Can I keep native fish?
October 2, 2007 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What are the potential challenges of starting a native fish aquarium?

I am thinking of starting a new 30 gal tank with fish collected from a lake near my house. I am thinking of just catching small fish in a minnow trap or some other method.

I have kept tropical freshwater fish for many years, but looking for something a little different.

Some problems I could think of are aggressiveness, unknown size, feeding etc.

Any other tips or advice? Any good methods for collecting the fish?
posted by roaring beast to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One potential challenge may be the legality of harvesting native species. Many states have laws against it.
posted by lekvar at 2:59 PM on October 2, 2007

Another potential challenge is that all the fish are likely to quickly drop dead. When I lived in the middle of nowhere, I tried transferring a few fish from the water on my property to a 55 gallon fish tank - they lasted maybe a week.
posted by foodgeek at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2007

A 30 gallon tank is also pretty small for native fish. It would be too small to hold more than 1 bluegill in a year's time.
posted by sanka at 3:22 PM on October 2, 2007

from a lake near my house

Where do you live? Are these fish, you know, tropical? Perhaps the water chemistry for tropical fish differs greatly from, say, trout.

For example, there are resources for keeping trout in aquariums, but you need a chiller instead of a heater.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2007

I kept a small bass for some time in a 50 gallon aquarium. I just gave him a place to hide and fed him feeder goldfish. They get fiercely territorial, and I think mostly they feed because they don't want those other fishes in their water. Of course, watching him hammer those little goldies was pretty amazing.

Don't know if it's really a nice thing to do, I mean---a local aquarium, but then I suppose the same argument could be made for any creature kept to live in a cage or aquarium. Exception being, I guess, that the animals you trap have known freedom...which is assuming that animals understand and appreciate these things.
posted by TomMelee at 3:37 PM on October 2, 2007

I'd be truly surprised if your lake wasn't stocked with bass or trout. These kinds of game fish don't thrive particularly well in captivity and if they do they'll outgrow a 30 gal. aquarium quite rapidly.

Was there a particular kind of fish you had in mind?
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2007

Can't help you out with the practicalities, but I visited a house inhabited by 5 marine biologists, and all five of them had large fish tanks with native UK species that they had caught in the wild in the course of their research. As pets, rather than research studies. Well, as much pets as fish can be.

Most of the fish were dull brown and not very fancy. None were very big. I actually preferred that to those showy tropical tanks you see.

So it can be done. Unfortunately, they are friends of friends, so I don't have easy access to them for further advice.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:13 PM on October 2, 2007

Look for these books by John R. Quinn

Our Native Fishes: The Aquarium Hobbyist's Guide to Observing, Collecting, and Keeping Them : North American Freshwater and Marine Fishes

The Fascinating Freshwater Fish Book: How to Catch, Keep, and Observe Your Own Native Fish

Try also:
North American Native Fishes for the Home Aquarium

What state are you in? You should check with your state wildlife department about any rules, regulations or protected species.
posted by cephalopodcast at 4:34 PM on October 2, 2007

One thing to keep in mind for a native fish is that they could want colder water than the ambient temp of your home - not a trouble for tropical fish (well, unless you have a reef tank with lots of lights) so you might need a
(just a googled link, not endorsing the site) or some way to keep the water temp close to your lake's water temp. The warmer water is, the lest O2 that it can hold, and that can stress and kill fish.
posted by cftarnas at 5:10 PM on October 2, 2007

I'd say a 30 gallon aquarium is too small for most fish to survive healthy. You could try finding out the species of fish that live in the lake by asking fishermen, etc. From there you can research their temperament, water temp preference, adult size, and what kind of food is best for them.
posted by lain at 5:14 PM on October 2, 2007

Depending on where you live there are all kinds of native fish and inverts you can keep in an aquarium that size. As noted above stocked game fish like bass and lake trout will outgrow it quickly but fish like sticklebacks, roach, sculpin and all the various things called minnows stay small. I used to keep stickleback as a kid and they were cool because the males build nests and defend them fiercely. Snails, tadpoles etc. are also fun to raise.

It might be illegal to capture them but I really doubt anyone is going to come after you for it. Just make sure you're not setting your traps where there are endangered spp or that you're taking home anything you can't readily ID in case it turns out to be the last of the one eyebrowed mud suckers.
posted by fshgrl at 6:40 PM on October 2, 2007

Depending on the layout of your space, the tank should be placed in a breezeway, enclosed porch, garage, etc. where it will not get up to "room temperature" to deal with the oxygen problem.

As to 30 gallons being too small: look for darters or other small fish, rather than trout, etc.

And do peruse your state's regulations on collecting wild fish. This can be a real thicket, particularly since you want to get fish smaller than "legal" size. But depending on where you live, you may have a huge latitude.

FWIW: I would rather raise tadpoles or dragonfly larvae.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 7:32 PM on October 2, 2007

Thanks everyone for the good feedback so far. I will have to check about the legality of collecting the fish, but I remember doing this in junior high, so it makes me think it is ok. Not that this matters, but I think it is a little weird that you can catch and eat the fish, but not raise them.

For those that asked, I am in coastal Virginia.

The temperature thing is not something that occurred to me, but the indoor temp would be cooler than outside summer temp, and in the winter, still cooler than the summer high water temp. So in my logic, it should be ok. Am I missing something?

Fshgrl, thanks for the species recommendations, I will have to do some research on those species. Does anyone know of other suitable species?

Cephalopodcast, thanks for the book recommendations, I will check them out.

Any more advice would be great!
posted by roaring beast at 7:38 PM on October 2, 2007

On preview, Olderthantos, good point about the legal size thing. It also makes me think about if I will need to get a fishing license or not.

Also, in the way of update, I just checked and all three of those books are in the local library as well as American Aquarium Fishes by Goldstein, which had excellent reviews on Amazon. Yes! Somehow it never occurred to me to look for actual books, since I had the internet at my disposal.
posted by roaring beast at 8:03 PM on October 2, 2007

I am in N. Florida and will never forget my buddy's aquarium. I'm not sure of the gallons, but it was probably 4 ft. long. He started with a small bluegill bream and small catfish which he'd trapped in the creek down the street from his house. He had them for a couple years till they got too big for the tank, when he then released them back to the creek and caught another couple smaller ones. Every once in a while he'd net a bucket-full of minnows and dump them in the tank. The bream and cat would dine on them for a couple weeks till they were gone. He had a big crawfish in there, too, for a while.
posted by wsg at 11:18 PM on October 2, 2007

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