Stop Releasing your Pet Fish into the Wild

We recently wrote a story about something that is called a “Red Tide”. It occurred in the Tampa Bay area and it wreaked havoc! On the same page of our source (the Toronto Sun newspaper), we saw in another article that came from Burnsville, Minnesota, begging the locals to stop releasing their pet goldfish into the surrounding lakes, rivers, and streams. Another article of grave concern.

PHOTO BY HANDOUT / City of Burnsville

The Burnsville area is begging people to stop releasing their pet fish into local waters like Keller Lake where the above fish was captured. In a Tweet that said “Please don’t release your pet goldfish into ponds and lakes! They grow bigger than you think and contribute to poor water quality by mucking up the bottom sediments and uprooting plants.”


Releasing aquarium fish is not anything new, it happens everywhere including Canada.

Why do people do this?

Usually, it is because they are tired of the fish, they don’t have the proper aquarium (normally too small and the fish are too big) or they just figure it is time to move on. Since many feel it is cruel to kill a pet fish, they decide to release it into a new world of freedom. 


Not only is it illegal to do so in many places, but when this happens, it interrupts the entire ecosystem of the water in which the fish are released (all aquarium fish, not just goldfish).

This reminds us of a story we posted years ago when Fish’n Canada’s Pete Bowman sighted a giant Koi Fish in Ontario’s Haliburton Lake. He knew the fish wouldn’t bite his bass baits so he reached out and called the MNRF to report his discovery. 

“I’ll tell you,” says Pete “it is a freaky sight when you see a gigantic Goldfish or Koi swimming directly under your boat while you are bass fishing in a thick weed bed”.

“And trust me” continues Pete “you cannot mistake these fish for anything else”.

We posted another similar article when Fish’n Canada blogger and Carp expert Will Muschett caught another freakish-looking fish which he referred to as a Koi/Carp on the Bay of Quinte.

These are only two of many released aquarium fish that swim the waters of not only Canada but the entire world.

Looking into it on a federal level with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, they say:

“Releasing live fish into a fish habitat or transferring live fish to any fish rearing facility without a license contravenes the Fishery (General) Regulations and is an offence under the Fisheries Act subject to penalties and forfeitures.”

They also state:

“You can help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Never release aquarium pets, water garden plants, live food (e.g., fish, crabs, shellfish, snails) or live bait into rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, storm sewers, or the ocean. Sport fish may only be released back into the waters from which they were caught (i.e., catch-and-release) and never moved from one body of water to another.”

“Releasing any organism into any body of water can start an invasion, but you can stop it. It is illegal everywhere in Canada to introduce any species into a body of water where it is not native.”

“Stop aquatic invasive species: don’t let it loose.”

Here is a link to the DFO website.


As stated in the Ontario 2021 fishing regulations:

‘In Ontario, it is illegal to:

• Transport live fish, other than baitfish, taken from Ontario waters or to transfer or stock any live fish or spawn into Ontario’s waters without a special licence to transport or stock fish.

In Alberta they state:

Don’t let it loose! Never dispose of plants and fish from aquariums and ponds into an Alberta stream, lake or river system. Releasing them disrupts the natural balance of Alberta’s ecosystems, and ultimately results in biodiversity loss.

It is illegal to release live fish into Alberta’s lakes or rivers. Fines can be up to $100,000.’

Manitoba reflects the same words as above from the DFO site. Canadian provinces seem to have the same message:



What about legally catching and then keeping (alive) a fish from the wild?

Well as the Ontario law (above) states, you cannot transport live fish from the lake to “anywhere” without a special licence. That means from the lake, river, or stream to your house or wherever your aquarium is located.

Although the above is slightly different than releasing “aquarium” fish (non-game fish) into the wild, it does still happen. Here is a video clearly showing that the laws might not be the same elsewhere as the young man from Nebraska had no problem videotaping himself releasing panfish into what looks like a pond which would be considered wild water. Maybe he had a special licence and we simply didn’t hear his statement?? Maybe he released the fish from the same water he caught them from and if so, what’s the harm in that right? Well even if we all think he didn’t hurt anything or anyone, our point is, you still cannot do that in Canada.

And finally, the same rules apply when taking fish home to eat. You can keep them alive so long as you are on the waterbody they came from, but as soon as you put your boat on the trailer or put that cooler into a vehicle, those fish need to be killed before they are transported. If you get pulled over by the MNRF while transporting live fish, you will likely be charged. It is sometimes a hard thing to remember, but it is the law.


The moral of this story is to spread the word and let people (especially non-anglers) know that any and all of the above is very much illegal and very much dangerous to the affected ecosystem.

Oh and by the way, if you decide to drop your fish into the toilet, you should probably kill it beforehand; you never know the power of nature! 


Canadian Government. “Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species”. Dfo-Mpo.Gc.Ca, 2021,

City of Burnsville. “Please Don’t Release Your Pet Goldfish Into Ponds And Lakes”. Twitter, 2021, Accessed 19 July 2021.

Thebault, Reis. “‘A MAJOR CONCERN’: Pets Dumped Into Lakes Leading To Football-Size Goldfish | Toronto Sun”. Torontosun.Com, 2021,

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