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Habitattitude™ Hopes to Stem Releases of Aquatic Plants and Fish

Habitattitude Logo- Don't Release Aquatic Plants and Fish.

Go on, try to say Habitattitude. Campaign partners hope this new word will become common among aquarium owners and water gardeners. Habitattitude™ is the name for a national public campaign launched September 23 in Las Vegas, NV. The campaign is designed to help aquarium and water garden owners become part of the solution in preventing the release of aquatic fish and plants. The campaign's logo and "don't release" message will soon appear on fish bags, new aquariums, brochures, and ads in hobbyist magazines. This is due to a cooperative effort among the pet and water garden industries, academia, and the federal government.

"While most invasive species come into the country as hitchhikers through commercial trade, some aquarium owners and water gardeners have unknowingly complicated the challenge invasive species pose for conserving America's wildlife and landscapes," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams. "Habitattitude™ will give them the knowledge they need to help them prevent invasive species introductions and conserve the natural world they appreciate so much."

The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), have teamed up under the auspices of the national Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force to create Habitattitude™, which was unveiled at Super Zoo, one of the largest pet industry tradeshows held in the U.S.

NOAA Administrator and retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher agreed that proactive programming is needed to promote responsible consumer behaviors and to raise awareness about invasive species. "If aquarists and water gardeners continue to do this unknowingly, these species can cause irreparable harm to the environment and can negatively impact recreational and commercial uses of our aquatic resources."

Goldfish from Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

Goldfish found in Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth Campus. Goldfish can cause many undesirable changes to the environment when released from aquariums.

In Minnesota, the problem of releasing aquarium fish was spotlighted when more than 40 goldfish, along with schools of koi, bluegill, and fathead minnows (a common fishing bait), were collected from Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. The two-acre pond drains into – and could have infested — Tischer Creek, a designated trout stream that flows into Lake Superior.

"What we found suggests that the pond was a dumping area used by aquarists, water gardeners, and anglers," said Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant Aquatic Invasive Species Information Center coordinator and principal investigator for the Habitattitude™ project.

Rock Pond was pumped dry in May at a cost of more than $50,000 to eradicate the invasive fish and to rebuild a clogged outflow structure. Aquarium fish, even if they are not predators like the notorious northern snakehead that has caused problems in Maryland and Virginia, can degrade water quality and carry diseases that can kill native fish. Invasive plants can clog waterways and impede recreation by snagging boat propellers.

Habitattitude™ encourages consumers to help avoid such problems by promoting simple actions when faced with an unwanted aquatic plant or fish. These include:

  • Contact a retailer for proper handling advice or for possible returns.

  • Give/trade with another aquarist, pond owner or water gardener.

  • Donate to a local aquarium society, school, or aquatic business.

  • Seal aquatic plants in plastic bags and dispose in the trash.

  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for humane disposal of animals.

"This partnership focuses on raising public awareness, engaging people, and promoting consistent environmental messages with corresponding beneficial actions," said Marshall Meyers, PIJAC executive vice president and general counsel. "All segments of the industry are engaged to protect the environment – it's just good business!"

Meyers has been an integral part in gaining industry support for this campaign. Representing over 70 percent of the U.S. pet industry, PIJAC and its members have committed over $1.1 million to the campaign. Their contribution leveraged $100,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a $300,000 grant from the National Sea Grant College Program, led by Minnesota Sea Grant.

The partners have created a campaign Web site: www.habitattitude.net. The site includes recommended alternatives to release, how individuals and clubs can get involved, information on the federal and state laws and statutes that regulate aquatic organisms, and information on some of the more problematic species already in native aquatic systems.

"This partnership focuses on raising public awareness, engaging people, and promoting simple and consistent actions that help conserve our natural resources," said Mamie Parker, co-chair of the ANS Task Force and Assistant Director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's not about the fish and plants but about promoting responsible behaviors."

Look for Habitattitude™ coming to pet stores and plant nurseries near you. For more information, contact Doug Jensen, (218) 726-8712 or djensen1@d.umn.edu.

By Marie Zhuikov
September 2004

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