KSNF/KODE — It’s a curious and often unsettling phenomenon – the widespread practice of flushing fish down the toilet – either by way of dealing with its corpse, euthanasia, or simply an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to rehoming unwanted aquatic life. However, the practice raises many concerns about where this age-old disposal method came from, beliefs about the treatment of aquatic life, and potentially devastating environmental impacts.

Fishy Beginnings

Plenty of debate about where the act was popularized can be found online. Depictions of characters and actors flushing their fish – dead or alive, can be seen in children’s movies and TV shows such as Finding Nemo, Flushed!, The Fairly OddParents, and The Cosby Show; possibly making the practice more widespread. Others speculate the convenience of flushing is easier than finding the tools to bury something that might get drug up by the neighbor’s cat. In other cases, one may see it as a means of humane euthanasia or a quick way to rehome the fish hoping it will find its way to a natural water source to live out its days.

To Flush Or Not To Flush?

Whatever the start, the response of professionals and informed aquarists are the same: Don’t flush your fish. The reasons vary:

  • If the fish is alive, it is an inhumane and slow death. Generally, a fish will go into shock in a toilet or suffocate as it travels through the pipes.
  • A flushed fish could cause a septic system blockage that is costly to repair.
  • Sick or dead fish could introduce parasites or diseases into the home from whichever surface it touched, or into local wildlife and waterways.
  • Most fish at the pet store are nonnative to local wildlife and considered invasive. Goldfish have been shown to be detrimental to local environments by triggering algae growth, transmitting disease, and responsible for the decline in native fish reproduction.

So what now?

Fish purchased from a pet store are likely to be accepted as a return. If that doesn’t work, a local fishkeeper willing to take a free fish is likely to be found on Craigslist or in local Facebook Groups.

If a pet fish has passed away these are some acceptable options that don’t include a ceremonial swirl:

  • Bury the fish in a deep potted plant. If the pot is big enough, and the hole is deep enough, a rotting odor should not be detected.
  • Place the fish in a secure plastic bag (so it doesn’t smell) and dispose of it a garbage receptacle.
  • Outdoor burial
  • Cremation