Bait worm packaging as a potential vector of invasive species.
Invasive species have become an increasingly greater concern for the ecological health of coastal ecosystems, yet vectors of these introductions often are unclear. This project evaluated the potential for the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum ecad scorpiodes (Hauck) Reinke, packaged with bait worms (Nereis virens) harvested from the coast of Maine (USA), as a vector of invasive marine fauna and flora. Often, the seaweed and contents of the bait boxes are discarded into the water by recreational fishermen after using the bait worms, and any included non-native species may then be introduced. Bait boxes were purchased from several commercial vendors in Connecticut and New York over a two-year period. Subsamples of the seaweed were placed in laboratory culture and the growth of associated macro- and microalgae was monitored. Marine invertebrate species present in the samples were also identified and quantified. Results indicated 13 species of macroalgae and 23 species of invertebrates were associated with baitboxes. Among the highly diverse microbial assemblage detected, two species of potentially toxic marine microalgae, Alexandrium fundyense Balech and Pseudonitzschia multiseries (Hasle) Hasle, were found both prior to and after incubation at various temperatures, indicating these harmful algae are brought to and can survive in receiving waters. These findings highlight the need to consider alternative choices of bait box packaging materials or appropriate disposal methods of the seaweed in order to minimize the transport of species which are not native to the receiving coastal waters.