US bait fish issues could affect Great Lakes

by Matthew Robbins | December 9, 2020
Minnows held in a net above a minnow bucket

A study conducted in the US has revealed troubling information regarding invasive species prevention.

Researchers at the University of Toledo and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a multi-year study on the presence of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the live bait and pond industries. Focusing on retailers around Lake Erie (Ohio), Lake St. Clair (Michigan), and the Wabash River (Indiana), researchers sampled tank water from 51 bait shops and 21 pond stores for AIS eDNA.


A striking 88% of bait shops sampled tested positive for AIS eDNA, including goldfish, round and tubenose goby, Eurasian ruffe, and all three Asian carp species (bighead, grass, and silver). Non-baitfish species were also detected.

Pond store samples revealed similar results. From native, non-ornamental species like bass and walleye, to high-profile invasives such as Eurasian ide, zebra mussels, and Asian carp, evidence of problematic species was plentiful.

Researchers also surveyed local angler use of live bait. Of 179 participants, 44% released their bait rather than disposing of it.

The findings offer important insights regarding how aquatic invasive species spread across North America and, especially, in the Great Lakes. They also provide a sobering look at the current distribution of some of the continent’s most destructive AIS and underline the unique responsibility anglers have.

Protecting our waters

“The use of live bait is a staple in Ontario’s angling community. As anglers and bait suppliers, we all need to do our part to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Anglers should source their bait locally and avoid species such as round goby, rudd, and ruffe. When leaving the water for the day, don’t dump your bait, but rather dispose of it at least 30 metres from the shore on land.

If you’d prefer, you can salt and freeze your bait to be used again next time. If we all do our part, we can work towards protecting our waters from invasive fish, invertebrates, and pathogens,” said OFAH Invasive Species Awareness Program Aquatic Specialist Brook Schryer.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Senior Fisheries Biologist Scott Gibson said bait retailers and harvesters follow strict guidelines in Ontario and undergo routine inspections of their tanks. To further reduce the risk of spreading AIS, the province has proposed a new baitfish management strategy that would divide Ontario into four unique bait management zones and revise the list of valid baitfish.

“We are aiming for a policy that will increase protection for Ontario’s fisheries while minimizing the impact on anglers and increasing business certainty for the commercial industry that relies on bait.”

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  1. William TODD wrote: We should not be using live minnows for bait, It is unnecessary. Many provinces ban it already and Ontario should follow.
  2. Craig Fetterly wrote: I use local minnows that I trap, I have found more plastic in fish(trout) these days than ever. The plastic does not break down and is usually lodged in the fishes digestive tract. I have found more plastic in the great lakes in 2020 than any other years I can think of. Micro plastic is on the rise, so I think I will stick with the minnows.