Authorities search bait shops for illegal minnows

Sunday, June 1, 2008 | 5:01 p.m. CDT; updated 11:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — State wildlife officials in Kansas and Missouri are reviewing how they keep non-native species from invading their respective states after a near-miss involving minnows.

Missouri officials spotted a small minnow called the brook stickleback mixed in with the more common fathead minnows in a shipment this spring from Minnesota Bait and Fly Co. of Kansas City, Kan., to about 20 retail bait shops in Missouri and Kansas.

After the discovery, conservation agents in both states asked bait dealers to go through their minnow tanks and remove all the brook sticklebacks they could find.

The brook stickleback is not a legal bait fish in Missouri or Kansas because the fish, common in northern states, is not native. While they are not an immediate threat to local fish populations, brook sticklebacks that escape or are dumped from bait buckets could establish local populations.

“This shows how there’s a weakness in the bait trade and how non-native species can move around from state to state,” said Jason Goeckler, aquatic invasive species biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Officials are also worried that the fish could carry a virus that is killing sport fish in the Great Lakes region, Goeckler said. A significant loss of sport fish could put a serious dent in the tourism industry in that region, as well as in parts of Kansas and Missouri.

David Ellis, district supervisor for the Department of Wildlife and Parks, said authorities don’t plan to issue fines or citations in the case because Minnesota Bait and other dealers are cooperating with the removal of the sticklebacks.

Fred Jobe, owner of Minnesota Bait and Fly, said he had never seen such a fast and serious response to a live bait fish.

“But seven or eight years ago, nobody had heard of zebra mussels,” Jobe said.

Zebra mussels, another invasive species that scientists fear is spreading throughout Kansas and Missouri lakes and streams, can clog water intake pipes and damage boat hulls.

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