Forum Focuses on How We Can Prevent Invasive Fish Species in The Great Lakes

NOAA scientist Carol Stepien will present research results at a public forum this week in Toledo 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 about the research she and University of Toledo colleagues conducted on invasive species in the Great Lakes. The forum is Thursday at 8 p.m. at the WGTE Public Media studio in Toledo. It will be posted online during and after the event.

“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.

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 and pond store shops.

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

The research was supported by a grant of nearly $500,000 to the University of Toledo (and a subaward to the University of Washington Cooperative Institute with NOAA PMEL) from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Other researchers involved in the project include JISAO’s Kim Andrews and Anna Elz.

See video at WGTE Public Media