Don't Dump That Bait!

“The invasive species are coming! The invasive species are coming!”

Imagine Paul Revere shouting that warning while riding his horse through Missouri towns. It’s likely that few people would panic, but Missourians do need to be on the alert. Many invasive species are assaulting our biological communities, threatening our native species and degrading natural habitats. Some of our most treasured natural resources are in danger.

Invasive species come from other places, usually other regions or continents. When they arrive, either naturally or by some kind of introduction, a few of them find conditions ideal for growth and reproduction. They may be larger, more aggressive or more fertile than the native species they compete against, and the new environment may lack predators or other natural checks on their population.

Missouri’s bountiful streams, lakes, ponds and marshes are particularly at risk. Missouri is blessed with more than 200 species of native fish, 65 species of native mussels and at least 33 species of native crayfish. Nonnative species, however, are invading our waterways at an alarming rate and have the potential to eliminate native species, disrupt food chains and harm prized fisheries.

Not all invasive species travel across oceans, mountain ranges or political boundaries to find their way into our local fishing holes. Although many invaders do originate from faraway places, some of Missouri’s most severe problems are the result of species that have been transported only a few miles, for example, from one stream to another.

“Transported” is a key word here. There are several ways that people are moving invasive species from one water body to another. Most of the time these introductions are not intentional. People don’t realize the potential impact their actions might have. That’s good news, for it means that most of these modes of transport can be stopped easily as people learn how to avoid them.

Bait Buckets

Biologists recognize “bait bucket introductions” as one of the most common means of spreading aquatic invaders. Bait bucket introductions occur when anglers dump live bait into a water body from which that bait did not originate.

It’s easy to see how this might happen. Picture yourself at your favorite fishing hole. It’s time to head home. You gather your equipment and carefully pick up any litter. Your bait bucket still contains live crayfish or minnows. Not wanting to waste these critters, you release them into the water. This practice has caused the spread of some of the most