Goldfish a looming environmental problem in Alberta

Updated: April 10, 2016
Goldfish a looming environmental problem in Alberta

Goldfish are becoming a problem in Canadian waterways and experts are having a hard time figuring out how to get rid of them.

Sarah Cicchini, an environmental coordinator with the city of St. Albert, says that city’s goldfish problem started last summer, when a concerned citizen alerted officials that the popular pet had taken over a stormwater pond.

They investigated and found hundreds of goldfish.

“Some were probably finger tips to elbow [in length],” Cicchini said. “I remember looking at a few and being like, ‘Oh, you’re like my arm.’”

Cicchini suspects it started with a regretful pet owner wrongfully thinking dumping an unwanted goldfish into a stormwater pond was humane.

Wildlife experts say goldfish allowed to leave their bowls for city water systems have the potential to wreak havoc on habitat, other fish, or both.

So far, St. Albert officials have tried scooping the unwanted goldfish out with nets, stunning them with an electric current and lowering the water level in the hopes the pond would freeze over this winter.

None of it worked.

“I was very unhappy on all of the warm days,” Cicchini says. “The fish stayed happy through the winter.”

Kate Wilson, an aquatic invasive species specialist with the province, wasn’t surprised to get a call from St. Albert.

She’s recently fielded similar ones from Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge.

Wilson is particularly concerned by a recent case in sub-Arctic Fort McMurray.

“They (goldfish) were doing really well. They were reproducing, surviving the winter, all in an unaerated pond quite far north,” she said. “That scares me because it means they can virtually live anywhere.”

Wilson says she doubts goldfish infestations are a new phenomenon but she’s getting more calls — which she feels is partially due to better education about invasive species.

Still, she says more needs to be done, especially since the qualifications of beloved pets are awfully similar to those of effective invasive species.

“Its kind of the hallmark of popular species in the aquarium world that they don’t have to do much and they’re kinda hard to kill,” she said.

“But that’s [also] the trademark of invasive species: they’re adaptable, they can withstand temperatures, and bad water conditions. Where our native species have limitations, they can generally do very well.”