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TxRAT

Invasive species report

Interesting story about a group of scientists cataloging invasive species in the area.

Termed the Texas Rapid Assessment Team — Galveston, the group includes scientists from across the spectrum of disciplines and expertise conducting surveys and collecting samples to document all the alien/invasive species they can find. Their focus is strictly the Galveston Bay area, particularly the watersheds feeding the bay.

“We have cooperators looking at everything from phytoplankton and algae to fish, vegetation, mammals — the whole spectrum,” said Leslie Hartman, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries scientist and coordinator of the TxRAT project.

More than 30 state and federal agencies, universities and private organizations are helping support the effort with personnel, equipment and funding. The aim is to catalog as many alien/invasive species as possible and include information on their locations and distribution. This information will serve as a “baseline” for future monitoring of alien species and their impacts, Hartman said.

Among the places they’re looking are in urban areas, such as Houston’s bayous, as these are the entry points for a surprising number of unwanted visitors.

The armored catfish are South American natives. Commonly called plecostomus, “plecos,” “sucker catfish” or “algae eaters” in the aquarium trade, juvenile armored catfish are sold to hobbyists. The small catfish eat the algae growing on aquarium glass.

But little plecos grow into big armored catfish. And when owners tire of the fish or the fish get too large for the tanks, they end up in streams and bayous.

Houston’s bayou system swarms with armored catfish, which thrive in the near-tropical water. They face no natural enemies or other population controls and get big, with some growing to more than 2 feet long.

While their impacts on native species remain unclear, armored catfish do have a definite environmental and economic impact.

Like most catfish, they are “cavity nesters.” The well-named armored catfish, their heads and bodies encased in a bone-hard exterior, carve “nest” holes in the clay sides of the bayou. When water levels are low, the holes can be seen along the banks of the bayou. In some places, dozens of these cavities pock the bayou.

Those holes weaken the bayou bank, causing sections to slough into the water and otherwise accelerating erosion, costing the public money to maintain the banks for flood control.

So please don’t dump your unwanted fish down the toilet or sewer, aquarium enthusiasts. Those fish don’t belong here, and dumping them like that costs us all money.