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Legislative Briefing


The Issue

Non-native, invasive species are a global problem, causing harmful ecosystem and economic impacts, with annual costs in the United States  estimated to be $219 billion. The movement and introduction of aquatic invasive species are often linked to recreational activities, such as boating. However, the sale of live aquatic plants and animals also represents a significant pathway for new invasive species introduction. Global economies and online commerce have increased the number of species that are available for purchase as well as the ways in which species can be sourced, purchased, and moved.   

The sale of live aquatic plants and animals can be an opportunity for invasive species to spread. Unwanted aquarium life and water garden plants are sometimes released into natural waterbodies. Although regulatory actions, inspections, and monitoring of online transactions help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, enforcement capacity is limited.

Aquatic invasive species continue to be introduced and spread via commerce through contamination, accidental violations, and intentional illegal violations.

  • Contaminants - unintended live invasive species detected in shipments of legal live plants or animals.

  • Accidental violations - businesses operate without adhering to requirements to prevent introductions or spread by either offering species for sale that are regulated, or by shipping live aquatic plants or animals to a state where the species are not legal.

  • Intentional illegal violations - a business knowingly avoids compliance with laws or regulations; a consumer releases aquatic life.

A Complex Management Landscape

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. 

Stack of Files

Bridging the Gap

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. 


Learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species in Commerce.

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