Usually fish stories are tall tales you would do your best to ignore.
However, one story to come out of Saskatchewan has gone viral and does warrant some cause for concern. While visiting the lake near Boundary Dam in southern Saskatchewan this May, Landon Polk and his girlfriend Chelsea Greening noticed some large, unfamiliar fish swimming around the bottom of the lake.
When bow-fishing in the same area after the season opened in June, Polk managed to catch one of the fish. After taking the fish to a conservation officer who photographed it and sent the photos away for analysis, it turned out the fish was a koi fish. This is unusual because koi are not native to Canada. In fact, koi aren’t native anywhere. Like goldfish, they were bred from carp to be an exclusively domesticated species.
So, how did they end up swimming around near Boundary Dam?
Koi are popular pets as fish for private ponds all over the globe. Most likely, someone had these fish as pets in their backyard pond, decided they had gotten too big and released them into the wild. And if that can happen in Saskatchewan, it can happen here in Alberta too.
Let’s take a moment to address that issue, poor pet ownership. Pets are not objects you can get rid of when you don’t want them anymore or it becomes inconvenient for you to have them.
They are living things that have needs. If you have a pet, you are responsible for looking after its needs. Can’t look after your pet’s needs?
Then you probably shouldn’t have one.
If you own a pet and something happens that leaves you unable to care for it any longer, you are still responsible for putting that animal in the hands of someone who can. You can’t drop it off at the nearest corner (or waterway) and hope for the best. In short, abandoning domesticated animals is just plain irresponsible.
Not only can releasing a pet be harmful to the animal, as you are abandoning an animal that has never had to survive on its own before, releasing a domestic or non-native animal that doesn’t belong in a certain ecosystem can have long-term effects on the area, many of them negative. This is one such case.
So far, marine biologists have not been able to notice any substantial impact on the water of Boundary Dam due to these koi, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
As bottom-feeding fish, koi swim along the bottom of bodies of water, sucking up mud and water to eat insect larvae, crayfish, clams, plants and whatever other edibles may be available.
This means they are constantly stirring up the water and increasing its turbidity. Increased turbidity can lead to unattractive water ways, decrease in aquatic plant population and can even make waterways unsuitable for drinking or swimming.
Koi also pose a threat to other (native) species of fish because they will eat other fish’s eggs.
To make matters worse, in the case of Boundary Dam, it’s possible that the koi could get into the connecting river, allowing them to spread to other bodies of water in the province and beyond.
Polk is somewhat concerned of the threat these koi pose to the ecosystem he makes frequent use of during his leisure time.
He said anyone considering releasing domesticated animals into the wild should think twice, consider the possible consequences and not go through with such irresponsible actions.
No one is sure how many koi are in the waters near the dam, but Polk said he saw at least 30 during his initial visits in June.
He added that other ways to remove the fish, including use of dynamite and electric shock are being considered and examined as well.
Because of the possible threat koi pose to the environment, anglers are being encouraged to fish for the koi to decrease and even eliminate their numbers. Unfortunately, the fish don’t taste very nice, but hopefully maintaining the waterway’s ecosystem is enough of an incentive to get the species fished out of the area.