A Bucket-o-Trouble!

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

A Bucket-o-Trouble!
Bucket of bait. Photo: Matthew Sell

ANNAPOLIS, MD (February 3, 2009) – The use of live bait for sport fishing is widespread in North America. Demand for live bait has generated a significant bait industry that is now worth over US $1 billion annually. Live terrestrial and aquatic animals are commonly cultured or caught in the wild and transported great distances to market. As a result, local bait shops offer a wide assortment of live bait types to anglers. With the advent of the Internet, live bait of all types is also available with a quick mouse click. Maryland anglers can now purchase just about anything that wiggles and squirms on the end of a hook to catch their favorite game fishes. Black salties, nitroworms, fatheads, and rusties are just a few of the many terrestrial and aquatic animals that can now be found at the bottom of anglers’ bait buckets throughout Maryland. The vast majority of these animals are non-native and many are potentially invasive.

The use of live animals as bait may result in the introduction of problematic species, particularly when unused bait is released live into the water or on shore. With the start of the 2009 fishing season just a few short weeks away, and the threat from bait bucket introduction looming over Maryland waters, the Maryland Invasive Species Council has chosen live bait as the February 2009 Invader of the Month.

The introduction of non-native animals resulting from their release as bait has been documented throughout the nation. Although most of these introductions were inadvertent, many have caused unexpected damage. Bait bucket introductions of non-native aquatic species, especially exotic fishes and crayfishes, have contributed to the loss of important habitats, changes in aquatic food webs, loss of native species, and the spread of pathogens. For example, the rusty crayfish has caused the loss of native crayfishes following its introduction as bait in many states, including Maryland. This species has also been linked to loss of vegetated habitats important to many game fishes.

Introductions of non-native species by anglers have also affected nearby terrestrial ecosystems. There are over a dozen non-native earthworm species that have been transported and introduced throughout North America, many via bait buckets. Invasive earthworm species from Europe and Asia have been linked to ecological changes in forest communities in many states. For example, the invasive earthworm Lumbricus terrestris breaks down the duff layer on forest floors, increasing the possibility of erosion and eliminating the normal habitat for the invertebrates that provide food for small mammals and interior-forest dwelling birds. Such changes in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems can have serious economic repercussions. Changes in food webs and loss of habitats can affect commercially valuable species and are typically irreversible. Efforts to eradicate or control populations of invasive species are in many cases prohibitively expensive.

Many anglers view the release of unused, live bait animals as humane or even beneficial to recipient ecosystems. However, their actions often cause serious ecological damage to the very ecosystems they enjoy. The dumping of live bait into the water or on shore has resulted in the establishment of many non-native animals in Maryland, several of which have proven invasive. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has taken measures to contain invasive species already established, and prevent the introduction of species not yet in Maryland. Regulations currently prohibit the possession of certain live bait species (i.e. rusty crayfish) in the State and restrict the use of certain baits in some watersheds. These regulations will hopefully slow the spread and prevent the introduction of invasive bait species. However, public awareness of the problem will be far more effective in reducing future bait bucket introductions.

You can help prevent the spread of invasive, live bait species by taking the following actions:

  • Never release unused live bait directly into water or on shore
  • Give your unused live bait away to other anglers
  • Save your unused live 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
  • Spread the word! Inform other anglers to properly dispose of live bait

For more information on invasive species and Maryland bait regulations, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/invasives/

For more information about this and other Invasive Species of Concern, visit www.mdinvasives.org