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Great Lakes Article:

State officials to create new rules governing exotic fish
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources are working on an emergency rule to govern non-native exotic fish that are popular with pet owners.

More than a dozen states, including Illinois, already have banned the possession and sale of snakeheads, an Asian fish that can grow up to 3 feet long and travel from pond to pond.

And while the odd fish has yet to be found in Indiana waters, other non-native aquatic species that threaten native species have been found, according to Gwen White, program specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.

The possession of non-native species currently is not illegal in Indiana, but the department is developing an emergency rule to govern ownership, White said.

The DNR already receives many calls from people who have caught piranhas and the larger pacu, neither of which can survive the winter in Indiana waters.

"We know that people are releasing them into public waters," White said, calling the practice "biological littering."

"We depend on pet owners to be responsible, but we can do something only if somebody calls us early," she told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville for a story Friday.

Pet dealers in northwest Indiana say most fish enthusiasts follow the rules, but that the talk among wildlife officials and distributors led them to stop selling snakeheads even before Illinois took action last week.

"I haven't had any in six months," Valparaiso Pet & Hobby owner Sharon Henley said. Her store does sell piranhas, she said. "Tropical fish are a large part of my business. They are relaxing to watch and easy to take care of."

Terry Haley, owner of Terry's Aquarium & Pet Center in Hammond, noted another reason for the popularity of snakeheads and piranhas: Some people enjoy watching them do just what worries fish biologists.

"Some people like to watch 'em eat goldfish. You can buy 'feeders' that are kept just for this purpose," he said.

Haley also said that people sometimes bring fish that have grown too large to him, instead of dumping the fish. He said he tries to place them with hobbyists who have large aquariums.

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