Salamanders are one of the most at-risk groups of animals in the world! Around half of all known species are in serious decline. Many are threatened with extinction.
Individuals who spend a lot of time enjoying the great outdoors often understand the value of healthy eco-systems and habitats. One such group of people are Anglers/Fishermen. However, these people may also be (possibly without knowing) contributing to the harm of salamanders – which are an integral part of their ecological communities.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is the global authority on the status of the natural world and species, reports that the Western Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium), Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), Black Belly Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus),and Shovelnose Salamander (Desmognathus marmoratus) are all used as fishing bait.
Various other species from the genus Desmognathus are also used. According to the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science (2009), Desmognathus are preferred; however, species of Eurycea and Gyrinophilus are also collected for bait. Some species of these genera existing in or near the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province of East Tennessee are of interest to conservation groups.
Desmognathus aeneus (seepage salamander) and Eurycea junaluska (Junaluska salamander) are listed as species “in need of management” by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (2002) and the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program (2001). Desmognathus quadramaculatus (black-bellied salamander) is “watch-listed” by the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program (2001).
Salamander population declines have been documented. Redmond (1980) reported on the decline of local populations of Desmognathus welteri (Black Mountain dusky salamander) in Tennessee.
Authors John E. Copeland, George L. Mears, and Ronald S Caldwell (Tennessee Academy of Science, 2009), reported that one store in Carter County, sold live salamanders during the spring months of 2002; personnel at this business reported that salamanders sold quickly, and they were able to sell all they could obtain (several hundred individuals).
This emphasizes the high rate of over-collection, that one store in all of North America, collected several hundred salamanders alone! The total amount collected throughout Canada and the U.S could indeed be staggering!
Collins and Picco (2012) found that up to 73% of fishers used tiger salamanders as bait. According to the article Anglers Inadvertently Spreading Deadly Fungus (2012), in 1968 alone over 2.5 million tiger salamander larvae were sold as bait in the lower Colorado River area. That is over 2 million salamanders in one year from just one small location!
Over a 5 year period, I talked to many individuals across Ontario, Canada during outreach education events, who expressed that they had used salamanders as bait. These were collected by the individuals themselves.
Given that salamanders are already threatened by habitat loss, pollution, disease, and roadkills, the additional loss of animals due to the bait trade is extremely concerning.
The serious amphibian diseases ranaviruses and chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis – Bd) are also being spread throughout populations and to previously healthy animals via the fishing bait trade. When infected animals are captured from the wild for this trade, and then shipped and sold in other locations they bring the diseases with them. A study conducted by James Collins, assistant director for biological sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Angela Picco of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Sacramento, found that up to 67% of anglers released tiger salamanders bought as bait into fishing waters, and 4% of bait shops put salamanders back in the wild after they were housed with infected animals.
Their research also found that from March – October of 2005, 85% of Arizona bait shops sampled sold at least one ranavirus-infected tiger salamander. This is a staggering number of infected animals being introduced through this trade in just one State! In 2006, ranaviruses were detected in the tiger salamander bait trade between May and October in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.
Due to the negative consequences that the bait trade can have on salamanders, anglers/fishermen are encouraged not to support it, and instead use other forms of bait. Individuals can further help by sharing this information with their peers. Often conservation issues are difficult to solve, but anglers and fishermen are in a very empowered position to help contribute to the betterment of salamanders. By doing this, they are also helping to keep the great outdoors healthy and intact for everyone to enjoy!