Goldfish may seem small and harmless in the controlled setting of your fish tank, but if you've ever decided to release one into the wild after getting bored of it, or flush it down the toilet, you could be destroying the local ecology and costing yourself thousands of dollars.
It turns out that goldfish are one of the world's worst invasive species. Originally bred in China 2,000 years ago for food, goldfish became friend instead of food in the 14th century, reaching North America by the 19th century. Given the time, goldfish can eat their way to as much as 4 pounds, and the size of a football.
Goldfish feed on plants, insects, crustaceans, and other fish, taking up the food sources of local species. They also introduce foreign parasites and disease that the local ecosystem can't handle. To top it all of, goldfish are the rabbits of water, and can quickly reproduce their way into an uncontrollable population.
Cassie Anderson of Danville, Kentucky, recently took to social media to share a photo of what they believe is a massive goldfish her brother Hunter managed to catch at a local lake.
"It is not a stolen image or edited photo," she wrote on Facebook. "This is my brother!! Who is holding what could possibly be.... that pet goldfish we flushed when I was 9!!"
Hunter Anderson told USA TODAY that the image isn't fake. The 22-year-old believes that the 20-pound, 30-inch long is a goldfish, though Kevin Kelly, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, says that the fish might be another invasive species that's often flushed or released into the wild — a butterfly koi.
Whatever species of fish the monster Hunter caught is, goldfish infestations are still a serious issue. West Medical Lake in Washington state is in the middle of a goldfish epidemic. Washington Fish and Wildlife stock the lake with thousands of baby trout every year.
But recently, their efforts to keep the ecosystem in a stable state have been failing because people have been releasing their pets. Randy Osborne, a fisheries biologist, says that the goldfish population in the lake have exploded and that food sources and oxygen in the water have become too scarce for trout to survive.
"If they get caught doing that and get prosecuted, they could be responsible for the restitution of fixing the problem that they created," added Osborne. That cost? Fish and Wildlife said it will take around $150,000 to rehab the entire lake
“The good deed of somebody here locally saying, 'Well I can't keep this anymore, I don't want to keep this anymore' and they let it go in the lake. I call it bucket biology," Fish and Wildlife Field Sergeant Mike Sprecher said.
The moral of this story? Don't flush or release your fish, people!