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Agency Toolkit

Aquatic invasive species represent a global problem impacting endangered species and critical habitats, affecting economies, the environment, and quality of life, and leading to billions of dollars that must be redirected and invested in control and response efforts. Aquatic invasive species can be spread and introduced in many ways, but their sale and movement in commerce represents a unique challenge for management agencies to address.

The facts:

  • The global economic cost of invasive species was estimated to exceed $423 billion annually in 2019 (a).

  • Invasive species are one of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss (b).

  • The global pet industry is estimated to grow from $320 billion in 2023 to $550 billion by 2030 (c).

  • There are more than 200 freshwater ornamental fish producers in the US (d).

  • Washington spent an estimated $40,000 for a goldfish removal project in which it was determined that goldfish were introduced as a result of someone releasing the fish into a fresh water body (e).

Ensuring consumers do not release unwanted aquatic plants or pets into local habitats is a critical component of aquatic invasive species prevention efforts. In addition, management agencies and industry sectors can minimize the introduction of AIS into the marketplace AIS from entering the market place at every stage of the supply chain.

This toolkit was designed for state and provincial natural resource agency staffs tasked with the management, oversight, and enforcement of aquatic invasive species. The toolkit is intended to contain "living" tools; additional tools should be added through time as knowledge and understanding of ways to manage aquatic invasive species are improved.​

Contact resources for commonly asked questions
about aquatic plants and animals in commerce
I have a question
about aquatic plants
Contacts: State or
provincial fish and
wildlife or natural
resource agency,
local extension office
I have a question
about aquatic animals
Contacts: State or
department of agriculture or natural resource agency, local
extension office
I  need to understand industry best practices or contact industry members
I need to know what species are regulated in each state or province
Contacts: State or provincial department of agriculture, or natural resource agency
I need to report a suspected violation involving an aquatic species
I need to know what species are regulated in each state or province
Contacts: : USGS NAS, EDDMapS, iMapInvasives, state or provincial reporting hotline
This briefing document provides legislators with background information about AIS in Commerce.
Recommended regulatory classification terminology for aquatic invasive species.
This document can be used to enhance current regulations.
An overview of the most common aquatic invasive hitchhikers in commerce.
Guidelines to improve agency websites and access to listed species and statutes.


States and provinces designate different agencies to manage invasive species – departments of agriculture, departments of fish and wildlife, departments of natural resources – which can add complexity to understanding roles, authorities, and responsibilities. The different agencies responsible for regulating plants and animals create their respective lists of regulated invasive species through statutes. Maintaining current information in easily accessible locations is critical to effective management and oversight of aquatic invasive species. Limited funding and staff capacity for oversight and enforcement, and lack of adequate statutory or regulatory authorities, may lessen the ability of states and provinces to effectively address AIS in commerce.


The number and types of businesses or entities (e.g., big box suppliers, small scale suppliers, online sales) selling aquatic plants and animals adds an additional layer of complexity to managing AIS in commerce. The volume and diversity of species that businesses offer for sale from global sources, business compliance with existing patchwork regulations, and readily accessible information for a business or buyer to remain compliant requires considerable attention to detail and constant research. It is also common for businesses that engaged in live aquatic plant and animal commerce to operate with minimal licensing requirements. Without licensing, management agencies have limited options for identifying sellers and contacting and checking for compliance to prevent illegal activities that may lead to invasive species introduction. 


There are multiple opportunities that could help lessen invasive species introduction and spread via the sale of live aquatic plants and animals. 

  • Create mechanisms that provide oversight of businesses dealing in live aquatic plants and animals that will foster compliant businesses and allow better information exchange among businesses and agencies. 

    • At a minimum, this can be a statutory or regulatory authority for requiring a simple registration for businesses dealing in live aquatic plants and animals.

    • Requiring licensing could provide for further oversight for prevention.

    • Requiring live aquatic plants and animals to be properly labeled with scientific names from import to point of sale is needed.

  • Prioritize statutory authorities and/or regulatory measures that encourage online sellers and platforms to be visible, accountable, and compliant.

  • Support adequate funding and staffing for natural resource agency enforcement staff to respond to the issue of potential invasive species in commerce and be empowered with resources to react to invasive species detections to protect natural and economic resources. 

Deborah KornblutUSFWS_MossBall2.jpg

The sale and movement of live aquatic plants and animals can create opportunities for aquatic invasive species to be introduced.  Hitchhiker species can be inadvertently included in an order destined for retail sale and can be invasive species. Some species are inadvertently included with shipments due their small size or ability to attach to other species. In some cases, species are produced in outdoor open-system operations where unintended species can enter the grow operations. Inadequate product screening can also result in hitchhikers within shipments. If a species, such as a plant, is collected from the wild, the potential exists for other species to attach to that plant. All shipments of aquatic plants and animals received by businesses should be carefully inspected for hitchhikers, and protocols should exist for dealing with the hitchhikers. 

Some common hitchhikers in commerce may be crayfish, amphibian tadpoles, snails, worms, mussels, and small invertebrates:

The figure to the left is a picture of an invasive zebra mussel embedded in wild collected marimo moss balls (photo credit: Deborah Kornblut, USFWS). 


If hitchhikers are found during inspection:

Common hitchikers

Businesses that engage in the sale of aquatic plants and animals are obligated to know and comply with rules and regulations, including what species are regulated. Information on regulated species may be found in numerous places on an agency or agencies website(s). 

The following are suggestions to share state/provincial rules, guidelines, and resources to better guide those buying and selling aquatic plants and animals. 

  • Because more than one agency may be responsible for regulating plants and animals in your state or province, make the information on regulated species available across all websites and link appropriate contacts with associated relevant species. This agency webpage offers a great example of consolidated information on all invasive species and the associated agency responsibilities for one state.

  • On agency websites, use terms that will guide or drive online searches to invasive species information. Specific terms can improve agency website visibility in Google, Microsoft Bing, and other search engines when people conduct searches. These terms could include: “sell aquatic”, “buy aquatic”, “prohibited species”, “illegal species”.

  • Provide a clear, accessible list of all prohibited, regulated, or authorized species.  Consider providing lists of other AIS of concern that are in trade, noting unregulated status and key concerns with possession based on risk assessments.

  • Consider providing links to species information with photos in prohibited species lists to aid identification (e.g., USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database) as well as all known applicable common names. 

  • Summarize regulatory language to make key information easy to understand. Provide links to the full text of applicable regulations or statues. A template is provided here.

  • For species that have been identified in statute or regulation as prohibited/regulated invasive species, align reference terms in public information to ‘prohibited’, ‘regulated’, ‘authorized’, and ‘unregulated’ to create consistency across state, provincial and federal use (see graphic to the right).

  • Provide easy to find guidance information based on scenarios that may be searched for or situations of concern, such as “What do I do with unwanted species (i.e., contaminants) in products?”, “Is this species regulated or an AIS?”, “What regulations or requirements are needed to sell aquatic plants or animals?”, and “What should I do with unwanted aquarium life?” 

  • Guide people to easily find state or provincial requirements for businesses selling live aquatic plants and animals on associated agency websites. This may include providing links to guide to affiliated agency websites. 

  • Adopting registration or licensing for all business types could help to create agency awareness of what businesses are operating in your state or province and will allow for communication between your agency and businesses on laws/regulations and best practices. 

  • Provide easy to find agency AIS contact information for questions.

Regulatory Species Classifications.png
Connecting sellers

(a) IPBES. 2023. Summary for Policymakers of the Thematic Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Roy, H. E., Pauchard, A., Stoett, P., Renard Truong, T., Bacher, S., Galil, B. S., Hulme, P. E., Ikeda, T., Sankaran, K. V., McGeoch, M. A., Meyerson, L. A., Nuñez, M. A., Ordonez, A., Rahlao, S. J., Schwindt, E., Seebens, H., Sheppard, A. W., and Vandvik, V. (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

(b) Duenas, M-A., D.J. Hemming, A. Roberts, and H. Diaz-Soltero. 2021. The threat of invasive species IUCN-listed critically endangered species: A systematic review. Global Ecology and Conservation 26: e01476.

(c) Bloomberg Intelligence Pet Economy Report (2023)
(d) Hill, J.E., and R.P.E. Yanong. 2023. Freshwater Ornamental Fish Commonly Cultured in Florida. IFAS Extension Report. Circular 54. 5pp.
(e) Baker, B., and B. Walker. 2023. Pre-treatment plan for Williams Lake, Stevens County Washington. 9pp.

Other Key Projects Addressing AIS in Commerce that you might have an interest in:

Healthy Amphibian Trade Project

Home | HealthyAmphibTrade (

Virginia Tech Invasive Species Working Group

Research | invasivespecies.fralinlifesci | Virginia Tech (

Great Lakes Detector of Invasive Aquatics in Trade (GLDIATR)

About GLDIATR - Great Lakes Commission (

Wildlife Detection Partnership

WDP home | Wildlife Detection

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