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Industry Toolkit

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) represent a global problem impacting native fish and wildlife, including listed species and critical habitats, and leading to millions of dollars in control and response needs. Aquatic invasive species can be spread and introduced in many ways, but their sale and movement in commerce represents a unique opportunity for industry to play an important role in reducing their spread.

Although ensuring consumers do not release unwanted aquatic plants or pets into local habitats is an important goal for invasive species prevention, there are additional actions industry and management agencies can do to prevent AIS from entering the marketplace at each stage of the supply chain, from growing, to distribution, to selling.

The AIS in Commerce Toolkit for Industry connects producers and retailers with practical information and resources to improve knowledge of aquatic invasive species, while providing key resources to remain compliant and responsible.

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
Become a knowledgeable and responsible business relative to invasive species.

Explore ways that your business can incorporate invasive species knowledge into business practices.

Avoid prohibited, injurious, invasive, and problem-prone species to protect the future of the aquatic plant and animal trade.

Be responsible and knowledgeable 

Familiarize yourself with state and provincial regulated and invasive species.
Review synthesized information for federal compliance on regulated species - A Lacey Act Primer.

Review a case study of the consequences of selling and shipping injurious invasive species.


Review a case study of the key components of a successful rehoming business.
Case Stdy


The sale and movement of live aquatic plants and animals in commerce can create opportunities for aquatic invasive species to be introduced or spread to new areas. Being a responsible and knowledgeable retail business can help keep aquatic invasive species out of commerce, keep them out of natural areas, and help foster a healthy plant and animal trade.

What are aquatic invasive species? Aquatic invasive species are plants and animals that can cause economic and ecological harm when introduced to new habitats.  Some plants and animals that are available for purchase can become invasive species when released into the wild.  Others may be hitchhiking in packaging or with other species.

What does being a responsible and knowledgeable business on invasive species mean? 

The sale of live aquatic plants and animals requires considerable knowledge of proper species care, understanding of rules and regulations, and humane and sanitary business operations. There are ways to ensure your business is complying with state or provincial requirements on invasive species. 

  • Recommendations

    • Select species that are not known invasive species and know what species are regulated in your state or province (a place to start is here).

    • Carefully inspect your incoming orders for any hitchhiking plants or animals, and ensure the species in your order match the label.

    • Establish and follow protocols for properly disposing of hitchhiking plants or animals that may have arrived with your order. If you do not have established protocols for dealing with hitchhikers in your order, follow these guidelines created by the Pet Advocacy Network.

    • Properly label your plants or animals for sale with the correct scientific name and common name. 

    • Create opportunities for smart purchases that create smart customers. 

      • Provide complete care information sheets for species or species families that you sell, including longevity and size to help customers understand their commitment.

      • Train staff to pair the appropriate species with the customer needs.

      • Offer species for sale that are proven for ease of care to minimize issues for the customer. 


Finding information about what species are regulated and where, what agency regulates those species, and who can be contacted when issues arise.  Natural resource agencies take responsibility for determining what species shall be regulated within their jurisdiction.  Aquatic invasive species can be assigned this status by a jurisdiction. Invasive species should be avoided and never offered for sale.  Some invasive species may have the additional status of being regulated or otherwise restricted and will be found in legislative code.  


Who regulates species?

The agencies that manage invasive species can be state, provincial, tribal or federal and may be departments of agriculture, fish and wildlife, and natural resources.


What species are regulated?
Each state and province maintain a list of regulated species and invasive species. Before you offer a species for sale or ship a species to a customer, check the individual destination state or province for legality. A starting place for regulated species list is here.


How do I find the right contact with my state or provincial agency?
Many states and provinces have an invasive species coordinator or invasive species council. You may wish to contact them initially to determine the best agency to address your issues in your state or province. 


How can I get help with hitchhikers in my order?
If you need help addressing something that may have arrived in your order that is an invasive species contaminant, hitchhiker or otherwise unintended addition to your order:  

  • Alert your supplier or grower. Products may be able to be returned to the supplier. 

  • Check with local state or provincial agency manager if you need help with identification or to determine if the hitchhiker is a regulated or invasive species.

  • Need an information tool for your staff on how to deal with hitchhikers - download color poster in the column to the right.


Some aquatic plants and animals can cause problems when released into a natural area.  If you deal in live aquatic plants or animals, your business can help keep invasive species out of the wild by keeping them out of commerce. By selecting appropriate species, and avoiding problem-prone species, your business can play an important role in preventing the introduction of invasive species. When problem-prone species go home to customers who have no solutions for rehoming, then species can end up being released into the wild. Species that are particularly problematic are regulated by federal, state and tribal governments. Regularly consult regulated invasive species lists to avoid these problem species. 

Avoid Prohibited and Injurious Species

Regulated species are those that are designated by the federal, state or tribal governments.  These can be identified by different labels such as regulated, prohibited, and controlled.  Regulated species can be found in the regulations for each jurisdiction.

  • Federally regulated animal species in the US are classified as Injurious Wildlife and regulated under the Lacey Act. Federal regulated plant species are classified as Noxious Weeds and regulated by USDA APHIS.

  • Federally regulated species in Canada are identified under the Fisheries Act

  • State, Province, and Tribal regulated species are identified in individual regulations and species will vary across jurisdictions and region. 

Avoid Invasive Species

Invasive species can be animals, plants and microbes. Invasive species are non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and, whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Most states, tribes and provinces maintain lists of species that are determined to be invasive and should be avoided.   ​

  • States, provinces or Tribes have identified specific invasive species of concern by their respective jurisdictions and lists may be displayed on state and tribal natural resource agency websites. 

Avoid Problem-Prone Species

Problem-prone species are ones that you as a retailer or producer can make observations based on multiple factors on the survivability of specific species and the issues they may present to consumers.  The following are characteristics that suggest problem-prone: 

  • Species that are difficult for beginners to provide care

  • Frequent consumer requests to return or rehome species at retail locations

  • Species housing and care is time-consuming or otherwise challenging for majority of consumers

  • Species is pending being listed as an invasive species or regulated species either nationally or regionally

  • Species that cannot be labeled as disease free

  • Species that are long-lived or grow to large sizes

Problem Species


The production and cultivation of live aquatic plants and animals can create opportunities for aquatic invasive species to be introduced to new locations through their sale and movement. Species not intended for sale may end up in containers or shipments destined for retail sale. These unintended species are often called hitchhikers, or contaminants, and can include invasive species. Some contaminant species are very small, or can easily attach and be inadvertently included with shipments. Some common contaminants are also regulated invasive species in various destination states.

There are different scenarios that allow unintended species to become contaminants: 

  • The production of species in outdoor open-system operations allow unintended species to enter the system. 

  • The collection of species from the wild creates opportunity for species to attach, embed, or otherwise be moved with the harvested species.

How to Minimize Contaminants in Live Aquatic Products
Regardless of how large or small the operation, a process to manage contaminants is critical. Production or cultivation operations should be actively preventing the transfer of all unintended and often regulated species, such as small crayfish, tadpoles, and molluscs. 


To minimize and avoid contaminants in production and cultivation, develop a Standard Operating Procedure. Guidelines and examples can help provide basic information to help you create a procedure that fits your specific operation.  

  • Aquaculture Examples

  • Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Preventing Hitchhiking Nonindigenous Species in Live Shipments (2009) document

  • Pet Advocacy Network’s Best Management Practices for Freshwater and Marine Ornamental Wholesaler and Distributor Operations (2016) document

  • Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Aquaculture Best Management Practices Manual (2022)

Key Next Steps for Addressing Contaminants in Live Aquatic Products

  • Identify ways that unintended species may be entering the facility and take measures to intercept those pathways. 

  • Once an operational procedure is in place, all staff should be trained to implement the procedure. 

  • Create seasonal reminders when grow operations need greater scrutiny to avoid contaminants in shipments. 

  • Take special precaution on items that are packed from outdoor production ponds. 

  • Incoming wild collected species should be carefully examined for contaminants and removed and disposed of properly. 


State, Provincal and Tribal law may prohibit the importation, possession, and sale of certain species. In addition, federal laws, such as the Lacey Act:

  • Prohibits the import of injurious wildlife into the United States (Title 18).

  • Contains a number of provisions to combat trafficking in illegally taken wildlife and plants (Title 16). These laws are administered by two federal agencies: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).


Title 18 of the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42) authorizes the U.S. Department of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to classify animals as injurious wildlife and prohibit their importation into the United States and some transportation within the United States, except by permit. The U.S. Congress may also designate species as injurious wildlife.

Injurious wildlife are wildlife that are injurious to the interests of humans (including human health), agriculture, horticulture, forestry, wildlife, or wildlife resources of the United States. Only wild mammals, wild birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, crustaceans, mollusks and their offspring may be listed as injurious wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers a variety of factors when evaluating a species for listing, such as the species’ impacts on habitats and ecosystems, and resource managers’ ability to control and eradicate the species. Currently, there are more than 750 species listed as injurious in the United States. 

Importing a listed injurious species into the United States without a permit (permit application form) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is prohibited. Become familiar with the injurious species list, and do not order or purchase these species from foreign suppliers. Knowingly importing into the United States or possessing an injurious wildlife species without a permit can result in a penalty of fines or prison. Labeling of species for sale must include the common and scientific name. Title 18 also requires that all containers used to ship wildlife be properly marked; false labeling is prohibited. The Secretary of Interior ensures the humane treatment of wildlife shipped to the United States.

Title 16 of the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. 42) seeks to combat wildlife trafficking by prohibiting the importation, exportation, transportation, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States; any Indian tribal law; any law or regulation of any state; or any foreign law. Similar restrictions apply to plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of a state or foreign law that protects plants or regulates the theft or taking of plants from designated areas. In simpler words, the Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. 


Once a species is imported into the United States, it is the responsibility of each individual state and Tribal government to regulate the transport, use, or possession that species within their jurisdiction. State and Tribal laws vary regarding what species are allowed and what approvals are needed to import, transport, or sell live aquatic animals and plants.


It is the responsibility of the transporter or trader of species to know what species are regulated in the respective state(s) where the transactions occur. All states maintain lists of species that are regulated. States also maintain lists of aquatic invasive species which should also be avoided. State-based information can be found on individual state websites as well as these resources: 


In Canada, there are similar restrictions on imports and commerce on aquatic invasive species. 
To learn more, explore these resources: Plant importations | Live animal importations | Importing Aquatic Pet Animals | Aquatic Animal Biosecurity

Minimize Contaminants


A live aquatic pet or plant that goes home with a consumer eventually may need to find a new home. There are numerous reasons why a person may not be able to keep their live aquatic pet or plant, such as moving to a different state or county, housing changes, local ordinances that do not allow certain species to be possessed, inability to cover the cost of care, or inability to properly care for species or other personal reasons. When people do not have rehoming options, unwanted live pets or plants can be released into the wild, potentially becoming invasive species. Rehoming is a last chance to keep unwanted plants and animals out of the environment.

The idea of rehoming can take many forms. Retail pet stores are a common place for people to seek help with rehoming.  There are other rehoming efforts across North America, such as natural resource agencies hosting amnesty days, hobbyist swap events, and informal online forums. Retail pet stores, animal shelters, and other rescue operations are an important source of accurate information and guidance to help people rehome, and in some cases accept, unwanted live pets or plants.

Highlight on a Rehome Operation


In 2016, John Moyles started an online rescue network for the Green Bay Aquarium Society to provide people with options for unwanted pets other than releasing them into the wild. In 2020, John took the network to the next level by starting J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue and operating a small animal shelter out of his home. In 2022, J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue opened a storefront of 2,400 square feet to accept unwanted exotic pets seven days a week (domestic animals and rabbits are not accepted).   

J&R uses two models to accept unwanted aquatic animals: a business-style location open all year and various one-day surrender events hosted across the state. Surrender events include a partnership with animal rescues and other environmental groups to encourage participation and spread the word about options for rehoming. 

  • Events: 18 events and nearly 500 animals were surrendered at community events and then rehomed in 2023.

  • On-site: Nearly 2,000 animals were surrendered at J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue in 2023.


All adopted animals are appropriately paired with a previously vetted adoptee. J&R ensures that surrendered aquatic animals are adopted by a person capable of caring for the animal. All adoptees must fill out a form to be eligible, and J&R confirms that the adoptee is legally allowed to take the species where they live. Support for this rehoming operation comes from financial requests to aquatic animal breeders, manufacturers, and others in the aquatic animal industry.  

Incorporating Rehoming Knowledge into Retail Operations 

  • As a retailer, select species that do not generally come back to your store for rehoming.

  • Ensure staff are well informed about species life history needs, and encourage pairing of species with consumers capable of adequately caring for the animal long-term. 

  • Retail-based rehoming efforts may require a collaborative approach with natural resource agencies, local organizations, and humane societies to be successful.

  • Determine a species-specific rehome policy. If a retail store cannot rehome aquatic animals or plants, be prepared to guide those in need to resources like local or regional rescues, animal shelters, or other pet stores that can assist with rehoming. 

Case Study: Consequences of Selling and Shipping Injurious Invasive Species

Businesses or individuals that sell online and ship live plants and animals should be aware of the federal and state rules that can apply depending on the species that are being sold and the location of the receiving shipment.  Knowingly selling an injurious, prohibited, or invasive species and shipping those species across state lines can result in a violation of the federal Lacey Act.  Key things to consider when selling and shipping live aquatic plants and animals:

  • Species – deal in legal species
    If you are selling live aquatic plants or animals, some species should be avoided and never offered for sale.  Species that are federally listed as injurious wildlife, and species that are identified by a state or Tribe as prohibited or an invasive species are ones that should be avoided.  

  • Shipping or transporting – species must be legal in receiving location
    The US Postal Service has guidelines to make sure orders are packaged to ensure that the contents are treated humanely, and contents will arrive alive. However, it is also critical to recognize that the receiving state of your shipment may not allow specific species.  Being knowledgeable about what species are legal in a receiving state will require researching the regulated species list of each state.  

  • The Lacey Act – knowingly selling and transporting illegal wildlife species
    The Lacey Act is one of the oldest conservation laws in the United States. The Lacey Act encompasses two separate laws which serve different purposes. First, Title 18 of the Lacey Act prohibits the import of injurious wildlife into the United States. Second, Title 16 of the Lacey Act contains several provisions to combat trafficking in illegally taken wildlife and plants. See the Lacey Act Primer for more details.

  • Permits – business operations must comply with rules and requirements
    Many states have a registration or license that is required to sell live plants or animals. Regardless of the size of your business or if your business is online only, check with your local authorities on your local requirements.


Highlight of Non-Compliance

An Ohio woman was selling marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) online and shipping orders to over 36 different states.  The Ohio Division of Wildlife added the marbled crayfish to their injurious aquatic invasive species list in January 2020. This designation means that marbled crayfish are illegal to possess or sell in Ohio.  Elsewhere in the US, marbled crayfish are also not legal to possess. At least 24 states restrict the possession or sale of crayfish or marbled crayfish.

Marbled crayfish: The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) is a popular crayfish in the aquarium and pet trade. Some estimates suggest marbled crayfish may account for about one-half of all crayfish sold online. Marbled crayfish were developed by the pet trade and was first discovered in Germany in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, marbled crayfish could be found in North American markets. Marbled crayfish is the only known decapod crustacean to reproduce through parthenogenesis (i.e., self-cloning), and all specimens are female as a result. Their ability to reproduce by self-cloning at high rates presents a significant ecological risk if released into the environment.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife conducts inspections of both brick and mortar and online businesses dealing in live aquatic plants and animals.  The Ohio marbled crayfish seller was inspected by Ohio DNR Wildlife Enforcement and was warned repeatedly to cease offering for sale.  The Ohio seller continued to offer the crayfish for sale aware of their injurious status and continued shipping crayfish to multiple states. The seller knowingly sold and participated in interstate commerce which is in violation of Ohio law and the Lacey Act.  The Ohio seller eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act for selling marbled crayfish in interstate commerce and faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and up to $100,000 fine.

Key Take-Aways: Know what species are considered injurious, invasive or otherwise prohibited. Check all receiving location rules and regulations.

Lacey Act
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