NANFA-L-- Releasing (or not releasing) Fish: Some Suggestions

Jase Roberts (
Fri, 25 Aug 2006 14:53:14 -0400

Thanks for all the discussion on this topic. There were lots of examples of potential problems when introducing non-native or non-local fish. My main question was about the likelihood of transmitting diseases if you're dealing ONLY with native and ONLY locally -- especially given all the other transmission vectors that exist. Maybe we just don't know how localized and isolated pathogens are?

Based on the discussion and my own musings, maybe I could offer the following summary/suggestions:

1) I get the point. Careful, experienced native fish keepers who collect only locally and don't mix equipment with fish or live foods from other localities are PROBABLY okay releasing their fish back into the collection locations. However, the benefits of doing so are small (assuming you collected responsibly in the first place), and the risks non-zero. It's safer for NANFA to offer a blanket "Don't release, ever" statement, and let individuals decide whether they understand the many variables well enough to risk it. That said, I think it would be VERY valuable to have a detailed discussion of all these risks and factors available somewhere on the site. As Todd pointed out a while back, you need to have compelling information to back up any blanket statements.

2) We probably all ought to be paying better attention to how we clean our collection equipment between sites. I don't think there's anything to this effect on the NANFA site currently? Are there folks within the community who are qualified to comment on what *reasonable* techniques can be used to wipe out the various pathogens we need to worry about (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, etc.)?

3) There's NO question that aquarium fish or non-local native fish/herps should NEVER be released (this wasn't part of the original question, but of course came up). There may be something NANFA as an organization could do toward this goal (maybe in collaboration with the industry effort Brian Torreano mentioned... but is that active / going anywhere?) I see two major issues here:

A) Awareness -- As Todd mentioned, most casual fish keepers won't fully understand the problems of releasing their pet fish. This gets right to the "animal lover" vs. "environmentalist" issue I alluded to before. Most aquarists would fall in the "animal lover" category, and believe it's a positive thing to set their fish free rater than euthanize them. No matter what you do, you're NEVER going to convince a lot of these folks to euthanize their beloved fish.

B) Given the above, there need to be viable alternatives to releasing fish. There are myriad reasons why folks will need to get rid of fish, and many/most will NOT euthanize them. So... then what? Some aquarium stores have "adoption" tanks, but I fully understand why it's risky business for retailers to take back stock that could be carrying any diseases under the sun. has suggested alternatives to release under "Prevention", but no detailed info -- and are those alternatives enough? So... what *should* the average aquarist do when they can't (or don't want to) keep their fish anymore? How can alternatives to release be made readily available, and the average aquarist be made aware of those alternatives?

Anything meaningful would have to happen through aquarium/pet stores (that's where you reach the folks with fish). Awareness should be pretty easy -- wouldn't be tough to convince your local pet store to put up a poster next to their live fish stock. Providing the alternatives to release would be tougher. Can you convince all aquarium stores to have a few "adoption" tanks (enough to keep non-compatible fish separate)? That costs them money, and introduces risk of disease. How about convincing them to offer a free "retirement" service to euthanize unwanted fish humanely? Again, that's time and money, and is likely to offend many of their customers (just as people protest shelters that aren't "no kill").

Wow... what a can of worms...


Jase Roberts
Lewiston, Maine
on the Androscoggin River
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