Releasing unwanted pets fish or reptiles in to the wild is illegal

Gary Howes, right, inserts a small tracking device into a two-year-old June sucker while other DWR do fish surveys on site and find discarded pet fish in Utah Rivers and streams.

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists and conservation officers want to remind the public that releasing unwanted pet reptiles or fish into the wild or moving fish into local waterways is illegal.

It is also against the law, they advise, to keep species captured  in the wild in your home.

Each spring and fall, DWR biologists across the state survey various lakes and streams to gather data about the fish in those bodies of water, including their weight, condition and population numbers.

During their annual spring surveys this year, biologists found two more waterways that had fish illegally dumped into them. Biologists found koi in two community ponds in central Utah — Highland Glen and Manila community ponds.

“Any illegal introduction of a fish into a water body is harmful and can have numerous negative consequences,” DWR Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger said. “Illegal fish species can prey on and out-compete other fish species, including sportfish, native fish and endangered fish species. They can also introduce disease and negatively impact water quality.

“It is very expensive and takes a long time — often requiring rotenone treatments that kill all the fish — to restore these water bodies after fish have been illegally introduced. Illegal fish introductions seldom improve fisheries.”

He said illegal introductions of non-native fish typically ruin fisheries and threaten the species that live there.

It is also illegal to keep certain reptile species as pets in the state of Utah without a certificate of registration, which is granted by the DWR.

In October 2020, DWR conservation officers received information about a man keeping several rattlesnakes in his Springville home.

DWR conservation officers investigate roughly a dozen cases each year involving someone housing illegal reptiles as pets, and that number has increased over the past decade. Some of the illegal species that have been seized during these investigations include:

  • Caimen (a reptile in the alligator family)
  • Cobras
  • Desert tortoise (which can be adopted through the DWR, but are threatened and illegal to take from the wild)
  • Gaboon viper
  • Great Basin rattlesnakes
  • North Pacific rattlesnake
  • Puff adder
  • Uracoan rattlesnake
  • Western diamondback

Utah residents are encouraged to report any invasive fish or reptile species they see or if they see anyone illegally introducing fish into a streams, rivers, lakes or ponds. The should also report individuals releasing non-native reptiles into the wild by calling 1-800-662-3337.

Learn more about the consequences of illegal fish introductions by visiting the “Don’t Ditch a Fish” page on the DWR website.

 

 

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