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This Is What Happens When You Flush Your Fish

Michigan DNR warns pet fish raised in an aquarium are dangerous in the wild.

Photo Courtesy Michigan DNR
Photo Courtesy Michigan DNR

Despite what you may have learned from movies like “Finding Nemo,” flushing your fish down the toilet can disrupt the delicate balance of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking you to bury Bubbles in the backyard instead.

Fishermen in Southeastern Michigan have reported catching pacus- a fish with human-like teeth used for eating nuts and seeds. The red-bellied pacu, Piaractus brachypomus, is a popular aquarium fish imported from South America. The fish looks great in an aquarium but can grow significantly if it survives after making its way to the Great Lakes.

Pet release is almost never humane. Pets released from confined, artificial environments are poorly equipped to fend off predators and may be unable to successfully forage for food or find shelter.


Those that do succeed in the wild can spread exotic diseases to native animals. In the worst-case scenario, released animals can thrive and reproduce, upsetting natural ecosystems to the degree that these former pets become invasive species.


-Nick Popoff, manager of the DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit

So, what do you do with a fish no longer suitable for an aquarium for any number of reasons? “Consider donating or trading it with another hobbyist, an environmental learning center, an aquarium or a zoo,” suggests Michigan State University’s Paige Filice. “You can also check with the pet store where you purchased the fish to see if they will take it back.”

Next Up: Need Live Bait? There's an App for That

Bonus Photo Gallery: Finding Nemo at the Shedd Aquarium

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