An angler still can’t believe what he witnessed at Lake Sammamish last week: a woman dumping live tilapia off the docks there.
While apparently not a brazen act of bucket biology, it still serves as a reminder about how not to dispose of unwanted nonnative species.
Brad Hole was preparing to launch his Hobie to fish for one of the King County lake’s other species when he saw a woman roll a cooler down the dock and tip its contents in.
“At the time I didn’t know they were fish. She went back to her car and got another wheeled cooler and dumped that one in,” Hole says.
“I asked her what she dumped. ‘Tilapia,’ she said,” he recalls. “I educated her that it’s illegal to dump fish into the lake — especially nonnative species. I even went on to tell her about the Louisiana crayfish that were dumped years ago.”
As the woman left, he took down her license plate, and later WDFW Sgt. Kim Chandler arrived on the scene.
“Three of the fish she dumped were laying on the bottom,” says Hole. “I was already out fishing but managed to snag a couple off of the bottom. Doubt they can survive in the cold water.”
Tilapia are a warm-water species and it’s unlikely they would have survived in the lake, but Hole says that even five hours after their release the ones he snagged were still breathing.
“People often think they are doing a kindness to animals by releasing them into the wild, but, in many cases, those animals are not adapted for our climate and perish,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the state Invasive Species Council, in a press release. “What seems like a humane action often leads to suffering in the end for the animal. In addition, wildlife that can survive may damage Washington’s natural resources and cost thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.”
According to the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, $137 billion — with a b — is spent annually across the country trying to manage the impacts of invasive species.
Northeast Washington is on the front lines of one such a fight as state and tribal managers work to knock down northern pike numbers in Lake Roosevelt before they get into the anadromous zone downstream of there.
Lake Sammamish doesn’t have any northerns, at least that we know of, but illegally introduced walleye have been captured there.
Hole says that he was able to identify the tilapia dumper for WDFW.
“The subject who released the fish was contacted and given a written warning,” says Rachel Blomker, an agency spokeswoman.
But Hole still can’t believe someone would do that.
“She seemed surprised that she was doing anything illegal,” he says.
RCO offered these tips for getting rid of unwanted fish:
- Donate unwanted plants and animals to an accredited environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo. You also may contact your local pet store, which might be willing to accept them. Please instruct them to never release them either.
- See the Invasive Species Council’s map of “Don’t Let it Loose” partners who might be able to help you re-home your unwanted pet or give you advice on how to care for them.
- Seal all plants in a plastic bag, freeze for at least 24 hours or until frozen solid, and then place them in the trash. Do not compost the material.
- Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for guidance on humane disposal of live animals, as a last resort.