Can You Keep a Caught Fish as a Pet?

While it’s possible to keep a caught fish as a pet, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, primarily whether it’s legal and whether it can survive in captivity.

May 31, 2023By Colt Dodd
can you keep caught fish as pet

Can someone keep the catch of a day as a pet? Maybe. Should someone keep a caught fish as a pet? That’s where things get a little confusing. Many states have laws outlining the catch and release of certain freshwater and saltwater fish. If someone catches and keeps a fish that’s endangered or otherwise federally protected, they could face various penalties.

Also, it’s hard for some novice aquarists to perfect simulate a fish’s native habitat at home. Yet, it’s possible. Here, one can learn about whether they can keep their personal best as a pet and what that entails.

States Have Laws Outlining the Catch and Capture of Certain Fish

keep sunfish as a pet

First thing first: U.S. Fish & Wildlife mandates that all states require fishermen to have fishing licenses. By getting this license, the holder agrees to follow local, state, and federal laws as they apply to fishing.

Some of those laws prohibit the capture of fish meeting a certain length. For example, according to New York State, a fishermen cannot take an American Eel measuring less than nine inches. They can’t take black bass from its habitat at all.

Before taking fish home, it’s important to do these two things:

  • Have a fishing license: Every state requires that fishers have licenses issued by the state they’re fishing in. For instance, a fishing license issued by New York State wouldn’t work in Florida.
  • Properly identify the fish: As noted, some states prohibit the catch and capture of certain fish. Yet, if someone doesn’t know what fish they catch, how can they know if it’s legal to catch? Google Lens comes in handy here. Using their smartphone, one can identify the fish they caught and learn whether it’s legal to keep as a pet.

An Aquarium Should Reflect a Fish’s Natural Habitat

aquarium fish tank plants

Here’s a scenario that many fishermen/aquarists are all-too familiar with. After a long day at the lake, they catch a perch and think: “This will be perfect for my aquarium.” They go home, put the perch in the tank, and…things go wrong. The perch’s scales start flaking off. Other fish seem more lethargic than usual. What happened? Don’t all fish love water?

An aquarium should be a perfect reflection of what the perch thrived in just hours before getting into the tank. This means:

  • Checking the tank’s ph. level: Without getting too technical, an aquarium’s “ph” refers to the water’s chemical composition. Some fish need different ph levels than others. An aquarist can check their tank’s ph level by buying some test strips at their local retailer.
  • Knowing a fish’s disposition: Some fish are better tankmates than others. For instance, wild-caught goldfish generally get along with other organisms, no problem. The same can’t be said for, say, crayfish. These crustaceans are very territorial and won’t hesitate to eat their tankmates one by one.
  • Understanding a fish’s “true” size: Both freshwater and saltwater fish can get big. Take the channel catfish, for instance. A juvenile might measure less than seven inches upon capture. But there’s a reason why these guys are called “the monsters of the Mississippi.” A channel cat can easily exceed three feet, per the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Preparing to Keep a Wild-Caught Fish as a Pet

channel catfish in aquarium pet

The sun’s dipping below the horizon, and a fisher just can’t bear to part with their five-inch bream. They decide to head over to the pet store and give this little guy a new home. But what do they need? Some considerations include:

  • An adequately sized aquarium: Bream can easily reach 22 inches. This means that an aquarist should purchase a tank that reflects that size—ranging from 55 to 75 gallons.
  • Good dissolved oxygen quality. Although fish live underwater, they need oxygen in the water to survive.An aquarist can supply this by purchasing a filter with their tank. They could also place underwater plants in the tank, like a java fern.
  • Good tankmates: For the most part, fish are social creatures that thrive in groups. Catching a wild fish just to isolate it seems cruel. So, getting good tankmates is crucial. Some easy-going freshwater fish include bristle-nosed Plecostomus, goldfish, and neon tetras.
american eel in aquarium
  • A well-balanced diet: It’s also important to research what a fish eats before taking it home. For instance, a crappie won’t thrive on just store-bought fish flakes; it’ll likely need an assortment of certain plants and smaller creatures, like ghost shrimp.

When thinking about keeping a wild fish as a pet, an aquarist should primarily have one thing on their mind: commitment. Are they willing to try out different things if a wild-caught fish gets sick? Do they have the resources to rehome the fish if things don’t pan out? There’s a lot to think about. For this reason, it might be best to head to the pet store instead of the local fishing hole.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.