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Giving Exotic Species a Taste of Their Own Medicine

With almost poetic justice, aquatic invaders are getting a taste of their own medicine. Minnesota Sea Grant's WATCH ID card project has mimicked the characteristics that permit aquatic invasive species to overtake new habitats ó abundant reproduction and rapid dispersal.

Three watch ID cards: Rusty Crayfish, Spiny Waterflea, and Euorpean FrogbitA female zebra mussel can produce a million eggs annually but this year Sea Grant out-performed even this nasty invader by generating a total of over 3.2 million WATCH ID cards. Because project partners agreed to buy portions of each print run, nearly twice the number of cards were printed than provided by a National Sea Grant College Program grant to the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network.

"I think this is testimony to how agencies and the public value these cards for their outreach efforts," said Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grantís Aquatic Invasive Species Information Center Coordinator. "Itís an excellent example of a successful collaborative effort among 31 entities, about leveraging effort and resources, and avoiding duplication of effort -- really what Sea Grant is all about."

The latest print run of 1 million business-sized cards focuses on the pugnacious rusty crayfish, the diminutive spiny and fishhook waterfleas, and the fast-growing European frogbit. Rusty crayfish, waterfleas, and European frogbit have received relatively little public attention compared with aquatic invaders like zebra mussels and sea lamprey.

"When these species become established, itís frustrating to know that public education could have prevented the infestations," said Jensen, the WATCH ID card project leader. "Our goal is to offer people guidelines on ways to prevent the spread of these species."

Notably, rusty crayfish are endemic to part of the Great Lakes' basin but have become widespread over the last decade probably through angler activities and aquarium releases. Both rusty crayfish and the waterfleas are widespread in the Great Lakes region. European frogbit, a plant that sometimes escapes from water gardens, has invaded northeastern United States, southern Ontario and parts of Michigan.

The newest cards join the set of cards Minnesota Sea Grant previously produced for Eurasian ruffe, round goby, Eurasian watermilfoil, and purple loosestrife. WATCH ID cards are designed to raise awareness and generate action among boaters, anglers, waterfowl hunters, ornamental and water gardeners, as well as commercial fisherman and fishery professionals. Each card provides information on the simple things that people can do to prevent aquatic invasive species from spreading.

Specific versions of most of the cards were developed for Illinois-Indiana, Lake Champlain, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin plus the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ontario and Quebec (in French).

Single cards are free. Individuals or organizations wishing to obtain cards should contact their state Sea Grant office in the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain, or their state or provincial natural resource management agency. Minnesota cards can be ordered on the free product order form, under the exotics category (items X 86, X 89, and X 90).

By Sharon Moen
March 2003

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