You are done fishing and are packing up poles, coolers and other gear. What do you do with that bucket of minnows or box of worms? Dump it on the ground or in the water, right?
Wrong. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, dumping bait is illegal and among the worst things you can do.
"The trouble with dumping bait is that you really don't know what you are turning loose," said Tim Banek, the invasive species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "A dozen minnows might include exotic species that could displace native species. A left-over crayfish could be a rusty crayfish, which is an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Believe it or not, night crawlers might come from as far away as Canada. We are not sure how well any of these animals might survive in Missouri, what native species they might displace or devour and how they could harm the ecological balance here in the long run."
Far too often Banek gets reminders of why proper bait disposal is imperative. The Missouri Department of Conservation recently discovered that a Kansas City, Kansas, wholesaler had supplied Missouri bait dealers with minnows contaminated with brook stickleback, a small, spiny fish found in northern states. Bait dealers were quickly notified to check their tanks and destroy any brook sticklebacks found. Anglers who purchased the bait prior to the discovery of the contamination risked contaminating their favorite fishing waters by releasing unused bait at the end of their fishing trips.
Banek said the right thing to do with left-over bait is to put it in a trash can or other approved trash container at the fishing site or take it home and put it in your household trash.
"I know it is hard to imagine that a minnow or an earthworm could be dangerous, but it is true," said Banek. "It is impossible to closely regulate interstate or even international trade in bait. As a result, some potentially dangerous species are going to turn up in bait shops. That doesn't have to be a problem if people are careful about how they handle those animals."