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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!



Crayfish Ban – New Regulations Halt Sale and Transport in Pennsylvania

Crayfish have long been popular among aquarists as well as fishermen and naturalists alike.  But non-native species have taken their toll on native populations. The fight against invasive species has intensified in the waters of the Keystone State. To counteract the effects of invasive crayfish species on the animals living in and around the waterways of Pennsylvania, new regulations have gone into effect starting on January 1st, 2015.

Some Backstory


The Rusty Crayfish, the invader that started it all (Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, via flickr)

The Rusty Crayfish, the invader that started it all (Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, via flickr)

Crayfish are common enough and well-known to most of us who have spent some time in the waterways around Pennsylvania. I remember hunting under rocks for crayfish in the Swatara and Quittapahilla Creek close to my home when I was young.  Many, many years ago, I even had a pet crayfish for awhile that I “adopted” from a feeder tank at a local pet store. Pennsylvanians don’t eat crayfish nearly as much as some of our southern neighbors, but they have been a common bait to catch bigger fish.


Crayfish populations have been on the decline however. There are several species of crayfish that aren’t native to our waters that have been overtaking native populations or that have been spreading from their own local regions to new waters. The Kingpin of Crayfish Crime, the Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus), is the largest and most notorious of these and can be found in mind-blowing densities in some areas. Rusty Crayfish can grow almost twice as large as some other native crayfish and are much more aggressive.  This can lead to the smaller species being preyed upon or out-competed for food, the eggs and young of other aquatic life being preyed upon, and predators that may feed on other crayfish can’t feed on the larger and more aggressive Rusty’s. Researchers have concluded that crayfish released by irresponsible aquarium owners along with fishermen and boat owners have contributed in part to this invasion.


Rules and Regulations


The Regulations on crayfish collection and commerce are nothing new to Pennsylvania. It has been against the law for anyone to sell or transport Rusty Crayfish since 2005 and the enforcement of the ban has been getting more and more stringent ever since. The new regulation that went into effect on January 1 adds all native and non-native crayfish to that restriction. No crayfish, native or otherwise, can be possessed, sold or transported, including some popular aquarium species like the Electric Blue Crayfish (Procambarus paeninsulanus) and the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis). With the proper license, up to fifty crayfish can be harvested per angler per day from Pennsylvania water but only after the head has been removed behind the eyes. Crayfish can still be used as bait, but only in the immediate water where they were taken from (for example, a crayfish from the Swatara Creek in Lebanon county can’t be taken and used as bait in the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County). Restaurants and research facilities have strict guidelines that allow them to have live crayfish for their specific use.


Even aquarium species like this Electric Blue Crayfish are affected by and restricted under Pennsylvania's new regulations.

Even aquarium species like this Electric Blue Crayfish are affected by and restricted under Pennsylvania’s new regulations.

What Does This Mean For You?


For readers of this blog, this means that the days of keeping a pet crayfish are coming to a close in many areas. Keeping any crayfish species in an aquarium (or bait bucket) in Pennsylvania can land you in some hot water (pun intended). If you are reading this from somewhere outside of Pennsylvania, check your local regulations. Many other states and some parts of Canada have similar regulations in effect or in the works. All of these restrictions are for the Greater Good of our waterways and ecosystems and the loss of an aquarium hobby niche is a small price to pay. Even if your area isn’t affected by crayfish invasions or regulations, there are other invasive species that affect different areas; always practice responsible pet-keeping and never release any of your plants or animals into the wild.


Further Reading:

Artificial Reefs: Go Big or Go Home


artificial reef

Artificial reefs have been used by fisherman for hundreds of years for attracting fish, providing structure, and allowing more fish to be caught easily.  These traditional reefs were typically made from submerged logs that were tied together, or some other simple object.  Shipwrecks sites have also long been used for fishing areas, because of all the fish that they attract.

In modern times, the use of artificial reefs has exploded, and large scale reefs are being used for a variety of reasons, including improving commercial fish stocks by increasing habitat for small fish, sport fishing , recreational SCUBA diving, and wave attenuation and beach erosion control for coastal communities.  There is even a television reality show called Reef Wranglers on the Weather Channel, which features one of the most prominent builders of Artificial reefs in the US, Walter Marine.  Use of Artificial Reefs in tropical waters of the world can also have an impact on the aquarium hobby, they attract all kinds of fish and invertebrates, and can be  used for structure in farming corals.

World’s Largest Artificial Reefs

U.S.S. Oriskany

U.S.S. Oriskany during service.

Oriskany Tower

U.S.S. Oriskany in its new home

The title for World’s Largest Artificial Reef is currently held by the State of Florida, with the sinking /Reefing of the U.S.S. Oriskany.  The Oriskany is an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier commissioned in 1950, and served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  Decommissioned in 1976, the Oriskany began its new life as an artificial reef in 2006.  After extensive preparation for environmental safety, the 900 ft vessel was intentionally sunk of the coast of Pensacola Florida, where she now sits upright at a depth of about 215 ft.  Dubbed the “Carrier Reef”, in honor of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the massive ships tower reaches to about 70 ft from the surface, making it a popular diving and fishing site.  There are many great videos available on youtube about the Oriskany, here is one of the sinking.






Giant crane lifting Artificial Reef modules into place during Kan-Kanan project.



The U.S.S. Oriskany won’t be the biggest artificial reef for long.  Currently under construction in the State of Quintana Roo Mexico, is the massive Kan-Kanán project, known as the Guardian of the Caribbean.  When completed, the Kan-Kanán reef will stretch for 1.9 km (1.18 miles) along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Constructed from over a thousand individual concrete pyramids, each weighing 10 tons, the reef is being put in place to help try and stabilize the local fish populations, as well as control beach erosion that has been occurring due to climate change and environmental degradation from human activities.  From above, the reef will look like a giant serpent that stretches along the coast, which is where its name comes from.  Kan-Kanán is Mayan for “Protecting Serpent”.


Fear not Floridians, you may not lose your title as owner of the world’s largest reef for long.  Announced earlier this year, Collier County Florida will be the future home of an enormous reef project. Using funds established in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, along with local governments, and Non-Profit organizations, the Planned reef will consist of six 500 ton reefs, each the size of a football field.  More funding is still needed, and can be made as a tax deductible contribution.  For a mere $100,000 you can even have one of the reefs named after you.


Some strange things have been used for Artificial Reefs.

Whatever you have visualized in your mind as an artificial reef, you are correct, no matter what you imagined.  An artificial reef can be made from most anything, so long as it poses no environmental threat.  And wow, have some strange things been used as reefs over the years, here are a few of my favorites.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

New York City Subway cars.  The east coast of the United States is the final resting place for thousands of decommissioned subway cars.  Most folks probably don’t even know they are there, but offshore from the popular NJ, MD, DE and VA beaches lay a huge network of old subway cars.  Directly off shore from Indian River Inlet in Delaware is RedBird reef (named after the famous New York Subway RedBird subway cars) which has upwards of 700 cars alone.


Underwater VW

Anthroposcene Sculpture, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Statues and Sculptures.  The Mexican government commissioned British Artist  Jason de Caires Taylor to build the Cancun Underwater Museum.  Located with a Marine Park, this underwater museum features over 400 life size sculptures and statues ranging from a VW Beetle, to life size humans, to a small house.  One of the most famous underwater sculptures in the world, Christ of the Abyss, is located in Key Largo Florida, and is visited by thousands of scuba divers (and fish) every year.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

You and Me. That’s right, you can have yourself made into an artificial reef.  Eternal Reefs, is a company that will take your cremated remains, and incorporate them into a concrete reef structure.  Many reef options and locations are available, not a bad way to spend eternity if you ask me, nice view.

Thanks for reading, until next blog.


NOAA lists 20 species of corals under the Endangered Species Act

NOAA lists 20 species of corals under the Endangered Species Act

remote coral reefIf you have a marine aquarium, it is time that you paid attention to some of the legal battles that have been going on around you, and get involved to try and preserve the future of your hobby.  In recent years, environmental groups have made a concerted effort to push for regulations that could have profound effects on the aquarium hobby, through lobbying efforts directed at invasive species legislation, bans on collection for certain species, and as in this case, a petition to list species under the Endangered Species Act.  While these actions may be well intended, and not necessarily directed at the the aquarium hobby, they have the potential to affect the aquarium hobby in a profound way.  This most resent legislation to include species of coral under the Endangered Species Act, some of which are common to the aquarium trade, is a serious threat to the future of the hobby.

In a Final Ruling on August 27, 2014, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) listed 20 new coral species and Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  These new listings brings the total number of coral species listed as Threatened to 22, including the Caribbean Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) Corals.  Here is the official Fact Sheet released by NOAA, including a complete listing of the 22 corals listed.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act defines two categories of plants or animals that fall under the ESA, Endangered and Threatened.  Endangered Species are “any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range”; Threatened Species are “any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”  Endangered species are provided with the full protection of the ESA, while the Threatened Species receive many, but not all, of the protections of the ESA.

How did we get here?

Green Chromis on ReefIt was a long and winding road to get to the final ruling.  In October 2009 The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA to list 83 species as endangered under the ESA.  After an initial 90 day finding period, the agency announced in February 2010, that 82 of the proposed species warranted investigation, and launched an official status review process.  NOAA then embarked on an in-depth science-based study, gathering and examining any and all relevant scientific, commercial and public data that was currently available. This was one of the broadest and most complex listing reviews ever undertaken by NOAA.

In December 2012, after and in depth study by a biological review team, NOAA published a proposed rule to list 66 of the coral species studied for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  The Proposed Rule looked to list 57 species as endangered status, and 9 species to be listed as threatened, this rule included a proposed change of status from threatened to endangered for Caribbean Elkhorn and Staghorn corals.

August 2014, with significant changes from original proposed rule, NOAA announces that it has listed 20 new corals as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as a ruling that the Caribbean Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals would remain as Threatened Status.  The Changes were the result of new scientific papers on climate change and coral habitat, distribution and abundance which were recently published.  An unprecedented level of public comments was also included in the final ruling.

This is a brief summary of the ruling, the complete 1,100 page document can be found HERE


This issue struck a nerve.

Given the precedent setting nature, and the sheer magnitude of the petitions scale, input was sought from many sources.  Non-Governmental, Public, Academic and others experts were included in the study.  This was one of the largest and most in-depth listing revues ever done.

During the public engagement and comment periods NOAA received more 75,000 emails, letters and comments, all in an effort to make sure that the decision was based upon the best available information.




What Does This Mean For The Aquarium Hobby?

In the short term, there will not be any real impact felt.  With the corals being listed as threatened vs endangered, there are no immediate or automatic restrictions on taking wild coral for the aquarium hobby.

The Future is quite cloudy however. Once listed, and under government control, the level of protection or additional restrictions for a listed species is subject to review.  Any species listed as threatened is only one step removed from endangered status. Endangered status would mean an immediate bad on collection, importation, interstate travel and limit captive breeding to a permit only activity.  It would effectively remove the species from the hobby. Included in the press release for the final ruling were these two points.

“In the future, we may also identify specific regulations for the conservation of these threatened species, because ESA prohibitions against “take” are not automatically applied as they are for species listed as endangered.”

”We will continue to work with communities to help them understand how the agency’s decision may or may not affect them. The tools available under the Endangered Species Act are sufficiently flexible so that they can be used in partnership with coastal jurisdictions, in a manner that will allow activity to move forward in a way that does not jeopardize listed coral.”

The Caribbean Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals are a perfect example, while they are only listed as threatened under the ESA, there has been a complete ban on collection for public use.  Both listed as threatened under the ESA in 2006, the National Marine Fisheries added a ruling in 2008 which gave these species almost full protection of the ESA, and a complete ban.  Legislation was also passed to create protected habitats which further limits activities that could impact these coral, including fishing and fish collecting.


What Can You Do?

The forces at play here are much bigger than the aquarium hobby, while illegal, unsustainable and damaging collection practices play a role in the decrease of coral reefs worldwide, it is only a small part.  In the final ruling for the 20 new species listed under the ESA,  NOAA cited impacts related to climate change (rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and disease), ecological effects of fishing, and poor land-use practices (runoff and pollution) as the most serious threats to coral reefs.

As you can see in what information was used in making this final ruling, public involvement counts, public input helps make sure that these are informed decisions.  Support advocates of the aquarium industry that promote and support responsible and sustainable collection practices.  Support aquacultured and maricultured species of aquarium fish and corals, these are critical to conservation efforts. Get involved in the process, or the marine aquarium hobby is going to disappear as we know it.

Visit the National Marine Fisheries website often to know what is in the news, This is the branch of NOAA responsible for the stewardship of our oceans, make sure that your voice is heard during public comment periods of investigations.  You can see all of the species under investigation for ESA consideration:


Of particular interest to marine aquarium hobbyists, should be the status review of the Percula Clownfish and other Pomacentrid fishes. ESA Status change to these fishes could have profound effects on the aquarium hobby.  Educate yourself about the issues, and get involved in the process.  Public comments are open now, put in your two cents!

The loudest lobbying voice for the aquarium hobby is PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council), visit their website www.pijac.org for news and information about issues affecting the hobby, as well as information about making donations to the Marine Ornamental Defense Fund.

Until Next Blog,


Reef Destruction – Molasses Spill Causes Near Total Destruction in Honolulu Harbor

September was a bad month for Honolulu Harbor and all of the fantastic fish, corals and wildlife that called it home. On September 09, 2013 over 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled into the harbor, sinking to the sea floor and suffocating everything in it’s wake. The cracked pipe that allowed the mess to flow into the harbor was repaired within days, but the damage caused by the viscous mess has been rapid and devastating.

You think of molasses and you don’t think of widespread death, but flood a pristine marine environment with sugary syrup and that’s the result. The heavy fluid ends up being lethal in several ways.  The goop clogs gills, suffocating fish quickly. It coats corals and inverts, robbing them of light, oxygen and water flow vital to their ability to thrive. The sugars are also a rich food source for marine bacteria which reproduce in massive numbers, depleting dissolved oxygen as their numbers grow.  The dissolved sugar alters the pH of the water and also creates what’s called an osmotic effect, basically dehydrating marine organisms whose living cells expel water in an attempt to equalize with their external environment. Within hours the death toll began to rise, and to date thousands upon thousands of fish, inverts, corals and even other animals like sea turtles have perished. 

Unlike oil spills that may be wicked off of the surface of the water, the nature of this spill means that cleanup of the molasses itself is not an option. The syrup will dissolve and nature will slowly eat it up and wash it out of the harbor and into the sea. Clean-up in this case means fix the leak, monitor the progress of the damage, and collect the carnage of dead sea creatures that wash up on shores and pile up in shallow areas so that predators like sharks and barracuda aren’t attracted to area. While some creatures may bounce back and return to the harbor pretty quickly, it may be years until the coral reefs, vital to the economy and ecology, in the harbor recover.

What a sad situation. Unfortunately, the only real course of action is to allow nature to clean up another man made mess. On the bright side, nature knows how to take care of herself, and despite the scope of the problem, this particular spill is in many ways still better than oil or some other chemical deluge. Now all anyone can really do is wait and see…