For What It’s Worth

Watch what you do with the goldfish

Goldfish are cute little critters that swim aimlessly in circles around the clear bowl to which they are confined and wait for you or your child to drop little flakes of food into the water for them to eat. Or, the lucky ones find themselves in an aquarium with room to flit to and fro and perhaps play tag with other small, usually colorful, fish.

But they are harmless and certainly not 12 or more inches in length like a bass or catfish you might catch while fishing in an Oklahoma pond. Right? Not necessarily.

A few weeks ago, I read a story about giant goldfish, some growing to a length of 18 inches, infesting the waters of Lake Tahoe. Like the Burmese python, a non-native species threatening the Florida Everglades, these goldfish are breeding on an escalating scale and experts say they could adversely impact Lake Tahoe’s delicate ecosystem.

How could the goldfish go from being a star attraction in someone’s aquarium or goldfish bowl to being a virtual villain threatening a large lake?

Scientists studying the situation offer multiple answers. Primarily, they suggest, the fish were dumped there from people’s aquariums. Rather than kill the goldfish or otherwise dispose of them, people release them into the lake, perhaps thinking this is the humane way to be rid of the no-longer-wanted goldfish. Probably, they also think dumping the fish into the lake is harmless and lacking in negative consequences.

The goldfish may also have found their way into the lake as bait. Fishermen sometimes use goldfish as bait for bass, and the fish may wriggle off of the hook or be dumped from bait buckets at the end of a fishing trip.

But, really, aren’t goldfish harmless? No, they’re not. A scientific report in 2006 stated that, while pet fish, mollusks and other species have the ability to wreak havoc on domestic water bodies, it is goldfish that are “most frequently released and can do some of the worst damage to native species.”

How?  An ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey explained that when goldfish eat they root around in the sediment and that suspends the sediment up in the water. This can lead to murky water, destroyed vegetation and water turbidity. One assistant professor of biology at Texas State University said that people dumping fish from their aquariums into a pond, river or spring may save the life of one fish, but in doing so they could wipe out a whole population of native fishes.

One official suggested the important thing to realize is that one person’s action can have far reaching effects. Small things people do can have a large impact, he said, when you consider that it’s probably not just one person doing it.

Reading about little goldfish that have become giant goldfish and are threatening an entire lake’s ecosystem made me wonder if something similar happens in our own lives. Do we have goldfish in our lives that we no longer want to have responsibility for? But we don’t want to kill or destroy them, so we dump them somewhere, thinking we have harmlessly disposed of them. Maybe we dumped them into the lake called society, not realizing that others, too, were taking the same action with their goldfish. Then, the damage and adverse effects that occurred surprised us.

Maybe we need to be careful what we do with our goldfish.


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