Oct. 6, 1999 ANN ARBOR---When anglers release live bait into lakes or rivers, they could unknowingly spread zebra mussels, round gobies or other aquatic nuisance species. It's also possible for exotic species to become part of the mix when bait is harvested and later transferred to new waterways, according to experts at Michigan Sea Grant (MSG), a joint program of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University
But how often this occurs and whether these transfers have led to reproducing populations has been something of a mystery.
Recent work by MSG Extension specialists may shed light on the mystery. The group is examining the inner workings of the state's baitfish industry and developing standardized plans to minimize the risk of spreading aquatic nuisance species.
Known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), the plans will be modeled after those used in seafood processing to ensure product safety.
"HACCP programs reduce the risk of contaminants---in this case exotic species-moving through the chain of commerce," said Michigan Sea Grant Extension Associate Mike Klepinger. "Whether the plans are applied to our fresh seafood supply or the baitfish supply, the idea is the same. First we learn how the industry works, then we apply a systematic set of procedures that involves monitoring, safety precautions, corrective actions, and record-keeping."
Although still in the fact-finding stage, Klepinger and Michigan Sea Grant Extension Agent Ron Kinnunen have been working with the Michigan Bait Dealers Association to learn about the industry. The goal is for HACCP plans to be used by baitfish harvesters, wholesalers, haulers and retailers. In Michigan, there are approximately 750 bait retailers and 75 wholesalers. According to a 1994 study, the state's baitfish industry ranks second in the Great Lakes (by volume) and is worth an estimated $25 million annually to retailers and wholesalers.
Adopting the HACCP plans will not only lower the risk of spreading exotic species but could also benefit the baitfish industry in another way. Sea Grant hopes its work provides a low-cost way to lower the risk of spreading aquatic nuisance species (ANS) and avoid costly regulation of the baitfish industry. Some states, for example, have placed bans on harvesting bait from infested waters and require that bait be certified ANS-free. "If we get HACCP in place," said Kinnunen, "it would ensure the safety of baitfish distribution."
As part of the project, Sea Grant has assessed the current level of aquatic nuisance species contamination of baitfish sold at retail outlets in the Great Lakes region. Preliminary results from Michigan have been promising. Of the 45 dozen baitfish samples purchased, there were no aquatic nuisance species found.
Anglers also will be randomly surveyed at boat launches and marinas to find out what they do with live bait and their attitudes toward aquatic nuisance species.
Michigan Sea Grant is one of 29 Sea Grant programs nationwide that conduct research, education and outreach to promote greater knowledge and stewardship of the Great Lakes and ocean resources. Michigan Sea Grant is funded in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S. Department of Commerce.)
The fall 1999 issue of Upwellings, the MSG newsletter, includes a baitfish/HACCP story and is available online at http://www.engin.umich.edu/seagrant/pubs/up/
For more information, please contact:
Joyce Daniels, (734) 647-0766
or Janet N. Mendler, (734) 647-1848
University of Michigan News Service
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1399
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