Newsroom Midwest Region

How to break up with your goldfish

May 30, 2017

Goldfish make cute, low maintenance pets, but out in the wild they can become the scaled harbingers of environmental mayhem. Photo courtesy of C Watts/Creative Commons.
Goldfish make cute, low maintenance pets, but out in the wild they can become the scaled harbingers of environmental mayhem.
Photo courtesy of C Watts/Creative Commons.

It was love at first sight, but something has changed and you’re ready to move on.

When conditions are right, a pet goldfish released into the wild can grow to the size of football and weigh up to four pounds. Voracious eaters and the carriers of parasites, their presence in our waters is bad news for native fish. Photo courtesy of Eugene Braig/Ohio Sea Grant.
When conditions are right, a pet goldfish released into the wild can grow to the size of football and weigh up to four pounds. Voracious eaters and the carriers of parasites, their presence in our waters is bad news for native fish. Photo courtesy of Eugene Braig/Ohio Sea Grant.

Now it’s time to break up with your goldfish. Like all break ups, separating from your aquarium pet is complicated. Imagining an amicable parting of ways as you throw your finned friend into a nearby pond? Or perhaps a vengeful flush of the toilet? Either way, you’re choosing the wrong path. Many of the animal invaders in our country, such as lionfish and snakeheads, started out as a bad break up with a pet. Venomous fins and wicked teeth notwithstanding, your goldfish is no exception.

After you reenact Free Willy with your goldfish, you may be horrified to learn that under the right conditions it will survive and grow. And grow. Like, really BIG. Imagine a goldfish the size of a football and weighing four pounds. From Lake St. Clair outside of Detroit to Lake Tahoe in Nevada, large goldfish found in public waters have made the news as they damage waterways with their voracious appetites and their tendency to carry parasites. In places like Teller Lake near Boulder, Colorado, the goldfish got frisky and multiplied like Tribbles on Star Trek. The result was the seemingly benign goldfishes crowded out the native fish supposed to be there.

Are you ready to move on without inadvertently causing environmental mayhem? Here’s how to take the high road when breaking-up with your aquarium pet:

  • Help your fish find a home with someone who will care for them. Fish adoption is a real thing! Donate your fish to a pet store, school or learning institution, or advertise that you will give your fish away for free. You can also check out online forums dedicated to the adoption of unwanted pets. Some of them include fish. Through local and regional aquarium hobbyists clubs you may find an opportunity to trade animals as well.

  • Send your fish to the great blue beyond. Reach out to your local veterinarian or pet retailer to learn how to humanely dispose of your aquarium pet. It may seem cruel, but take a moment to think about what the life of your goldfish could be in the wild. A stranger to our waters, they could end up diseased, starved, or eaten by predators.

If you’re reluctant to let go of the romanticized vision of your fish swimming in the wild, consider this next point. Hell hath no fury like a goldfish scorned. When pet releases go sideways, someone has to come in and clean up the mess. It is estimated that each year invasive species, some of them sitting in your aquarium, incur $120 billion in damages to our country. Billions of additional dollars are spent on prevention, detection, control, management, outreach and habitat restoration.

The loving feeling you once had for your aquarium fish might be gone, but you still have the chance to the do the right thing for you, your pet and the environment.

Looking for more guidance? Check out Habitattitude U.S. and Habitattitude Canada for more information on how to be an environmentally responsible aquatic pet parent.