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What are North American native fish?
Why should I keep these fish?

These fish are naturally occurring somewhere in the continent of North America which includes the US, Canada, and Mexico. Keeping native fish can make your aquarium educational as you learn about the wonderful colors, behaviors, and habitats of fish that can often be found in your own neighborhood. Most fish found at local pet stores are either harvested in foreign countries or cultured in large fish farms in Florida. As a result many of these fish have escaped and become established in Florida causing problems for our native fishes by competing with them for food and places to live. Today, many wetlands, lakes, and streams of Florida have just as many or more exotic fishes from around the world as native fishes. This problem is not restricted to Florida as many species (goldfish, common carp, northern snakehead, and weather loach) have become established in other parts of the US. Problems can also occur when North American species are introduced outside their native range, so please be responsible aquarists and never release your fish.

Are they more difficult to keep than fish I would find at most pet stores?

No, in many cases they are easier. Most of these fish can survive a wide range of temperatures and do not require heaters or cooling units, room temperature is fine and seasonal variation in temperature can actually promote a healthy life of these fish.

What do I feed them?

North American fish can be fed many of the same feeds that you would buy at the local pet store for popular aquarium fish. Minnows and shiners take very well to tropical flake foods, darters and small sunfish feed well on frozen foods such as blood worms, and larger sunfish are much like cichlids and will feed on cichlid pellets.

Since these are native fish, can I release them in a nearby stream or lake when I no longer want them?

NO!!! And this should be true for any captive fish not just North American fishes. Many of our fish are native to a specific geographic region, or watershed. This makes them unique animals with a specific genetic constitution. They are not the same as the fish that may live in your local waters. Consequently, these fish must not be released into any natural body of water or to any body of water that connects to another body of water directly, by overflow or by flooding.

The release of fishes into different habitats can be destructive to the naturally occurring fishes of those habitats. Once introduced, it is often impossible to eliminate the exotic species from the environment without killing all the fishes that live there.

Your aquarium receives fish from all over the world. Diseases not found in your area may be introduced along with fishes from the aquarium. Though your fish may not appear to be sick, they could be a carrier of some dormant parasite, bacterium, or virus. Many diseases go undetected until a fish becomes stressed, lowering it's defenses against disease.

In many places it is illegal to release fishes into any body of water.

Even if the species you want to release is native to your area, the new fish are likely from a different population with different characteristics from the native populations. When scientists study native fishes, they need to know whether they are studying fish that naturally occur there or whether there has been an introduction from outside that area. Introducing exotic fishes can hinder the cause of ichthyology and species conservation.

Please handle these animals responsibly. What you learn about their care, behavior and breeding can be valuable to agencies and researchers who are working to preserve wild fishes.

Enjoy your new fish and pass this message along to your fellow aquarists.

What to do with unwanted, sick or dead fishes

Excess live fishes can be shared with other aquarists by trading, selling at club auctions or to pet shops. Many aquarists will be glad to accept gifts of unwanted fish from time to time.


Fish may be painlessly euthanized by putting them in a plastic bag of water and placing the bag in the freezer. Alternatively, carbon dioxide from carbonated water or Alkaseltzer may be used to kill unwanted fish. The freezer is a good place to store fish waiting for disposal. Dead fish should then be disposed of by putting them out for your regular garbage collection, or they may be buried or composted. Again, fish should not be introduced into water via the sewage system or otherwise.

Brian and Julie Zimmerman
Phone: 330 417 9476     Email: