What’s in your bucket? Quantifying AIS introduction risk

Phase II: 

This project builds on previous research in Phase I and complimentary work by the MNDNR and has the potential for immediate management application. Following the identification of promising management targets as a result of previous work, management leaders could employ the insights from this project to design appropriate and innovative management approaches that combine communication, positive feedback, and enforcement to further reduce illegal bait release behavior and prevent AIS introduction in the state. This study will also provide broad insights into the composition of Minnesota’s angling population and provide the basis for future angler behavior studies.

This project directly addresses an identified need for social science-informed management to target the behavioral dimensions of AIS spread via the large and complex baitfish pathway. The Phase I research is the first to quantify pathogen introduction risk for the live bait pathway in Minnesota and the first to incorporate the behavioral science dimension within the risk model. We will explicitly evaluate the potential efficacy of realistic management strategies using our previously developed risk assessment model which will provide decision support for managers interested in reducing AIS and pathogen introduction risk.

Phase I:

The goal of this study is to assess the risk of introduction of fish pathogens through the recreational use of baitfish. We will synthesize existing knowledge to identify priority hazards for the baitfish trade, develop a risk analysis framework, and characterize the volume, patterns, and complexity of baitfish use by anglers in Minnesota. This will result in the development of a tool for estimating risk of AIS introduction via the baitfish pathway. The tool will be tested with three pathogens of concern to estimate the number of likely introductions to wild fish populations – a useful metric when considering trade-offs for risk management.

The use of baitfish for recreational angling results in billions of farm-raised and wild-caught fish being moved long distances overland and introduced into new environments. As a result, baitfish movement has been considered a high-risk activity for the spread of aquatic invasive species, with potentially major economic, ecological, and societal consequences.

This work builds upon, and will be informed by, an ongoing baitfish risk assessment led by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, previous baitfish hazard assessments, and previous and ongoing research by members of the project team. Quantifying the actual, not perceived, risks of introduction will help inform risk-based management decisions and lead to better outcomes that support Minnesota’s bait and fishing industries while protecting natural resources.


As of January 2019, researchers have completed the hazard prioritization matrix and selected Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia virus (VHSV), Ovipleistophora ovariae, and the Asian tapeworm from among 30+ pathogens initially considered. These were selected based on the pathogen's ability to evade detection, the impact of its establishment, and its current distribution in the state.

Researchers have also outlined a conceptual model designating the steps in the bait pathway that will be evaluated for their contribution to overall risk. This spring, a survey of licensed anglers in Minnesota will help estimate the degree to which angler behavior contributes to the risk of pathogen introduction.

As of July 2019, researchers finalized and mailed a paper survey to 4,000 anglers across the state and received roughly 600 completed mail surveys in return. Postcard surveys were also administered at boat launches and other accesses around the state during the summer of 2019. Once the data from these two methods have been recorded we can begin analysis and parameterization of the risk assessment model.

Dr. Phelps serves as both the Director of MAISRC and as a MAISRC research fellow. The review and administration of Dr. Phelps research proposals and projects with MAISRC are guided by the Managing Director Conflict of Interest in MAISRC Proposal Funding policy. Questions about this policy can be directed to MAISRC Associate Director, Cori Mattke.

Project manager: Nick Phelps

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Project start date: 2018

Estimated project end date: Dec. 2022