Home | Conservation | Goldfish as Bait – Why They Are Illegal and How They Affect the Ecosystem

Goldfish as Bait – Why They Are Illegal and How They Affect the Ecosystem

Here at That Fish Place – That Pet Place we are doing our best to educate our customers on the dangers and risks of using goldfish as bait. In addition to offering an extreme risk to native species, anglers also face steep fines if they are caught in possession of goldfish for bait.  In Lancaster County Pennsylvania, where we are located, there are several bait and tackle shops that offer better alternatives for fishing.


History of Goldfish in the US

A western aquarium of the 1850s

A western aquarium of the 1850s illustration from Shirley Hibber, The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet

Goldfish are freshwater members of the carp and minnow family.   While many of us admire them from the view of our tank, they are actually one of the first aquatic invasive species to reach North America.  How did the goldfish go from being the cute googly eyed fish you would feed after school, to being such a widespread risk to native plants and species?

Goldfish began to come to the America’s in the 1600s as ornamental fish for aquariums and water gardens. If the fish became too large for their surroundings, or the owner became tired of it, they simply got rid of it in the closest freshwater source.  Today, goldfish are becoming reintroduced as livebait.  Pennsylvania has stepped in, as well as many other states to make it illegal to use goldfish as live bait.


The Real Issues


Goldfish (Carassius auratus) photo by Ontario Streams

Goldfish will typically eat their own eggs when held in captivity, so breeding is not a large issue for most hobbyists unless they are intentionally breeding their goldfish.  Given the right conditions, goldfish can spawn several times a season.  A lot of the eggs will get eaten by the adult goldfish once they are laid, but several hundred eggs are produced at each spawning.  With only a few eggs eaten, and fry hatching within 48-72 hours, you can imagine how just a few goldfish can turn into a large problem rather quickly.

Often referred to as the “little piggies” of the aquarium, goldfish are opportunistic feeders and will not stop eating of their own accord.  While goldfish typically feed off of crustaceans, insects, and various plant matter; when this food is scarce they will eat eggs from native species nests.  The native egg-laying species populations have now been disrupted, and due to that, the population has declined and disrupted other wildlife food chains.


Law on the Books

downloadIt is unlawful to use or possess goldfish, comets, koi and common carp as bait fish while fishing in the state of Pennsylvania. If you are caught fishing with feeder goldfish or any other illegal bait fish there is a minimum $120.50 fine, and you can be fined an additional $20.00 – $50.00 per illegal bait fish.  Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission wants you to know that you aren’t off scot-free just yet.  Law enforcement also has the authority to confiscate or seize, any fishing equipment as evidence of your violation of the law.  The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission may, upon proper notice, suspend or revoke your fishing privileges, boating privileges or other permits of any person convicted (or acknowledging guilt) of a violation of the Fish and Boat Code or Fish & Boat Commission regulations.  That would also include your naive fishing buddy.  Should multiple violations occur within a 12-month period you will be given a fine of $200 in addition to the previously mentioned summary offenses.  That $0.10 feeder fish now cost you a fishing license, a fishing rod, fishing equipment, a whole lot of cash, a boat, and a fishing buddy. The consequences per state will vary, so check with your local Fish & Boat Commission for more information.

The employees at That Fish Place – That Pet Place are all avid hobbyists, and a lot of us live in the local river towns where fishing is just a way of life.  We don’t want to ruin the sport for other enthusiasts, just as much as we don’t want others to ruin the sport for us.  We will always strive to do our best when it comes to conservation efforts, and want to encourage others to do the same.  Thank you for reading!




  1. avatar

    nice post man, i love your blog …

  2. avatar

    For my personal opinion, goldfish as dead bait or not, it is still very cruel, as an angler myself, I am not tolerating this kind of practice!

    Thank you for this warning, I truly appreciated it.

  3. avatar

    Great read! It’s nice to see some measures being taken to prevent invasive species from damaging our ecosystems. I liked how you included the state laws concerning the possession of goldfish as bait and the punishments associated with it as well. We need to ensure that invasive species like this stay out of our lands and waters to ensure the integrity of our environment and that our favorite pastimes, such as fishing, can still be practiced in future generations.

  4. avatar

    Very informative post. A step closer to making a great impact. Thank you so much for sharing!
    Take care,

  5. avatar

    Very well written post..Thanks for this..

  6. avatar

    Fishing is a regular sport or hobby for some but we must keep our morals in mind and do things humanely. Using a goldfish, dead or alive, as a bait is somehow cruel to most fish pet owners as they are more attached and know the nature of it.

    Thanks for spreading awareness via this post!

  7. avatar

    Is it only cruel to put them on a hook and then fish with them, or is it ok to use feeder fish to feed my Oscar, or should I just feed him pellets? Or is that cruel too?

  8. avatar

    Hi Sam, Fishing with goldfish is illegal due to the risk of them becoming invasive in most areas. The cruelty debate is a matter of personal opinion and belief but we generally don’t recommend feeding goldfish to Oscars due to the risk of disease, water quality concerns, and the lack of nutritional value. Oscars would do best on a varied diet of frozen or fresh meaty foods in addition to prepared foods like pellets.

  9. avatar

    I’m a little thrown off by the implications of cruelty simply based on the fact that some people choose to keep gold fish species as aquarium pets …sorry but I honestly find this to be an absurdly silly remark to an article that and at its heart a conservation message ,an anti goldfish cruelty message…oscars are kept as pets as well as eaten in their native range…is that cruel too?clearly the “hearts bleeding for the goldfish “crowd have sort of missed the point:goldfish when used in this manner have no rights …and would be readily destroyed ,not re located if the opportunity to look them beforehand could wreak have on a local native ecosystem the cruelty here is that visited upon native creatures as a result of having nonnative goldfish introduced into their waters…it’s no more cruel to fish with goldfish on any fundamental level than it would be to use any common bait fish such as shinners or shad or common minnows…what I this is ILLEGAL and unethical but NOT because its somehow more barbaric to use a pet fish as bait but because it threatens natural balance…next they’ll be organizing give your goldfish a hug rally’s stay focused people this wasn’t a pro goldfish article…not a anti goldfish ;as aquarium inhabitants )article either….but in this particular context I think it’s more than fair to say no one cares whether escaped bait goldfish are humanely removed as long as they ARE removed orb better yett never introduced at all….but make no mistake about it on an area where this had become an immediate and critical threat to native system or particularly uncommon native organism…the Goldies would be given no quarter…nor should they be …if the ability and resources existed in an affected area to completely annihilate the invaders it would and should be done

  10. avatar

    I have a beautiful pet goldfish that is a PET and happens to be somehow friendly I don’t touch him but he would not care and when it’s time to clean the tank he is never afraid to go into his little cup and than he gets a little food I would not use him as bait but why is it so bad to use them as bait if they are going to be killed and the fish you are catching is going to be your dinner? Other wise I would not just let goldfish out free

  11. avatar

    Hello Caoilinn, The reason these laws are in place is because goldfish have become invasive in many areas since they are a coldwater species and may survive in the wild if they are able to escape the hook.

  12. avatar

    Wonderful article. Keep sharing.

  13. avatar

    Most goldfish used for fishing don’t live after a few hours anyhow. Once hooked and thrown multiple times. Plus temperature change from bait bucket to water in a river, pond, etc. They are in really poor condition. The only ones living are what people don’t use and dump into the water after fishing. Most of guys I know keep large live bait wells in their trucks. So they are keeping what isn’t used. Goldfish typically aren’t the best bait. They are just easier to get. While I understand the conservation aspect of this law. I don’t believe it will change much. If bait shops in those states sell those fish.

  14. avatar

    Nice post!

  15. avatar

    Amazing Content !! Thank you

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