Re: NANFA-L-- Releasing native fish back to the wild -- EVER

Jase Roberts (
Wed, 23 Aug 2006 15:03:03 -0400

Bonnie McNeely wrote:
Is there any good reason for a private individual to put fish into public waters? My opinion is almost certainly not, and as I see it (certainly not as everyone sees it) the only people who are bothered by the suggestions that it should not be done are people who believe that their private desires are more important than the integrity of natural systems. Sorry, but that's the way I see the issue.

I'm looking at situations where there are two viable alternatives: 1) release the native fish back to the same area it was collected, or 2) euthanize it. I wouldn't consider a desire to release the fish purely selfish -- given the choice, I'd assume the fish would prefer release to euthanasia, too. That doesn't mean I feel it's okay to release fish outside of their local range -- that's NEVER acceptable. Anyone who feels it's preferable to release an aquarium fish outside of its range on "animal rights" grounds has no business keeping fish. (The topic of varying perspectives of "animal lovers" vs. "environmentalists" is one that can yield some interesting discussion).

Remember I'm asking about releasing natives into the same geographical area they were collected. Sure, there's a real risk of spreading disease if you're talking about assembling wild-caught fish from widely separated regions (think of the virus suspected to be wiping out amphibians). But if you're *only* collecting locally, is it *really* plausible that some horrible pathogen is waiting to be spread from one pond to another -- and hasn't already been spread by natural or human-aided processes? If I collect and release a dozen native fish in the course of the year (back to the same area I got them), does that have *any* ecological significance when compared to the thousands of fisherman and bait dealers collecting and transporting tens/hundreds of thousands of baitfish in local waters, usually in horribly overcrowded and stress-inducing conditions ideal for transmission of disease (which is both legal and common)?

> Bonnie McNeely wrote:
> First, we can boil it down to legalities. In most jurisdictions (every U.S. state?) it is illegal for a private individual or organization to place aquatic organisms into state public waters.

Hmmmm... I get the sense that discussions of legality are a bit of a taboo here. Let's face it -- the fish & wildlife legislation that technically applies to our hobby isn't tailored to the *very* small number of folks who collect and keep natives in aquaria (generally a select few knowledgeable, responsible people). It's written to deal with the *much* larger issues of fishermen, bait dealers, and folks who would intentionally stock waters with their favorite gamefish. In Vermont, I know it was technically illegal to collect and keep a yellow perch alive in an aquarium. That's despite the fact that it's perfectly legal to catch and kill 50 perch/day (any size) each and every day of the year. In that sort of situation, I'd obey the well-intentioned *spirit* of the law (don't collect so heavily as to threaten the population, don't introduce the fish elsewhere, take steps to minimize possibility of transmitting disease), but am willing to keep the fish although the *lett
er* of the law forbids it.


> Jase Roberts <> wrote:
> Hi All,
> First, I was glad to see a number of people jump in and correct the recent suggestion, "When your fish start to breed just throw them back in a lake or stream." IF any fish are EVER to be released back into the wild (see my question below), it certainly has to be done in a very thoughtful manner.
> I'm sure the issues surrounding releasing native fish back to the wild (within their known ranges, of course) have been discussed to exhaustion. Several folks suggested searching the e-mail archives for the full discussion. I've done that for a number of questions in the past, but it takes a LOT of time. If you search the NANFA archives using Google, your results don't come up threaded or with a lot of meaningful context -- so it can often be very difficult to separate the serious discussion from casual references. You wind up with a lot of one-sentence messages where the hit is on terms contained in a message that has been replied to many times over. Also, discussion drifts to other topics, so the subject line isn't always a great indicator. Fully researching this question via the e-mail archives would take hours, I'm certain.
> So... Has anyone ever pulled together a detailed compilation of the issues surrounding returning native fish to the wild -- including when it is and is not acceptable (if ever)? If so, where can it be found?
> I did turn up this article from Bob Bock (past NANFA pres) (, where he notes:
> "DON'T RELEASE ANY FISH INTO A DRAINAGE SYSTEM WHERE IT DIDN'T ORIGINATE. Even if the fish doesn't find another of its kind to reproduce with, it could still spread diseases or parasites. Similarly, if you're going to keep fish from a number of different places together in the same tank, you shouldn't release them back into the wild. If you can't keep them or find a good home for them, it's better to euthanize them."
> My background is Conservation Biology, so I have a good handle on this stuff. My reaction to the releasing natives back to their home range would be similar to Bob's -- okay if it's the same body of water or directly-connected AND the fish have been kept separate from those from other areas. Others here seem to feel that once you bring them home, you NEVER release them, regardless of how they've been kept.
> The issue of releasing/introducing fish outside of their native range is very easy to understand, and many, many examples can be cited. No one with any baseline understanding of ecology could possibly argue about that.
> However, I'm fuzzier on the concept of spreading disease. If I'm collecting within a 50-mile radius of my home and keeping the fish communally (or with imperfect separation of water, equipment, etc), would it be acceptable to release fish back into local waters where I *know* they are native? What if I'm careful enough to track exact collection location and return them to the same exact same locations, so that I don't do any mixing of populations? If a fish has been healthy in an aquarium for 6 months and kept only with other fishes from the immediate area (but not same body of water), is there a real possibility of spreading disease back to the wild? With all the movement of waterfowl and boats, is it actually plausible that a bacteria or virus pathogen could be so localized that moving a fish from one pond to another 20 miles away is likely to cause a serious outbreak?
> I'd love to hear some serious discussion -- or be pointed to references where this has already been debated to death.
> Thanks much,
> Jase

Jase Roberts
Lewiston, Maine
on the Androscoggin River
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