Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species through Vector Management: Live Bait Vector as a Model in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Principal Investigator:

Fredrika C. Moser

Start/End Year:

2010 - 2013


Maryland Sea Grant College


Objectives: The purpose of the proposed research is to understand how to prevent introductions of non-native species through the management of a single intentional AIS introduction vector, in this case the live bait vector, as a model. Our goal is to couple research to investigate the ecological and social science aspects of managing the live bait vector (saltwater to fresh) with new outreach efforts designed to reach from supplier to user in the Mid-Atlantic region. Targeted outcomes include: a) illuminating the challenges and success in vector management and applying the findings to other intentional introduction sub-vectors (e.g. live seafood, pet aquarium trade); and b) providing recommendations for state, regional and national cooperation and coordination on management of the live bait vector.

Methodology: 1) Conduct conference calls among Sea Grant extension and communications staff to summarize background material on the live bait vector, identify audience(s) and discuss survey development. As appropriate include participation in these discussions with relevant state agency representatives and the Mid-Atlantic Panel. 2) Conduct an RFP and award funding to successful proposal(s) from a limited RFP 3) Develop a biological/social science research plan integrated with an outreach campaign to understand the live bait vector and angler/distributor behavior and attitudes through discussions and meetings among the researchers, Sea Grant staff and state agency managers as appropriate. 4) Conduct an outreach campaign to raise awareness and survey target audiences. 5) Conduct biological research to determine risk from different types of release. 6) Evaluate outcomes from the research and success in meeting performance measures. This would include number of anglers and bait industry participants affected by the campaign and reduction in introduction risk through vector management.

Rationale: There is a clear need to use vector management as a strategy for preventing the introduction of invasive species and it is a priority in strategic plans for the federal government, regional groups and states. Ballast water vector management is an important example of this approach to prevention at a national and international scale. However, multiple other vectors, including the live bait vector, have not been addressed in a coordinated fashion at a regional scale. This project takes an integrated research and outreach approach to understanding how to manage the live bait vector. Information from this project will demonstrate how to effectively identify mechanisms to prevent introductions of invasive species through the live bait vector. The results from this project can be used as a model for prevention through management of related live trade vectors. It will also demonstrate successes and challenges of conducting an AIS outreach campaign across a region.


This section describes how this project has advanced scientific knowledge and/or made a difference for coastal residents, communities, and environments. Maryland Sea Grant has reported these details to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of our funding sponsors.

Summary: Maryland Sea Grant and its partners completed a research-based public-education campaign to obtain help from bait shop owners in five Mid-Atlantic states to reduce the introduction of aquatic invasive species via the marine bloodworm live bait trade. Distributors in Maine pack this live bait in algal material and ship it widely. The campaign gave bait shop owners educational materials to share with customers. A survey of the owners indicated that they found the materials persuasive.

Relevance: The introduction of non-native species to ecosystems can cause both economic and ecological harm. The most effective way to prevent introduction is to control the pathways (vectors) through which unwanted aquatic species are introduced into a new environment where they can become a nuisance. Until this project, there had been no coordinated effort to control the live bait vector at a regional scale. 

Response: The project team was led by Maryland Sea Grant and involved Sea Grant extension specialists from the Mid-Atlantic and researchers from multiple institutions. The team developed a public education messaging campaign to change anglers' behavior regarding the live bait vector. The campaign focused on Ascophyllum nodosummarine, the brown algae wormweed used as packing material for Glycera dibranchiate bloodworms, which are widely used as bait. The educational campaign materials encouraged fishers to safely dispose unused live bait and its packing material in the trash rather than dumping it in waterways. Sea Grant Extension delivered educational materials bearing the phrase "Protect Our Fisheries - Trash Unused Worms and Packaging" to 13 bait shops across the Mid-Atlantic. In 2015 the research team conducted follow-up interviews with bait shop owners to evaluate the campaign’s effectiveness. In a separate part of the project, researchers quantitatively characterized the wide range and amount of live macroinvertebrates contained in the bait shipment bags. Project scientists conducted lab studies that demonstrated that treating the contents of the bait shipment bags with water of varying salinities could effectively reduce the number of live organisms. 

Results: This pilot study has provided a wealth of information that could be used to implement a larger-scale intervention study on trade in live organisms, such as bloodworms, that can introduce invasive species to aquatic environments, Bait shop owners who were interviewed expressed enthusiasm for the campaign and agreed that it had value. Most were happy to help distribute the campaign materials, often noting that their businesses depend on a healthy environment. Most thought that anglers would be willing to properly dispose of the packing material if they were informed about the potential problem.

Related Publications:

Fowler, AE; Blakeslee, AMH; Canning-Clode, J; Repetto, MF; Ruiz, GM; Miller, AW. 2020. A baitbox for all seasons: temporal shifts in a vector's propagule supply characteristics and implications for invasion ecology Marine Ecology Progress Series641:13 -24. doi:10.3354/meps13303. UM-SG-RS-2020-14.

Fowler, AE; Blakeslee, AMH; Canning-Clode, J; Repetto, MF, Phillip, AM; Carlton, JT; Moser, FC; Ruiz, GM; Miller, AW. 2016. Opening Pandora's bait box: a potent vector for biological invasions of live marine species. Diversity and Distributions22(1):30 -42. doi:10.1111/ddi.12376. UM-SG-RS-2016-02.

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