The toilet has long been branded a suitable funeral site for deceased goldfish of both the carnival and pet store variety. But if the intense responsibility that comes with caring for a goldfish feels too overwhelming and you find yourself wanting to get rid of your live fish, we beg you to think of a different way besides flushing the little flipper while, yes, it’s still alive.
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, a New York-based water restoration and protection agency, offered one major reason to forgo the flush when it shared an old Facebook photo on June 14 of a goldfish that had grown to a gargantuan 14 inches. The fish was found to be living in the Niagara River after, the agency wrote in its post, it was either flushed or released into the water.
“Goldfish can survive year-round in our watershed and can destroy the habitat of native fish,” the post read. “Scientists estimate that tens of millions of goldfish now live in the Great Lakes.”
Tens of millions of goldfish?! Yes, it’s true, according to Jennifer Fee, marketing director at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. And it’s due in part to the fact that Buffalo, like many older Great Lake cities, discharges its sewer water directly into local waterways.
“On a day with sun or low precipitation, there’s no problem,” she told HuffPost. “The water that’s supposed to go to the sewage treatment plant goes there and the storm runoff goes into the water. When there’s heavy precipitation or heavy snow melt, that system will overflow and purposefully lets out into the water body so that it doesn’t back up into people’s basements.”
Thus, your unwanted fish can end up in the water ― which can have dire consequences for the species already living there.
“It’s like this with any invasive species, but especially with aquatic invasive species like goldfish that don’t have a natural predator here because it’s not their habitat,” Fee said. “Without a natural predator, they’re winning all the competition for food and resources. They’re winning, they’re lasting longer and they’re continuing to live and grow.”
This issue is massive — even bigger than the goldfish above — and requires many resources and even more money. But here’s the bottom line: If you don’t want your fish, there are other options besides sending them on what an email statement from Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper called “the biggest adventure of a lifetime through our city’s combined sewer system.”
“We’ve talked to a lot of area pet stores this week, and they’ve said they’ll take them back,” Fee said. “They take all goldfish donations, so that is absolutely an option if you don’t want your fish anymore.” She added that people who live in a city with a combined sewer system can take action to minimize overflow, such as by installing a rain barrel at home.
And what about those fish funerals so ubiquitous in bathrooms around the country? It’s probably for the best that we stop those, too.
“I don’t know if I have a direct answer for that,” Fee said, laughing. “Other than you really shouldn’t flush anything down the toilet that doesn’t belong in the toilet. That seems to be a cultural thing that we should try to change.”