On a date?
Off to college?
Off to war?
No, I’m not talking about your children here. I’m talking about those cute little fishes that you or child just had to have for the aquarium. In this case, I’m talking more specifically about a Tiger Shovelnose Catfish–a harmless little catfish that comes from the Amazon that, when released in our warm waters, immediately becomes a non-native, invasive species.
I guess nobody realizes when they purchase a tiny little catfish for their aquarium that it might have a voracious appetite until it starts consuming all the other fish in their tank! In the wild, these fish can grow to reach five feet in length. So, in about a year, it will most likely have outgrown the tank, and then what?
Buy a bigger tank? Put it in your uncle’s pond? Or take it to a nearby river or lake and just set Wee Willy free? I’m betting on the last choice. Most folks don’t have room for a bigger tank, or an uncle with a pond, so off they go to the nearest body of water.
In a recent case here in Louisiana, someone in the general proximity of Melville, LA, along the Atchafalaya River at some point must have done so. There’s just no way that a Tiger Shovelnose Catfish (TSC) swam all the way from South America, across the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Atchafalaya to Melville. No. Way.
On July 3, Barbara Ducote was fishing the freshwater river with a worm on a hook when she landed a two-pound, 19-and-a-half-inch long TSC. I called her three times the day I received an email that had originated from the Department of Fisheries, so that I might get her fish tale, firsthand. She didn’t answer, and her voicemail box was full. I guess I wasn’t the only angler/writer who wanted the scoop.
I can just about imagine that she was serenely sitting there, fishing with a worm and a little bobber, hoping to catch some bream or perch for supper. When that bobber went down, she probably thought she had hooked herself a nice big catfish for the frying pan. Imagine her surprise when she came up with this beauty!
She did the right thing when she called the Department of Fisheries. The distinct markings helped the fish biologists figure out soon enough exactly what it was. Another journalist wrote that this fish is great table fare, but Barbara is going to have it mounted. Can’t say I blame her. I mean, how often do you catch a beauty like this? Besides, I don’t think I could eat something that came out of your aquarium, thank you very much.
I hope that Barbara’s catch is a once-in-a-lifetime catch. These fishes have such huge appetites that if enough of them are released, and they manage to find each other and mate, they would pose great competition for food among our native species of catfish. Oh, and they’re pretty smart, too, because they like shrimp and little crabs!
The only good thing I can say about the TSC, is that they eat cichlids–another non-native, invasive from South America that is now abundant in our waters. I’m not sure, however, whether I’d rather have the cichlids or the TSC. How about neither?
So, folks, maybe it’s high time pet shop owners sell a fish with a warning about just how large it might become, even in captivity. And maybe everyone owning aquariums should become more responsible about dispatching unwanted fish rather than disposing of them in our natural waters.
What do you say?
*Photos courtesy of LDWF