What you should know before buying or selling live aquatic organisms

A number of federal and state laws limit the sale and movement of certain aquatic invasive species. These laws are now summarized in fact sheets from the National Sea Grant Law Center.

The effects of aquatic invasive species (AIS) cost residents of the Great Lakes region an estimated $5.7 billion per year. Preventing the arrival of new invaders that could do even more ecological and economic harm is no easy task. Many non-native species have been transported to the Great Lakes in the ballast tanks of oceangoing freighters and others have been able to swim in through man-made canals. There is another pathway that has not gotten as much attention, though. At least 73 species have been intentionally or accidentally released into the Great Lakes by people, and many of these introductions could have been prevented by restricting the movement of organisms in trade. 

The National Sea Grant Law Center and Michigan State University Extension recently published non-technical summaries of laws for Michigan residents interested in buying or selling aquatic organisms. At the federal level, the Lacey Act prevents interstate transport of species that are listed as “injurious.” State law prohibits the movement of additional species that are designated “prohibited” or “restricted.” Aquarium hobbyists, water gardeners, and pond owners should be check the legality of possession before purchasing live organisms, obtain permits if required, consider native alternatives, and plan for proper disposal of organisms.

Pets and aquatic plants should never be released from captivity into the wild, even if they are not listed as injurious, prohibited, or restricted. Most troublesome invaders are not added to these lists until after they have already proven themselves destructive. Many potentially harmful exotic species that have not yet been found in U.S. waters are not listed as injurious, prohibited or restricted despite having been identified by scientists as likely to invade the Great Lakes. Even native species should not be released from captivity into the wild because of the possibility they might carry diseases or parasites that are easily transmitted in artificial environments.

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