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US Fish & Wildlife Service - Journal Entry
Outreach Efforts Prevent Release of Pet Fish
Region 3, August 17, 2006
This pacu, netted recently by a commerical fisherman in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, measured more than 14 inches in length and was the fourth fish of its kind captured this summer in Wisconsin or Minnesota waters of the Upper Mississippi River.
- Photo by Patrick Short, Wisconsin Deaprtment of Natural Resources.
This pacu, netted recently by a commerical fisherman in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, measured more than 14 inches in length and was the fourth fish of its kind captured this summer in Wisconsin or Minnesota waters of the Upper Mississippi River.

- Photo by Patrick Short, Wisconsin Deaprtment of Natural Resources.

Following a discussion with staff from the Coulee Region Humane Society about the need to distribute information to curtail local release of unwanted pet fish into public waters, La Crosse FRO fishery biologist Mark Steingraeber contacted the La Crosse County Health Department and obtained a list of all licensed commercial animal establishments in the county to identify pet fish retailers. 

These businesses were visited to inquire about their sales practices and whether they would accept unwanted pet fish (particularly pacu and other large species) from their owners.  Several independent retailers responded that they accept most unwanted pet fish brought to them and will resell these fish to customers after a disease quarantine period.  However, no local retailers currently accept large pacu because they are too difficult to resell. 

In order to help meet the need to prevent the continued release of these and other large unwanted pet fish in the area, the La Crosse FRO now accepts these fish directly from pet owners and will humanely euthanize them at no cost.  Pet fish retailers in the area are also informing the owners of such unwanted fish of this service and encouraging them to telephone the La Crosse FRO (608-783-8434) for more information.

Due to this unique partnership with local businesses, the La Crosse FRO received inquiries from two pet fish owners during August, which helped prevent the potential release of three additional large pacu into area waters.  One of these owners also identified a pet retailer in an adjoining county that currently sells pacu. 

This retailer and others that sell frequently problematic fish like pacu will soon be contacted to encourage their staff to make sales of these fish only to well informed customers and to distribute the La Crosse FRO’s ‘crisis-intervention hotline’ telephone number to owners of large, unwanted pet fish.

State fishery authorities report the capture of at least four large pacu in the Upper Mississippi River this summer, including one each in La Crosse and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. 

These fish are native to South America’s Amazon River basin, resemble piranha, and are sold by some pet retailers.  A pacu can grow beyond 12 inches in length and is best suited for display in a large aquarium.  Unfortunately, some fish hobbyists (as well as some sales associates at retail pet stores) are unaware of this growth potential and the problems it may create for an unprepared owner. 

Under these circumstances, a pet fish like this may soon grow to an unmanageable size and become unwanted by its owner, who may mistakenly believe a solution is to release the fish into the wild.  These owners should know that the release of aquarium fish (and the disease pathogens that may infect them) into public waters is illegal and could adversely impact native fishes, with serious consequences for sport and commercial fisheries. 

Faced with a dilemma like this, fish hobbyists need to learn of approved alternatives to the abandonment of their pets in the wild.

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov