Put the Bucket Down!
On the list of terrible ideas, you know, the ever-growing list of really bad ideas that includes things like New Coke, the pet rock and parachute pants, bucket biology has got to be right near the top of all-time bonehead ideas. A bucket biologist, for those of you who don’t know, is a member of the public who decides to introduce a new fish species to a body of water because they think it would be fun to fish that species in the lake or reservoir closest to their house. They’ll go to a lake that has their favorite species of fish, catch a few and put them in a cooler or bucket, and then transport them back to their lake of choice and release them. They have no training or education in fisheries management, they just think it would be fun to fish for their favorite fish close to home, and in doing so often damage or destroy a thriving fishery that costs millions of dollars of damage.
“Bucket biology is a swear word among fisheries biologists,” said Kevin Netcher, Aquatic Invasive Species biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “An average person has no idea the amount of damage introducing a new species can do to a healthy fish population in a lake or reservoir. These new species can outcompete the existing fish population, which causes those populations to crash. What had taken decades to create a healthy thriving fishery, can be decimated in a matter of a few years.”
Netcher points to Comins Lake as a perfect example of what can go wrong when a species is introduced with no thought to the possible effects. Situated about seven miles south of Ely, Comins was a trophy water that brought anglers from all over the country in the early 2000’s. However, an illegal introduction of Northern Pike destroyed the once thriving fishery almost overnight. In 2004 Comins Lake averaged about 35,000 angler use days for the year. More than 70 percent of the fishermen came from out of town, bringing more than $2 million in revenue with them. By 2013, that had dropped to under 1,300 angler use days for the year and spent around $73,000. In 2015, NDOW spent more than $250,000 to remove illegally stocked northern pike that had decimated the trout fishery at Comins Lake. Fisheries biologists worked to rebuild the fishery with the introduction of trout and largemouth bass. As the lake began to recover, someone again introduced Northern Pike into the lake with similar results as before. NDOW was forced to start over once again.
“All the wasted resources in money and time, and all because someone wanted to create a fishery that they may have experienced in the Upper Midwest, that simply isn’t ecologically sustainable in Nevada”. It’s beyond frustrating,” said Netcher. “And that’s just one body of water. We’ve got people that don’t want their pet turtle or tropical fish just dumping them into the local ponds or lakes as well, and that can be just as damaging.”
Netcher states that releasing an unwanted pet (turtles, goldfish, etc.) is just as bad as introducing a new species of fish on purpose. Because these pets were raised in aquariums, most will not survive and wind up being eaten or unable to compete for resources. If the conditions are right, pets like goldfish, some reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates like snails or crayfish can become invasive species and wind up destroying a thriving pond or lake. In some cases, it might even threaten native species that are already struggling to survive. Netcher states that there are resources available for finding a home for unwanted pets and points to dontletitloose.com as a great starting point.
“The bottom line is releasing fish and other aquatic life is never a good idea,” said Netcher. “Doing so can cause significant ecological harm and can be extremely difficult and costly to undo.”