- Author: Ann King Filmer
Releasing aquarium fish into local waterways — or down the toilet — can damage aquatic ecosystems in a number of ways. The fish themselves can become an invasive species, they can disrupt habitats for other fish and aquatic species, and they may introduce secondary problems such as harmful pathogens or other aquarium species (seaweed, snails) into the waterways.
At least 13 of the 102 aquarium species that are imported into California have been introduced into California marine waters, according to a recent report by Susan Williams, professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis and a marine ecologist the Bodega Marine Laboratory. These introduced species have a high success rate (69 percent) in establishing themselves.
Two very invasive species — the predatory lionfish and Caulerpa seaweed (aka “killer algae”) — have reportedly come from the aquarium trade. The lionfish, which has established itself along the East Coast where it eats smaller fish and threatens reef ecological systems, has not yet reached California waters, but the Caulerpa seaweed cost California more than $6 million to eradicate from two Southern California lagoons a decade ago.
At least 34 aquarium species were found to be potential invaders in California marine waters.
“Globally, the aquarium trade has contributed a third of the world’s worst aquatic and invasive species,” Williams said. "Lionfish are voracious predators in their native habitats, and in their invaded habitat any predator is a potential threat to the native ecosystem."
Williams’ advice: "To avoid releasing aquarium species into natural water, don’t dump your aquarium where they can become an expensive and harmful pests.”
She said that people should contact the vendor where the fish was purchased or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to learn how to dispose of aquarium species responsibly.