According to Dr. Kevin Pope, sedimentation and erosion have significantly altered the habitat of Branched Oak Lake, a large, flood control impoundment in Eastern Nebraska. As a result, the lake has lost critical near-shore habitat; turbid, open-water areas have started to dominate the lake. In addition, the introduction of the white perch has changed the population dynamics of the fish community. White perch numbers have increased precipitously over the last decade resulting in a stunted white perch population. Biologists suspect that this unchecked white perch population is severely limiting the recruitment of sport fishes such as walleye.
White perch are invasive in the Salt Valley watershed, Branched Oak’s drainage. They were inadvertently introduced downstream 1964 and are now found throughout the watershed. It is unclear as to whether they migrated or were introduced into Branched Oak, possibly by a bait bucket.
One thing is clear, live bait can be a deadly method for catching fish. It is also clear that live invasive species of baitfish can have a deadly affect on a body of water. Invasive baitfish can grow and compete with the native fish populations. White perch, for example, can reproduce in their first year of life. They also tend to be prolific. As they did at Branched Oak, white perch can take over a body of water rapidly.
Invasive baitfish can also harm native fish communities by spreading disease. Diseases found in one lake can be introduced into another by transporting fish from one body of water to another. Movement of baitfish from water to water by unknowing anglers is thought to be the primary mechanism by which viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), a serious fish disease in New York, has spread from the Great Lakes to inland waters.
Dumping your bait bucket can do more harm than good. It is important to adhere to the following practices when using live bait:
- Only use bait purchased from a dealer selling certified disease free bait.
- Don’t move bait or other fish from one water to another.
- Dump unused bait in an appropriate location on dry land.
- Use baitfish only in waters where their use is permitted.
By following these four principles, you can help to reduce the spread of invasive species and diseases.