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Background of the Aquatic Hitchhiker problem:
Intentional Introductions. Throughout history, man has experimented with intentional introductions of exotic plant and animal species for a variety of reasons. While many introductions have produced beneficial results, a very small minority has created significant negative impacts.
  • Positive Example: The rainbow trout were once only native west of the continental divide. Today they provide countless hours of enjoyment throughout the country. However, even the rainbow trout is not welcome everywhere. If introduced into waters with a native cutthroat population, rainbow trout can cause a decrease in the cutthroat population.
  • Negative Example: The common carp was first brought to the U.S. in the late 1800's as an easily domesticated food fish. They have since spread throughout the U.S. causing problems for waterfowl and native fish and vegetation. Carp browse on submerged vegetation - uprooting plants on which ducks feed, muddying the waters and destroying vegetative foods and cover needed by other fish.
Unintentional Introductions. On the other hand, unintentional species introductions are increasing and have created tremendous problems. The negative impacts are affecting our natural resources, our economy and in some instances human health.

  • Zebra mussels were accidentally released via ship ballast water and into the Great Lakes. From there they have begun to spread around the eastern half of the country causing extreme economical and ecological damage.
Spread increasing: Regardless of intent, the introduction of non-native, harmful plants and animals to unspoiled saltwater and freshwater areas has increased dramatically in recent years. With the recent expansion of our global economy, transoceanic ships have inadvertently increased the movement of non-native, harmful aquatic species into this country. So, while water-based recreation users are not the primary problem, studies have shown that various recreational activities have unintentionally contributed to the spread of these species around the country. Hundreds of these potential hitchhikers, such as zebra mussels, hydrilla, sea lamprey, whirling disease, and purple loosestrife are making their way into precious and quality lakes and streams across the U.S. Once established, these non-native species can create negative impacts.

Water-based Recreation Impacts: As a highly mobile society that enjoys water sports, we travel extensively in pursuit of new recreation areas. Millions of people annually participate in boating, fishing, sailing, swimming, SCUBA diving, jet skiing, windsurfing and other water sports. Alone, these activities and people's pursuit of them produce significant positive impacts to our society and economy. But, when combined with a lack of awareness about aquatic hitchhikers and a lack of action that prevents their potential negative impacts, our country is facing a serious problem. Ultimately, this predicament could cost us millions of dollars and devastate the areas where we recreate.

Recreational users can accidentally pick up aquatic hitchhikers and spread them to other lakes, and rivers. Studies show that participants in these activities will take action to prevent introductions if they know what to do.

Conversely, without proper information, they will do nothing to prevent this problem. The "Stop Aquatic Hitchhiker!" campaign and web site were developed to keep the recreational user informed.

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National Campaign - A Call to Action:
The "Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!" campaign and this web site empower recreational users to become part of the solution in stopping the transport and spread of these harmful hitchhikers. You can help by taking the following actions:

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Campaign Outreach:
Campaign sponsors will use a variety of means, such as public service announcements, stickers, posters, magazine and newspaper articles, television and radio programs to make the public aware of this issue. Most material and announcements will include this web site address to direct individuals to visit and learn about how they can become part of the solution.

Individuals and clubs/organizations are being called upon to spread the message.
Support materials will be available to help those who want to get involved.

News will be disseminated to the press and will be available to the public and press through this web site.

Media interested in running public service ads can "Contact Us" and the campaign sponsors will provide you with the appropriate formats.

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Campaign Sponsors:
The national Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard are the primary sponsors of this campaign.

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Clarification of Terms:
For the purposes of this campaign and the related materials, Aquatic Hitchhikers are defined as non-native, harmful aquatic plants, animals or microscopic organisms that can readily be transported to other waters via popular recreational activities. Also, different terms will be used interchangeably throughout the campaign to describe aquatic hitchhikers. These terms include: aquatic nuisance species, ANS, aquatic invasive species and non-native, harmful aquatic species. Campaign sponsors use these multiple terms to facilitate a better understanding about the issue and to assist with the ease of your reading.

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Historical Emergence of the Aquatic Hitchhiker Issue:
The U.S. has a long history of dealing with various kinds of harmful, invasive species. Our nation's agro-business sector has waged an expensive war to address the impacts of terrestrial invasive species on production agriculture. However, in the late eighties, the Great Lakes zebra mussel invasion renewed the focus on aquatic invasive species. These introduced shellfish elevated the larger aquatic hitchhiker issue amongst resource conservation professionals due to their impacts on native, recreational and commercially valuable species. Also, the economic impacts incurred by Great Lakes power plants, drinking water facilities and other industrial water users created the political will to mount a national response.

While zebra mussels have received the most recent attention and have become the aquatic nuisance species poster child, the sea lamprey was the first high-profile aquatic nuisance species. Like zebra mussels, sea lampreys were introduced into the Great Lakes via trade and transportation expansion and were discovered in the mid-1800s. Over the past thirty years, the U.S. and Canadian governments have collectively spent millions of dollars to control sea lamprey impacts on the regionís multi-million dollar commercial and recreation fishery resources.

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The National Response:
The Great Lakes zebra mussel invasion hit home with many people and the 101st Congress responded by passing the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990. This landmark piece of legislation created the ANS Task Force to coordinate the national response and provided a management framework and additional guidance to federal resource agencies about specific introduction pathways. Essentially, this law set the course of action for the national response for the next ten years.

The creation of the new National Invasive Species Council has generated some attention for the larger invasive species issue (terrestrial and aquatic species). While the Council will elevate the issue throughout the entire federal government, the ANS Task Force remains the only legislatively authorized body that focuses solely on aquatic invasive species. As a catalyst that brings federal, state and private sector interests together, the Task Force focuses these interests on regionally significant issues. Comprised of seven federal agencies and eleven Ex Officio member organizations, the Task Force works through federal agencies and a regional panel and committee structure to conduct on-the-ground prevention and control activities. The Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA are Task Force co-chairs and under their leadership, the Task Force implements a comprehensive approach to prevent and control ANS.

Known as the ANS Program, this approach contains the following elements. Please note that while each element is portrayed as a stand-alone focus area, effective prevention and control efforts require an integrated effort that combines all focus areas listed below.
  • Prevention - As the central element of the ANS Program, prevention activities focus on developing and using risk identification and assessment processes.
  • Control - Activities focusing on control include the suppression of ANS, reductions in populations to an acceptable level, and the adaptation of human activities and/or facilities to adapt to these invasions. The ultimate desire of these activities is to minimize harm to the environment and the public health and welfare.
  • Detection and Monitoring - This element focuses on tracking all non-native aquatic species rather than just actual or potential nuisances, because it oftentimes takes many years for the impacts of a non-native species to be characterized as a nuisance. Thus, detection and monitoring activities have and will continue to focus on the big picture:
    • Developing and maintaining a comprehensive information system,
    • Coordinating input from multiple levels including federal, regional and state resource agencies, and
    • Ensuring that the field study capability is developed at all levels to assist with the verification of these non-native species.
  • Research - Timely, pertinent research is essential to the success of the ANS Program. Scientifically valid information about the taxonomy, life history and physiology of non-native aquatic species, their effects on the environment and human activities, and their potential for becoming a nuisance is required for the multitude of decisions needed to refine and implement the Program. Also, biologically sound information is necessary to identify effective techniques for prevention, detection, monitoring, and control. The focus of the Research Element involves three components - (1) coordinating research activities, (2) developing and using research protocol, and (3) disbursing competitive research grants.
  • Education - This element has two focus areas: (1) to support the core ANS Program elements, and (2) to engage targeted populations to become part of the solution in preventing the continued spread of ANS. Lack of awareness about ANS is only part of this complex issue. People need to know that their behavior can make a difference. For the initial outreach activities that are coordinated on a national level, decision-makers in all levels and branches of government will be one focus and other activities will focus on specialized user groups. Currently, activities concentrate on:
    • Facilitating initiatives by others
    • Assisting with identification of potential audiences,
    • Developing appropriate education materials and curricula,
    • Making cooperators aware of available educational resources,
    • Leading efforts to engage target audiences to become involved as part of the solution to the growing ANS problem.
  • Technical Assistance - Providing assistance to states and local governments and other entities to help them minimize the environmental, public health, and safety risks associated with ANS is the focus of this element. More specifically, effective ANS management activities require coordination between many water users and multiple governmental authorities, ranging from sportsmen to municipal and industrial interests. The Task Force provides technical assistance to inform managers about impending or potential problems; access to the best technology and information available to minimize economic impacts and prevent further spread; an early warning capability; evaluative information about prevention and management programs; and synthesizes available scientific information into forms that can be best utilized by managers and decision-makers.

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Protectyourwaters.net Home Search Link To Us Site Map

The Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers web site is part of the ANS Task Force public
awareness campaign and is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Partnership Opportunities

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Current Partners

State Info Pages

New Hampshire
South Carolina


Check out the Latest News about the Stop Aquatic Hitchhiker Campaign and the aquatic hitchhiker problem.

Common Hitchhikers

Zebra Mussels
Whirling Disease
Spiny Water Fleas
Round Gobies
Water Hyacinth

Video Clips
Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi River
(Real Video format)

Round Goby
(Quicktime Format)
New Audio Messages for Traveler Information Systems
Zebra Mussel (mp3)
Zebra Mussel #2 (mp3)