The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded The University of Toledo nearly $500,000 to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes through bait shops, outdoor outfitters, pond suppliers and pet stores.
The project funding is part of $12.5 million in 2016 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants announced May 4 by the U.S. EPA and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.“We want to block potential pathways for invasive fish and mollusk species that can cause billions of dollars in economic damage,” said Dr. Carol Stepien, director of the UT Lake Erie Center and leader of the two-year project. “Retailers, customers and even taxonomic experts are often unable to distinguish these non-native species from native species at early life stages — as eggs, larvae or fry. Many minnows in a bait store may appear alike, including invasive Asian carp. Plus, buyers sometimes release non-native pets, bait and other organisms into waterways, which can have unpredictable and widespread effects.”
Stepien is working with Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, UT professor of geography and planning, and director of the UT Center for Geographic Information Sciences and Applied Geographics, and Dr. Andrew Solocha, UT associate professor of finance.
The team will use UT’s newly developed DNA diagnostic tests to analyze fish and mollusks purchased from retailers.
Researchers will detect invasive species, diagnose supply chain sources, and pilot a voluntary “Invasive Free” certification program for retailers.
“We also will survey hundreds of fishermen and businesses to help close the ‘door’ to this avenue into the Great Lakes,” Stepien said. “Accurate detection within the marketplace is critical to maintaining long-term ecological health. Within two years, we plan to launch a public education campaign.”
The EPA has awarded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants to UT researchers for several projects over the last few years, including development of the early detection DNA technology for high-risk invasive species, as well as wetland restoration that helps prevent bacteria from entering Maumee Bay.
“With support from a strong alliance of bipartisan senators, representatives, states, tribes, municipalities, conservation organizations and businesses, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will keep making strong investments to resuscitate the lakes,” said Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the U.S. EPA administrator.