All That Glitters and Is Gold, Does Not Belong in Our Lakes

Jumpy #1 was my reward for good behavior and a steady string of perfect worksheets. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Hatfield, kept a sticker chart at the front of the room. When my line of glittering gold stars marched across the page and down the wall at the end of the year, I went home with the class goldfish and an invitation to coming swimming in her backyard pool that summer.

When Jumpy #1 swam away to heaven, we quickly replaced him with Jumpy #2, a goldfish won at the county fair that only lived for a week. Jumpy #3 ended his/her life in dramatic fashion by leaping out of the bowl in the middle of the night during my 9th birthday slumber party. Jumpy #4, however, was determined to outlast its predecessors.

By the time we moved from California to Wisconsin at the end of my 6th grade year, Jumpy #4 had grown so large that she(he?) no longer fit in our fish tank. We drove the fish out to a horse ranch in the country and dropped it into a horse trough, where it continued to live and grow for at least four more years. I last saw Jumpy #4 during my sophomore year of high school when I was in California visiting old friends and stopped by at the ranch. Out in the paddock, I peered into the murky water of a steel trough and caught a glimpse of gold swimming past. For all I know, Jumpy #4 is still alive today.

So what do you do when your pet goldfish has outgrown its tank or outlived its welcome in your home? You might be tempted to release it into a nearby pond or lake in the hopes that it will live a long and prosperous life. Unfortunately, however, goldfish don’t belong in our Minnesota waterways and can disrupt the natural aquatic food web. Sometimes the released goldfish will meet one another, fall in love, and fill a pond with their progeny. Other times, the goldfish grow until they become big fat orange carp. They churn up the sediment on the bottoms of lakes, clouding the water and stirring up phosphorus, which in turn feeds algae. Goldfish also compete with native sunfish and minnows for food, reducing the overall fish diversity in lakes and ponds.

This stormwater pond in Chisago County is full of goldfish that don’t belong there.

Habitattitude is an education campaign of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Sea Grant that aims to teach pet owners and water gardeners how to get rid of their unwanted plants and animals without destroying nearby natural areas. In addition to goldfish, other common problem species include water hyacinth, yellow iris, and bullfrogs. And, just to keep the rest of us on our toes, people occasionally release more exotic species such as piranhas and caimans as well.

Instead of dumping non-native aquatic plants and animals in a nearby pond, try to find them a new home, or euthanize them humanely. University researchers typically use Tricaine Methanesulfonate (also known as MS222 or Finquel) to anesthetize and euthanize fish. Your local veterinarian may also be able to help you bring Jumpy #99’s life to a peaceful end. Seal aquatic plants in a plastic bag and dispose of them in the trash.

Depending on your attitude and lifestyle, your pet goldfish could be a treasured companion or high-maintenance interior décor. Just remember that when it comes time to say goodbye, all that glitters and is gold, does not belong in our lakes.