CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Ethan Lloyd and Christian Scheibe are fishing buddies. The 12-year-olds look forward to their weekends throwing in a line at a neighborhood pond in Oakleaf. They also look forward to watching the reality show "River Monsters" on Animal Planet. It was that show on TV that came to life in their own backyard.
"We were like, 'Whoa.' We were blown away," said Lloyd and Scheibe.
It was just a normal weekend of fishing when the boys felt a tug and new they had something special.
"It was fairly big, and whenever we pulled it up, most catfish kinda grunt, well he growled and huffed," they explained.
Lloyd recalled, "Me and Christian watch Jeremy Wade all the time, "River Monsters," and we were like, 'Is that a Red-Tailed Catfish?'"
The boys couldn't believe what they caught.
"Aubrey was like, 'There's no way.' He came out here and picked it up, and it was a Red-Tailed Catfish. Red-tailed catfish have a red line down the middle and red on the bottom and top, it has a signature look. We never thought we'd catch anything like that," Lloyd said.
And the 12-year-olds shouldn't have caught anything like that. Redtail Catfish live in the Amazon, a long way away from Clay County.
"Florida is a breeding ground for all sorts of non-native species," explained Marine Biologist Dr. Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University's Marine Science Research. "There are a lot of things that are here that aren't native to the area."
White says often people buy these non-native fish for their aquariums and then some actually dump them in our waterways when they don't want them anymore.
"In most cases, when it happens like that, they die. They don't adapt well to that sudden change. But, in enough cases, they survive," said White.
It's similar to the problem we're having here with Lionfish. They are beautiful in the aquariums but deadly in our local waters. Since Lionfish don't belong here in the first place, there are no natural predators. Over the years, they've been growing in numbers, all while eating the fish we rely on for our ecosystem, our livelihoods and our dinner plates..
In fact, in an effort to control the Lionfish population, starting November 26, 2014, it will be illegal to even breed Lionfish in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says these changes were developed in coordination with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and include:
- Prohibiting the harvest and possession of Lionfish eggs and larvae for any purpose other than destruction;
- Prohibiting the intentional breeding of Lionfish in captivity.
Importation of live Lionfish into Florida was prohibited August. 1, 2014. The FWC says if you see or catch a Lionfish, you can report it by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app or go to MyFWC.com/Lionfish.
White says people really need to understand how much harm Lionfish and other invasive fish like Redtail Catfish can do.
"The biggest problem is that once these things are established, its virtually impossible to get rid of them. There is no way to kill them, there is no way to stop them from reproducing effectively, so they are just going to proliferate, and in some cases, take over the entire environment," he warned.
Lloyd and Scheibe did throw the fish back into the pond but the good news is it's likely the only Redtail Catfish in there. They say they're going to keep throwing a line out, hoping to hook it again and remove it from the pond for good.
"Jeremy Wade caught one that was like that like 250 lbs. for all we know, that thing is still in here, and if it gets that big and I catch it, I'm gonna taxidermy it," promised Lloyd.
If you do have an invasive fish, a fish that's not native to here, and you want to get rid of it, White says whatever you do, don't release it. You can try contacting the fish store where you bought it. Also, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has an Exotic Amnesty Program. That number to call is 1-888-483-4681.