Humans Still The Best Way To Stop The Spread Of Aquatic Nuisance Species

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Aquatic nuisance species (ANS) are any nonnative species that spread into waterways and affect environmental, economic and human health stability. ANS includes invasive plants and animals.  The list of ANS is extensive in the U.S. Many people are familiar with silver carp, those large fish that go flying out of the water, prompted by boat motors. However, many people are unfamiliar with the smaller, less talked about species.


One such species is the rusty crayfish. This crayfish, brought to the region as bait, has the potential to affect gamefish species.  Rusty crayfish can live in streams, reservoirs or ponds. They often reduce vegetation in areas where young fish would typically hide.  Rusty crayfish also prey upon fish eggs while fish are spawning. Another unknown ANS that disrupts gamefish spawning is the blueback herring. Similar in appearance to alewives, this small fish eats eggs of spawning fish. Also brought here as bait, it is a prime example of one way ANS spread. It is now illegal to possess or transport this fish.


One final example of a lesser known ANS is the zebra mussel. This small, seemingly harmless mussel poses huge issues for not only wildlife, but humans too. Zebra mussels are fast growing, filter feeders that attach to everything. They pose issues for aquatic species in that they suck up nutrients that could be utilized by native species. Zebra mussels also pose economic issues for municipalities that utilize reservoirs for drinking water. They clog pipes and intakes. Zebra mussels also impact dam operations and they readily attach to boats or any item that stays in the water for long periods of time. TWRA biologists believe there is potential to see a spike in zebra mussel populations this year. Heavy spring rains kept water temperatures cooler during the time zebra mussel reproduce. This could cause an increase in overall numbers.


So just what can be done to stop the spread of ANS? TWRA, Region 3 fisheries biologist Brandon Ragland shared, “It’s really in the hands of people. Humans are the primary way ANS spread.” Mr. Ragland and his coworkers do a great deal of work to educate Tennesseans about ANS. In the spring of 2017, pro bass angler Michael Neal joined their Clean, Drain, Dry and Don’t Dump Bait campaigns.  A third message the agency utilizes is Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers.  Fisheries staff approaches education from all angles of the sport from streams to reservoirs. Ragland and his team educate area high school bass teams and other groups and clubs too. TWRA streams biologists have an extensive program to install gear cleaning stations for anglers that wade or bank fish.


Of course TWRA continues to monitor fish populations through several means and this affects overall stocking processes throughout the region. TWRA also has an ANS task force which works comprehensively on ANS issues throughout the state. The TWRA ANS task force ranked 22 plant species and 33 animal species as a potential threat to Tennessee’s waterways. Mr. Ragland stated, “This can stop. We can be in control and stop the spread of ANS and protect our waterways through a few simple steps.” The National ANS task force lists several ways to stop the spread.


  • Learn to recognize common invaders and keep an eye out for signs of new ones.
  • Report sightings to governing agencies in your area.
  • Inspect boats, trailers and recreational equipment before and after use.
  • Remove all plants and animals and dispose of these organisms where they will not reenter the water.
  • Thoroughly CLEAN, DRAIN AND DRY (including ballast water) all boats, kayaks, canoes, and recreational gear after use.
  • Allow watercraft to dry completely before launching into another body of water.
  • DON’T DUMP BAIT. Dispose of unused bait into trash cans or far from bodies of water.
  • Buy pets from reputable dealers whose non-native animals are properly labeled, legally imported and not harboring invasive pests and diseases.
  • Do not release unwanted pets into the environment. If you no longer want your pet, return it to a local pet shop for resale or trade, give it to another hobbyist, or donate it to a school, nursing home, or hospital.
  • Avoid growing or buying plants known to be invasive. Contact the governing agency in your state or local plant societies for a list of plants native to your area.
  • Don’t dump aquatic plants or aquarium water into local waters. Many plants for water gardens and aquaria are highly invasive.
  • Join a volunteer invasive species monitoring or eradication group.

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