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Keeping invasive fish species out of the Great Lakes

Keeping invasive fish species out of the Great Lakes

NOAA scientist Carol Stepien will present research results at a public forum this week in Toledo, Ohio, on how local bait shops, anglers and the public can prevent invasive fish from accidentally being released into the Great Lakes.

These non-native species can potentially decimate valuable native fish species such as trout, walleye and yellow perch. They do this by competing with native species for food and habitat and potentially infecting them with harmful pathogens.

Stepien, University of Toledo Distinguished Professor of Ecology and research division leader at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, will speak on a panel Thursday at 8 p.m. that will be broadcast live by WGTE Public Media. WGTE Public Media will later also post the forum online, and it will be available on May 1.

“We found that bait shops sometimes accidentally sell non-native species mixed in with other bait,” Stepien said. This bait is then often discarded by anglers who may not understand its potential effects on the lakes, she said.

The researchers sampled bait in 51 bait stores in 2016 and 2017 around Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the Wabash River system. They found that 43 percent of the bait shops dispensed misidentified species. Using a technique called environmental DNA sampling, researchers sampled genetic material from bait tank water and found DNA evidence of invasive species such as silver carp, round goby, mosquitofish and tadpole snails in several bait shops and pond supply stores.

“Retailers, customers and even some scientific experts are often unable to readily distinguish some of these invasive species from native species as juveniles,” said Stepien.

Researchers found that some 66 percent of Lake Erie anglers surveyed use live bait fish and 50 percent of those reported discarding live bait into the water. “This coupled with the instances of non-native bait in shops surrounding Lake Erie makes this region at definite risk of introduction of invasive species.”

Other forum panelists will include Rochelle Sturtevant, director of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab’s Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, a local bait and tackle shop business leader, a recreational fishing community leader, and a representative of the Toledo Zoo. The forum will be held at the WGTE Public Media studio in Toledo.

The research was supported by a grant of nearly $500,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

More information:

Video on the project to stop invasive species



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    Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of theĀ NOAA, a bureau of theĀ Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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