A Lake Michigan angler caught more than he bargained for earlier this month when he reeled in an 8-pound, exotic Amazonian catfish commonly known as a redtail catfish.
The redtail catfish was caught at Portage Lakefront Park by Mike Durfee. It's native to South America's Amazon River system and is a popular aquarium fish in the United States. The fish would not have survived the cold water of Lake Michigan during Indiana's winter.
Like many other aquarium species, the redtail catfish can grow large. The International Game Fish Association world record was caught in 2010 on the Amazon River and weighed over 123 pounds.
The fish Durfee caught likely was purchased when it was 2 to 4 inches long and raised in an aquarium until it outgrew the aquarium, according to Eric Fischer, aquatic invasive species coordinator in the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife.
"The first response of some owners may be to release unwanted fish into the closest natural water body thinking they are helping their pets out by setting them free," Fischer said.
It is illegal in Indiana to release not only aquarium fish but also all other fish into public waters without a fish stocking permit.
Snakehead, an aggressive and invasive fish from Asia, and hydrilla, an aquarium and water garden plant that forms dense mats, are examples of species that have become established in the United States in large part due to aquarium releases.
"Some aquarium fish, exotic snails, and aquarium plants can permanently disrupt the natural environment," Fischer said. "Exotic species impact our native wildlife by increasing competition for aquatic resources and introducing diseases."
A person who has an unwanted aquarium pet should pursue an alternative to illegally releasing it into the wild. Many retailers will allow you to return unwanted aquarium pets or will put you in contact with another aquarium enthusiast or local aquarium society that is capable of caring for them.
If you are unable to find an alternative the most humane disposal method is to place the plant or animal in the freezer and then dispose of them in the trash.
Sightings and reports of exotic species should be reported to the DNR through the online reporting system dnr.IN.gov/dnr/6373.htm or by calling 1-866-NO EXOTIC (1-866-663-9684).
For more information on the dangers and risks of releasing aquarium pets and plants into the wild, visit habitattitude.net.