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Doug Jensen holds shovelnose catfish.

Doug Jensen holds a Lima shovelnose catfish found in Caribou Lake.

He was an Amazon River native. The story of his journey to the Northland is speculation, but ultimately ends in tragedy. It might have been because he was bigger than most, too aggressive to fit it in, or perhaps he ate himself out of house and home. Whatever the reasons, someone wanted to get rid of him. They may have done so with good intentions – perhaps they thought he’d have a better life, but we may never know.

What is known is that “Snidely,” as dubbed by Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant’s aquatic invasive species program coordinator, was an outcast – most likely from a home aquarium. He was found alive during July in Caribou Lake near Duluth.

“We were completely startled,” said John Meerbeek, one of the two Minnesota Department of Natural Resource fisheries personnel who netted the Lima shovelnose catfish during a routine fisheries census. “Even before we untangled it, we could tell it wasn’t native. We figured it was an aquarium fish from the Ictaluridae (catfish) family.”

Snidely (named after Snidely Whiplash of Dudley Do-Right fame) was held in confinement at the French River Hatchery but died a few days later. He now rests in a jar on Jensen’s desk, part of Jensen’s educational arsenal of preserved invaders.

“Unfortunately, this release is a local example of aquarium releases occurring across the country,” said Jensen. “Many fish, plants, snails, crayfish and other animals are being found in places where they don’t belong.”

Jensen said these releases can harm the outcast organisms and the environment. Once released, non-native animals and plants can impair water quality, compete with native species, and carry diseases that may be transmitted to native fish. Jensen is optimistic that future releases can be avoided once people understand the consequences of their actions. Dumping aquarium contents is illegal in Minnesota.

Habitattitude™ is a national public awareness campaign aimed at preventing the release of unwanted aquarium fish and plants into lakes and oceans by aquarists and water gardeners. (To learn more, see the September 2004 issue of the Seiche or visit www.habitattitude.net.) Jensen has been collaborating with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA’s Great Lake Sea Grant Network to implement the campaign across the country.

As alternatives to releasing fish or plants, the campaign encourages hobbyists to:

  • 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 guidance
  • Know state regulations regarding these alternatives

“If the hobbyist who released Snidely would have known about these alternatives, the fish might still be alive for others to enjoy,” said Jensen.

If more people adopt an attitude that includes Habitattitude™, the koi and goldfish Jensen found in the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Rock Pond last year and the piranhas swimming in an Iowa lake near Meerbeek’s hometown would enter the realm of interesting stories, not an increasingly prevalent environmental challenge.

To promote invasive species recognition and awareness, as well as to encourage Minnesotans to take action to help in the battle against invaders, Governor Pawlenty has declared October as Invasive Species Month in Minnesota. During the month, the Minnesota Invasive Species Advisory Council and its members are encouraging communities and organizations to participate.

Activities include helping organize a buckthorn pull party, becoming a Stop Aquatic Hitchhiker!™ volunteer, writing an article for a local newsletter or newspaper, creating a poster for display at a local library, distributing information on invasive species, or inviting a speaker to talk about invasive species at a school, church, scout group, or learning center (see www.mnnps.org/invasive).

“Anything we can do to curb the spread of invasive species around the state is helpful,” said Jensen. “In the Great Lakes, ballast water is a well-known vector, but we must pay attention to other methods for introduction, too, like dumped aquarium and water garden species, and aquatic plants and animals that can ‘hitchhike’ overland with the unknowing help of boaters, anglers, and waterfowl hunters.”

Jensen is encouraged by people’s response to Habitattitude™ and the partnerships that are developing. Federal, state, tribal, or city government, aquaria, zoos, universities, colleges, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, aquarium and water garden clubs and societies are encouraged to join.

“Habitatttitude’s consistent messages can be promoted locally to address a global issue,” said Jensen. “It provides credibility to communication efforts when we all convey the same message.”

For more information, contact Doug Jensen at (218) 726-8712 or djensen1@umn.edu, visit the Web sites mentioned in this article, or test your knowlege at our online quiz.

By Sharon Moen
October 2005

Return to October 2005 Seiche

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