There's something amiss in Michigan's waterways.
It's an overabundance of unusual invaders. Michigan's waters have become home to large numbers of aquatic pets released by their owners.
The problem has raised enough concern that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued a warning to pet owners against releasing their aquarium pets into the wild.
Releasing an animal into the wild is either a death sentence for a pet not prepared for the challenges of survival outside an aquarium, or a grave threat to the health and safety of native wildlife populations.
According to Nick Popoff, DNR Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit manager:
"Pets released from confined, artificial environments are poorly equipped to fend off predators and may be unable to successfully forage for food or find shelter...Those that do succeed in the wild can spread and have the potential to spread exotic diseases to native animals."
In some cases, pets released into the wild are a little too good at surviving. These individuals reproduce and can become invasive species. Invasive species can throw an ecosystem out of whack, as well as negatively impact the economy and human health.
Not only is releasing aquatic pets harmful and irresponsible, it is also illegal in Michigan. Pet owners who wish to release their aquatic animals must obtain a permit in order to do so.
Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes (RIPPLE) is a statewide campaign currently underway. The aim of the campaign is to educate aquatic pet owners about how to dispose of their animals in ways other than releasing them into the wild.
"If your fish or other species has outgrown its tank or has begun to feed on your other fish, you should consider donating or trading it with another hobbyist, an environmental learning center, an aquarium, or a zoo," says Jo Latimore of Michigan State University Extension and RIPPLE.
There are a number of other options for disposal as well. Pet owners should check with the store from which the pet was purchased to see if they will take the pet back, or speak with a veterinarian about humane disposal.
The Michigan DNR has asked anyone who catches a nonnative fish or aquatic species to keep it and put it on ice. In cases where that is not possible, photograph the animal but do not release it back into the water.
If you live in Michigan and find yourself with an unusual catch on the end of your line, contact Seth Herbst, DNR aquatic invasive species biologist. He can be reached at 517-284-5841 or [email protected]
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