Kansan Reef

You're not in the ocean anymore.

Aquarium trade and exotic fish are now invasive in U.S. waters

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What can we do to help control invasive species?
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Hannah Owens.

Transcript of the interview excerpt. 
Fish commonly kept in the home aquarium are turning up in waters in the United States, according to the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, SEFSC. Hobby fish, such as lionfish, humpback grouper and clown triggerfish, are now considered invasive in the Southeast United States, according to the SEFSC.

“There’s no way for a reef fish from the Pacific, that’s tropical, to get to the Atlantic, unless somebody’s helping it,” Hannah Owens, a graduate student of ichthyology at the University of Kansas, said.

Studies have shown that lionfish have been introduced into the Gulf of Mexico multiple times, Owens said. A prevailing hypothesis is that somebody had an aquarium that they no longer wanted and dumped it, “it was definitely more than one introduction,” Owens said.

Fish are considered to be invasive when they have begun to reproduce in an area where they are nonnative, according to the SEFSC. Invasive fish do not have competition when introduced into a new ecosystem, an invasive fish, like the lionfish, has escaped all of its natural predators and diseases, Owens said.

It is not only the ocean that is faced with invasive fish species. Fish, such as white perch and Asian carp, are not native to Kansas but have begun to call it home, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, KDWPT. Invasive nonindigenous fish are far from uncommon in the United States. The United States Geological Survey, USGS, considers 56 fish species found in Kansas as nonindigenous aquatic nuisances, including 8 types of bass. Bass species that are invasive in Kansas include smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass.

Most bass species in the U.S. are invasive, Owens said, “when they started doing the railroads through the U.S. they would throw a tank car on a train and every time they passed a river, they’d throw stuff in.” This was meant to be a source of food and fun but they didn’t understand that introducing nonnative fish would affect the ecosystem, Owens said.

According to the USGS, goldfish have been found in Kansan waters. Goldfish are ornamental fish from Eastern Asia and are commonly kept in home aquariums in the United States. The USGS has found goldfish in numerous Kansan waters and now consideres goldfish to be a statewide nonindigenous aquatic nuisance.

Andy Bentley, collections manager at the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, said that invasive fish are usually collected for the aquarium trade and shipped across the world. Somebody then either has an accident with their aquarium or releases it on purpose, Bentley said.

It is against federal and state laws to release exotic species into waters in Kansas, according to the KDWPT. It also recommends that aquarium owners who no longer wish to care for their aquarium take steps to prevent the spread of nonnative species. These steps include:

  • Contact a store that sells hobby fish for advice or return;
  • Donate to local school or aquarium;
  • Contact a local veterinarian for humane disposal guidance.

Another option is to donate deceased fish to the Biodiversity Institute at KU, Bentley said, “we have a research collection of fishes here, about 680,000 of them.” The Biodiversity Institute at KU collects specimens and preserves them in alcohol, Bentley said, the collection at the Biodiversity Institute has many fish that came from aquariums.

If an aquarium owner cannot care for their live fish or entire aquarium any longer, they should find an aquarium community in their area, Owens said, online forums are a great way to meet aquarists.

“I don’t know if saltwater aquariums are necessarily where a lot of the invasive species are going to come from,” Owens said. “As we become a more globalized society and as we trade more things back and forth, you’re going to have more invasive species.”

What can we do to help control invasive species?
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Hannah Owens

Transcript of the interview excerpt.


Author: Chas Strobel

My name is Chas Strobel. I am a journalism student in the William Allan White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and an avid reef keeper.

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