Exotics Lose in Florida

Marjorie Levine

Last month, a red-bellied piranha was caught by a 15-year-old boy.  The next day, fish and wildlife officials caught two more in the same lake.  No, this didn’t take place in the Amazon; it happened in West Palm Beach, Florida, The Piranha is not a Florida native, but, like the New York Snowbirds, these animals like the heat!  From south of Florida’s borders, these non-native animals have invaded Florida due primarily to negligent pet owners. When pets becomes too large, people simply release them into the wild without thinking of any consequences. The pets survive and flourish in Florida because the conditions are so similar to that of their natural ecosystem.

Although Florida has laws about importing non-native species, pet stores are still able to obtain licenses to sell exotic animals cheaply, which in turn attracts people to buy these exotic pets without researching the specifics of their care.  Some released pets, such as the green iguana, are able to move on land, migrating to different parts of Florida where Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission finds them almost impossible to control.  However, these piranhas were confined to one lake in West Palm Beach.  They could not infest other areas of Florida, as land animals can.  Why, then, was the choice made by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) to poison the entire lake to remove this one species?

The FFWCC claimed that if it did not poison the entire lake, the piranha would ruin the habitat.  The FWCC intends to remove the dead fish and then restock the lake with freshwater fish.  The fish that resided in the lake will be wiped out to rectify a situation created by negligent humans.  Animal cruelty laws create regulations for euthanasia of cats, dogs and animals in pet stores, but none for animals abandoned in nearby lakes.

The FFWCC is going to kill the entire fish population because this is a “reasonable remedy” for the problem, which is allowed in the statute.  Should the actions taken by the FFWCC be legal? Should they be the first option for wildlife officials, rather than some more humane alternative? Are they not still causing pain and suffering, as prohibited by the animal cruelty statue, not only to the fish they are targeting, but also the “innocent” native species?

Although the FFWCC is using their best efforts to stop furthering harm to an entire ecosystem, the piranha cannot cause more harm than it will do in this small lake, and I cannot understand why they have elected to take such extreme actions instead of a more thought out, humane solution.  After capturing three piranha, fish and wildlife experts could have closely monitored the situation at the lake, and hopefully there would be no further drop in fish numbers as a result of more piranha.  This ecosystem appears to be a lake created by developers, and is isolated from other bodies of water, and therefore, the worst that could happen, so long as the fish remained isolated to this one lake, is that fish numbers would drop as FFWCC officials poached the piranhas still living.  But rather than waste time and taxpayer money on fish, they instead dumped chemicals and eradicated every fish in this pond.  A quick solution, but is it ethically sound?  I think not.

One Response

  1. as usual, these government agencies are full of crap; run by corupt bourocrats.

    I’m just thinking what if this piranha breed 2 or 3 generations…

    that may be from 20 to 50 fish atacking the 15 year old boy who found them

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