Revenge of the Goldfish

Photograph: City of Burnsville

In my younger years when I was a Boy Scout, my small hometown had a street fair for a weekend one year. Our scout troop, in a moment of temporary insanity, decided to offer a goldfish booth as a fundraiser. I’m sure you’ve seen these somewhere before — toss a Ping-Pong ball at a table containing strategically placed goldfish in small bowls. If your Ping-Pong ball splashes inside a bowl, you win that bowl and the resident goldfish. Fun for the whole family!

Except we set the bowls too close together, so the success rate was abnormally high. By the end of the weekend, I’d guess every household in the community had about three goldfish.

Invoking my favorite law — the Law of Unintended Consequences — what happened to all those goldfish? No idea. I shudder to think about it now, but I was reminded of this episode when I read of a plea by wildlife authorities in Minnesota — stop putting pet goldfish in the state’s waterways!

Some background — estimates of the number of goldfish bred each year go up to 200 million. They’re perfect for aquariums, but in the wild, these members of the carp family are actually invasive and can grow to frightening size when left to their own devices. In 2013, Scientific American reported that researchers captured a goldfish in Lake Tahoe that was nearly 1.5ft long and weighed 4.2lb. And they are far from benign; they degrade water quality by stirring up the bottom sediments and uprooting plants, and upset the ecological balance with other species. Their elimination is expensive; Carver County, Minnesota recently signed an $88,000 contract with a consulting firm to study how to eradicate them.

So goldfish may be popular pets, but they belong in an aquarium and not in the wild where they are completely uncontrolled.

For more detail, see “Goldfish Dumped in Lakes Growing to More Than 1ft, Threatening Ecosystems” at The Guardian’s website (, The photo is from that site.

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