During the weekend of Aug. 23, two Assumption College undergraduate students and one Graduate Assistant dumped about 100 pet goldfish into the duck pond on campus while recording the incident for a social media post. The song “In The Arms Of An Angel” by Sarah McLachlan was played in the background of the video as the fish were placed into the pond. The fish were left over from an event for first-year students held by COMPASS Orientation through the Office of Student Activities. A foreign species that is introduced into a new environment can be detrimental to both the species and the environment.
For the past two years, COMPASS Orientation has given out fish to first-year students during a night event at fall orientation. Typically, new students enjoy going to annual fall orientation night events, specifically for first-year students, because it is a time for them to meet future friends and peers. Kaitlin Bevins, the Director of Student Activities, stated that the reason behind providing take-home fish tanks to students is more than just giving them free stuff.
“It’s really not about what is given out or what happens at an evening event,” she said. “It’s more of an opportunity to create an experience, so that they can talk to other people.”
Kayley Millard, the Graduate Assistant of Student Activities was responsible for organizing this year’s evening activity. She spoke to the entertainment services Party People to help plan the event. The Office of Student Activities has been working with Party People for over 20 years.
“I inquired [about] new ideas for first-year students and Make Your Own Fish Tanks was recommended to me by Party People,” Millard said.
The Make Your Own Fish Tank event entails giving out students a small Feeder fish, which is a type of goldfish, a small tank and a supply of fish food. Millard and Bevins found that giving out fish was very successful and popular with the first-year students. However, at the end of this year’s event, there were around 100 leftover fish that were not taken home by the first-year students.
When asked if Party People inquired how many fish were needed for the event, Bevins replied, “No, they do that themselves. We call Party People and tell them what we are thinking. Then they take care of it and we sign the contract.”
On average, the first-year evening activity sees approximately 250 to 300 students come and go, which is around half the size of the freshman class.
“…We have 250 to 300 for people, that does not mean what they buy for fish,” said Bevins. “They contracted out to someone else who specializes more specifically in the fish business because Party People does not have it as a novelty. We don’t sign the contract to say this is who we go through, it is more like Party People, you are responsible for sending us these things.”
Both Bevins and Millard are unsure about the amount of fish that the company brought to campus at the start of the event. They are also unsure which third party company was subcontracted through Party People. A representative from Party People would not disclose which company they subcontracted through due to confidentiality and competitor reasons.
According to Millard, the third-party company said that they do not take the extra fish back. The worker suggested to get rid of them by flushing them down the toilet.
Ella Chomiak, sophomore at Assumption College and a summer 2019 Orientation Leader said, “We weren’t even sure why the guy that ran the program did not take the fish back, but the orientation team was stuck with too many fish and had no solution for it, so something happened that was not necessarily thought through.”
Millard did not want to flush the fish and decided the only other option for them was to put them into the duck pond on campus. Two students volunteered to help Millard dump the fish and the three of them took a golf cart down to the pond. One student placed the fish into the pond, while the other one recorded it on their phone. Millard supervised the students.
Placing the fish in the duck pond may have seemed like the right thing to do, but it can also have a negative effect on the pond’s environment. The feeder fish are an invasive species and can be harmful to the ecosystem.
Professor of Chemistry, James Hauri, Ph.D. and Professor of Biology, Karolina Fučíková, Ph.D. relayed their knowledge of the pond, its ecosystem and the effects of invasive species in an ecosystem. “It has these ripple effects, [when] introducing a new species that eats one part of the ecosystem that means another set species can get out of control as a consequence,” said Fučíková.
Two weeks ago at Assumption, within the science department, Fučíková held a Bio-Blitz, where students and professors researched the species living on campus. They identified several hundred species across campus. Some of the species located in the pond’s ecosystem are ducks, geese, small fish, red-eared slider turtles, which are not native to the pond, organic material at the bottom, algae and a small amount of vegetation near the outer edge of the pond.
Fučíková and her class measured the depth of the pond and concluded that it is no more than five feet. If the fish do not get eaten by other predators, they would be able to survive throughout the winter because the pond is deep enough.
The feeder fish would be able to eat other fish, algae or organic material at the bottom of the pond and may also eat the vegetation that is around the pond. If the fish reduce the amount of vegetation by eating it, this can be detrimental to the pond because the vegetation keeps the pond’s nutrient balance.
Additionally, the duck pond on campus is part of a larger ecosystem. Starting up near the Living Learning Center, a stream known as ‘Hauri Creek’ flows under the bridge near Parking Lot L (LLC Lot), all the way down the duck pond, which leads to another pond beyond the intramural field and it eventually connects to the Blackstone River. The Blackstone River runs from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, RI.
A New York Times article reported in 2016 of someone in southwestern Australia dumped a handful of pet goldfish into a creek. The invasive species swam downstream and took over the Vasse River, the body of water connected to the creek. The fish grew up to 16 inches long and weighed around four pounds.
According to the article, “They are an ecological nightmare. Goldfish swim along the bottom of lakes and rivers, uprooting vegetation, disturbing sediment and releasing nutrients that trigger excess algal growth. Once they’re established somewhere, eradicating goldfish is a notoriously difficult undertaking.”
Instead of dumping the pet fish in streams and ponds, the article recommends giving away unwanted pets “to a responsible aquarium, pet store or hobbyist.”
“…It is really irresponsible to release anything into the environment. In general, releasing any pet store kind of thing into the environment is also irresponsible” said Hauri. They can potentially do a lot of ecological damage.
Hauri explained that “releasing them into the duck pond is even worse” than flushing them down the toilet because they can be detrimental to the ecosystem, such as outcompeting native fish that live in the duck pond. Since fish can travel down stream, it is possible that the duck pond water level could rise due to a storm and any fish in the pond can travel downstream and can enter the Blackstone River. Dumping the feeder fish into the Assumption College duck pond could potentially not be a contained situation.