The introduction of aquatic invasive species into lakes and rivers can be attributed to the release of baitfish and other live aquatic organisms from angler bait buckets. Although regulations are in place in most states to prevent the release of unwanted aquatic bait, anglers don’t always comply. Bait-related introductions can result in established populations of aquatic species or pathogens, which can alter chemical and physical processes and trophic structure of aquatic ecosystems.
The introduction of rusty crayfish, likely through bait bucket introductions, into lakes outside its normal range is an example. As a result of rusty crayfish environmental effects, the sale of all crayfish as live bait has been outlawed in many states and provinces. Aquatic bait is grown commercially on farms, wild harvested in ponds, lakes, streams and rivers and harvested by anglers for personal use. The aquatic bait may be used in the waterbody where it was harvested or it can be shipped nearly anywhere in the country. Live aquatic bait production, distribution and sales are important components of the economy of each states’ recreational fishing industry, yet it is extremely diverse in market demand, types of production, and species sold.
The northern crayfish is native to Montana, Wyoming, the upper Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and the Hudson River. It is found throughout the Columbia River from Grand Coulee Dam to the Chief Joseph Dam and in several lakes in the Columbia River basin. Their spread is likely attributed to introduction via angler bait. Photo credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.