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The United States and Canada have a goal to reduce the risk of harmful plant and animal introductions to North America because of the economic, environmental, and social impacts caused by non-native species that become established and invasive. Species, such as rusty crayfish, zebra mussels, Northern Snakehead, and hydrilla displace native plants and animals, permanently altering native habitats, and negatively affecting biodiversity. Whereas both countries seek to minimize harmful introductions of aquatic invasive species, both  also support expansion of responsible trade practices that improve the flow of goods and services across the globe.


Global commerce growth is forecast at 12.2% in 2022. The e-commerce share of retail sales has been steadily growing during the past decade, and is forecast to be 23.6% of all sales by 2025. There is increasing concern that the e-commerce sector will grow at a rate that exceeds the ability of regulatory agencies to address associated risks of introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. There is also concern that lack of incentives, lack of information and education about risks associated with certain species, inadequate labeling and reporting, shipping loopholes, and other factors could significantly accelerate the risk of aquatic invasive species introductions and spread throughout North America. 

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Some Key Challenges


  • Labeling

    • Live plants and animals are commonly mislabeled, or individual plants and animals within a larger shipment may not be individually labeled.

    • Informal auctions result in the sale of "mixed lot" species, in which the taxonomic identification of each species is uncertain.

    • Accurate records of species bought and sold are not kept, or housed in one convenient location.

  • Knowledge and Information

    • Many buyers of aquatic plants and animals do not understand it is illegal to possess, or sell, some species.

    • People release live plants and animals to the wild, often not understanding the environmental consequences of their actions.

    • Lists of regulated aquatic invasive species are not easily accessible.

  • Online Marketplaces

    • The increase in e-commerce and informal online marketplaces results in the sale of species that are commonly not sold at local pet stores.

    • Minimum requirements to entry in online retail marketplaces contribute to trade in prohibited aquatic species.

    • Anonymity associated with online auctions incentivizes users to offer illegal or banned organisms.

  • Shipping

    • The long-distance dispersal of invasive species is enhanced with the use of established mail services.

    • Some sellers and buyers circumnavigate regulations by trans-shipping, or shipping to a country where a species is not banned, then smuggling shipments into the prohibited country via ground transport.

    • Live organisms are shipped using direct mail service, which currently doesn't require declaration of package contents.

    • Unwanted species (e.g., contaminants) can hitchhike on plant and animal material.

  • Regulations and Incentives

    • There is no consistently applied approach to import and export of aquatic plants and animals.

    • There is limited pre-screening to determine the likelihood of a species becoming invasive.

    • Voluntary action relies on a high level of self-regulation by "chain actors," or those involved in the buying and selling of aquatic species.

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