanket offer to take unwanted fish. But pet shops shouldn't have to carry the entire load. Everyone can help. For instance, here are other groups that could lend a hand in getting the word out:

  • Schools
  • Department stores selling fish supplies
  • Businesses that display a fish tank (ie: a dentist office)

    Getting the Word in the Press
    Anyone who has a means to publish information about this subject, can help the cause. Local newspapers, school newsletters, church bulletins, nothing is too small to be of benefit. If you have the opportunity to write even a small article about the perils of dumping fish, please give it serious consideration.

    If you'd like more information about non-indigenous fish visit the sites listed in this article, or drop me an e-mail with your questions.

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