Save Your Bait, and Keep the Fishing Great

Contact: Jay Kilian, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Resource Assessment Service | 410-260-8617

Save Your Bait, and Keep the Fishing Great
Photo: Andy Noyes, NY DEC, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia has caused large fish kills of important commercial and recreational species in the Great Lakes region. Contaminated bait has been linked to the spread of this fish disease.

ANNAPOLIS, MD (April 1, 2011) – Anglers beware! What lies at the bottom of your bait bucket has the potential to damage Maryland’s ecosystems and the quality of your most prized fishing hole. Your favorite bait, the one dangling at the end of a hook, may help you catch a big fish, but may also be an invasive species. Rusty Crayfish, Fathead minnow, Goldfish, Red Swamp Crawfish, Banded Darter, Virile Crayfish, Red Wigglers, Rainbow Darter, and Nitro-worms, to name just a few of the non-native bait species that have been used in Maryland waters, are now established in the state. Some of these introductions have caused little harm, while others have caused ecological damage. Many other bait species and bait-related diseases are threatening to join the list of Maryland invaders. With the 2011fishing season around the corner, your actions can make the difference and help prevent further introductions of invasive bait species. For this reason, the Maryland Invasive Species Council has chosen live bait as the April 2011 Invader of the Month.

Dumping unused bait into a stream, river, lake, or on shore is often viewed by anglers as humane or beneficial to game fishes. However, this simple act can have unexpected repercussions. The release of live bait by anglers has been responsible for the introduction of invasive crayfishes, fishes, earthworms, and fish diseases across the nation. Following their introduction, invasive bait species can quickly overpopulate invaded areas and reduce native biodiversity, water and habitat quality, and cause dramatic changes in ecosystem function. These changes can cascade through an aquatic food web, affecting everything from algae to commercially and recreationally important fishes. Even a benign-looking earthworm can have ecological impacts. Dramatic changes to forests of northern North America have been linked to invasive earthworms such as Lumbricus terrestris, a European species commonly sold as bait. These invasive earthworms alter soil chemistry, reduce the diversity of other invertebrates, amphibians, and native vegetation, and hasten the spread of invasive plants. At least nine non-native earthworms have been introduced in Maryland; many of these are common bait species.

Invasive earthworms, crayfishes, and fishes are not the only concern. Pathogens, fungi or other small invaders can hitchhike in bait water, packaging material, or attached to the bait species themselves. These microscopic organisms can be transported and inadvertently introduced by anglers and dramatically reduce the health of anglers’ favorite game fishes. For example, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) is a highly-contagious disease that has caused massive fish kills in the Great Lakes since 2005 and has spread to other waters in New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. VHS infects over 40 species of fishes including rainbow trout, brown trout, walleye, yellow perch, channel catfish, northern pike, and black crappie. The use and release of contaminated bait is believed to be one of the important vectors responsible for the spread of this disease. To prevent its spread, natural resource agencies and bait dealers in the Great Lakes region have taken steps to prevent the culture, sale, and export of contaminated bait.

Fortunately for Maryland, these actions should greatly reduce the likelihood that VHS hitchhikes into the state on contaminated bait. However, complete protection of our waters from invasive bait species and from fish diseases like VHS requires an informed and vigilant angling community here in Maryland. Your actions can make all the difference.

You can help prevent the spread of invasive bait species by doing the following:

  • Never release unused live bait directly into water or on shore
  • Give your unused live bait away to other anglers
  • Save your bait for your next fishing trip
  • Dispose of your unused live bait humanely by placing it in a freezer
  • Never carry organisms from one watershed to another

And most importantly, spread this message to your fellow anglers! Give them this information and tell them to pass it on!

For more information about Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland, visit

photos available electronically on request.