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Frequently Asked Questions About Aquatic Hitchhikers

In this FAQ, you can find answers to general questions about the national aquatic hitchhiker problem. If you desire more detailed information, please contact us with your specific questions or return to the Home Page where you can find links to more specific information about common hitchhikers, cleaning and prevention procedures, resources, materials and other topics.


What is a nuisance species?
When a species (plant, animal, fish or microscopic organism), that is not native to a body of water, is introduced (accidentally or on purpose) and upsets the balance and causes ecological or economic harm, it is considered to be a nuisance species.

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How do nuisance species come into the United States?
There are many ways that nuisance species come into the U.S. However, large, transoceanic cargo ships serve as the single biggest pathway for introducing nuisance species. These ships can introduce organisms through the discharge of their ballast or through the fouling of their hulls. Because of the large volume of water discharged through ballast exchange, aquatic plants, animals and pathogens can all be introduced. Also, these large vessels may be docked at ports for extended periods of time, which allows organisms to become attached to the boat's hull, thereby providing another way to transport species around the world.

Other ways nuisance species are introduced into the U.S. include commercial activities such as aquaculture, the aquarium trade, the nursery industry, seafood processing and the bait business. While these are legitimate businesses that provide economic benefits to this country, unintentional releases have occurred that can be attributed to these activities.

Non-commercial activities conducted by scientific research institutions, schools, public aquariums and public resource management agencies have also served as pathways for introducing nuisance species. Like their commercial counterparts, these organizations have introduced nuisance species unintentionally through escapement; however, some introductions have been done intentionally. In the past, some public agencies have intentionally introduced selected non-native species to control the growth and spread of other introduced species. History shows that the desired effect is difficult to achieve. Grass carp introduced to control unwanted aquatic plants in inland lakes resulted in native plant species being decimated.

Activities like recreational boating and the creation of canals, locks and channels have also contributed to the spread of nuisance species. While these activities are not associated with the introducing nuisance species into the country, they have been linked to the increased spread. Nuisance species hitch rides on the recreational boats trailored across land to different waters. If they can survive the journey and reestablish themselves, the results could be drastic. Also, while expanding our nation's transportation network has contributed greatly to our economic prosperity, an unforeseen result has been the movement of nuisance species into different watersheds, which has created significant negative impacts.

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How and when can I prevent the spread and/or introduction of nuisance species into the waters where I recreate?
By following the simple procedure described below each time we leave the water, we can stop aquatic hitchhikers.

Simple Procedure

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Why should I use this simple procedure to prevent nuisance species?
Recently, the introduction of nuisance species into the U.S. has been increasing. Collectively, these species (terrestrial and aquatic) cost our country over $100 billion in damages every year. While these impacts may not be noticeable to you, they could:

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Are nuisance species just a problem in navigable waters?
Most of the nuisance species are first introduced into navigable waters, but recreational users can spread them to pristine lakes, reservoirs, streams, rivers, ponds, etc. The purpose of this campaign is to stop the transport of nuisance species to these areas.

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If I only fish in a certain lake, do I need to follow these general procedures?
The one procedure you'll want to be sure to follow is to not introduce anything into that lake. Therefore, don't bring your aquarium from home and dump the contents into the water. Don't accept a fish from another lake (even if it is a big one) to release in your lake. If you borrow someone else's equipment, clean it before you use it in your lake.

You'll also want to inform others about cleaning their equipment before they come to your lake. You might consider working with local authorities to put up signage around the lake.

If you ever do decide to explore other waters, clean all your equipment before you go and follow the procedures before you leave the other body of water.

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If my boat has been in infested waters, do I need to do anything more than general procedures?
The longer a boat sets in infested waters, the greater the chance a hitchhiker can attach to your boat, motor, bumpers, anchors, etc. If you feel a rough surface on the bottom of the boat, prop, or other items, be sure to use the
prevention procedures found in the Boating section to clean your boat and equipment.

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Do I have to know which hitchhikers are in which lake or river?
Not if you follow the recommended procedure every time you leave a body of water. Even if a lake is considered pristine, you never know when a nuisance species has been introduced and not yet discovered. So if you get in the habit of following the procedures, you'll help protect more waters.

It is helpful to learn about some of
nuisance species that are more common to your area, but you don't have to know which ones are in which lake if you always follow the procedure.

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How do I find out which hitchhikers are invading my state waters?
Contact your
state fish and wildlife management agency or a Sea Grant institute (if your state has one) to learn about the specific hitchhiker species that have or can potentially invade your state waters. Go to the Resources section for specific links to your state.

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

Common Hitchhikers

Zebra Mussels
Hydrilla
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)