The Human Dimensions of the Baitfish Industry: Investigating a Vector for Aquatic Invasive Species and VHS in the Great Lakes Basin

Grant: # 1218

Grant Amount: $18,017.47

Board Decision Year: 2011

Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (Burlington, ON CANADA)

Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Mandrak, Nicholas ( 905-336-4842

GLFT - Ecosystem Health and Sustainable Fish Populations-C - Ecological and biological fisheries research to inform management

Project Details

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) remain one of the most serious threats to ecosystem health in the Great Lakes basin (GLB). Invasive species cause a variety of negative impacts to biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems through competition, predation, habitat modification, and hybridization (Lodge et al 1998, Perry et al 2002). With more than 180 species already present in the Great Lakes basin and possibly two or more being introduced each year (Riccardi 2006), managers need to be focused on preventing new introductions, as well as preventing the spread of AIS already present (Lodge et al 2006). Within the Great Lakes, ballast water has traditionally been the focus for studying introduction mechanisms (Riccardi 2006).  However, there exist many natural and human-assisted mechanisms that allow for secondary spread to occur, following the initial establishment of species within the GLB. Because human-mediated species movements may increase rates of spread beyond that expected by passive, natural dispersal, understanding the role of humans as species vectors is of utmost importance (Drake and Mandrak 2010). One important, yet under-studied, species vector is baitfish use by anglers. Although angler and bait harvester/wholesaler regulations prohibit the harvest, use, and release of invasive fishes during fishing, species continue to be introduced during pathway activities (Litvak and Mandrak 1993; 1999; Mills et al 1993). Further, the spatial scale of angler movements (Drake and Mandrak 2010) indicates that species may have substantial spread potential when contained within the pathway.

Public outreach programs have attempted to educate the public about the risks associated with live bait release, yet release rates have remained relatively high (Litvak and Mandrak 1993; 1999, Dextrase and MacKay 1999, Mandrak et al. 2006, Rahel 2007). One of the difficulties with current outreach programs is the lack of research aimed at developing an understanding of why resource users engage in certain activities. Evaluations of the measures used to prevent risky activities also are needed. Similar issues exist for many efforts aimed at curtailing the spread of invasive species, such as programs aimed at educating the public about Zebra Mussel (Strayer 2009). Educational initiatives also have been developed with the aid of the bait industry, attempting to stem the flow of AIS through commercial activities. The AIS-HACCP program (Gunderson and Kinnunen 2002) is used to train industry members about how to reduce AIS risk at each step of the bait harvest and sale process. However, the effectiveness of this program, and an understanding of why harvesters are motivated to participate in risk reduction activities, has not been evaluated. By evaluating the motivation and behavior of wholesalers, harvesters, and anglers, it may be possible to better target outreach activities, or identify regulations, that may effectively slow the spread of AIS in the baitfish pathway.