McEachern, M.C., A. Hofelich, T. Lindsay, D.C. Fulton, and N. D. Phelps. Patterns of live baitfish use and release among recreational anglers in a regulated landscape. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 42 (2), 295-306
The release of live baitfish by anglers has been identified as a high-risk pathway for aquatic invasive species due to the potential for invasive fish, invertebrates, or pathogens to be released simultaneously with the baitfish. Consequently, the release of live baitfish is illegal in many jurisdictions, but little is known about compliance rates or motivations for illegal release. To assess the incidence of live baitfish release in Minnesota, USA, a state with significant live baitfish use and substantial recreational fisheries, we administered a mailed survey to a random sample of anglers who held a 2018-2019 annual fishing license and received 671 completed responses. To mitigate potential recall bias, we also administered 345 intercept surveys at waterbody access sites around the state asking anglers about the current day’s behaviors. Four hundred and eighty-one (72%) of the mailed survey respondents reported that they used live baitfish and of those, 99 (20%) reported that they release their leftover live baitfish into the water at least some of the time. Of the anglers surveyed at waterbody access sites, 59 (19%) were using live baitfish on the day they were surveyed and of those, 11 (18%) released their leftover baitfish into the water. The reasons provided for release included convenience and a misperception that released baitfish benefit the recipient ecosystem. Given the millions of fishing trips that occur every year, the current rate of baitfish release results in many chances for invasive species introduction. However, there is also significant opportunity for management interventions aimed at changing perceptions and providing convenient disposal alternatives to illegal release to reduce the risk presented by this pathway.