(Fwd) Namalycastis bait worm in the news

Geoff Read g.read at niwa.co.nz
Tue Jul 30 16:21:55 EST 2002

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You have been sent this message from g.read at niwa.cri.nz as a courtesy of 
the Washington Post - http://www.washingtonpost.com  

 To view the entire article, go to

 Gone Fission: The 'nuclear' Worm

 By Ken Ringle

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into that snakehead fishpond 
behind the s******g center in Crofton, now comes word of a new threat 
slithering  into our environment.    

It's big (five to seven feet long), it's bad (it can carry cholera), it's hot pink 
(nearly fluorescent), and it's coming soon to a bait shop near you. It's the 
nuclear Worm (genus Namalycastis), Vietnam's biological revenge for all 
that napalm and Agent Orange 30 years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service is on the case.    

Shipped in via San Francisco, where it's probably just another lifestyle, the 
nuclear worm has been welcomed into Chesapeake Bay bait buckets like a 
bloodworm wired on V****a. Born among the tropical roots of Vietnamese 
coconut palms, it needs no refrigeration and can live for days in icky 
contentment on the dashboard of your overheated car.    

Rockfish suck it up like sushi. Is this something you're likely to step on
barefoot one night when you're taking out the garbage?  

"There are a lot of unanswered questions about these worms that cause us 
concern," says Mike Slattery of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Chesapeake 
Bay field office in Annapolis. "We caution fishermen not to dump them live 
into the bay or its tributaries. But they're native to the tropics and it appears 
unlikely they could colonize this area."   

That's for sure, says Mike Baldea, owner of Mike's Wholesale Bait in 
Gambrills, the Wal-Mart of nuclear worms locally. "They can't survive below 
68 degrees," he said. "I shipped in a bunch of them one spring a couple of 
years ago. It was an expensive lesson."    

Baldea caught the nuclear worm bug six years ago when an importer passed 
along some samples in an effort to provide local fishermen with more bait for 
the buck. One worm sliced into fish-bite-size pieces can power 40 or more 
fishhooks. Since then, he has presided over a nuclear explosion: 25,000 
dollars worth of b******s in the big guys last year, including w********g them 
to 20 other bait shops in Maryland. That's about 5,000 55-gram containers' 
worth. But sometimes that 55 grams contains just a single worm: seven feet 
long and as big around as your little finger.    

The problem with nuclear worms, says Slattery, is not the worms 
themselves but the bacterial baggage they bring with them. Early imports 
were packed in material found to contain the pathogen that causes cholera, 
though no cases resulted.    

Since then, he says, stricter controls and different packing material appears 
to have eliminated that particular problem. But tests conducted this spring by 
the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Anne Arundel County  
found that the worms and their packing material contained three species of 
the bacterium vibrio. One of them attacks oysters and can cause serious 
illness in people, according to the Baltimore Sun, which has been monitoring 
nuclear worm regulating agencies.    

Does this mean nuclear diswormament?  

"We're not sure how much of a problem that is," Slattery says of the 
bacteria. "We need to get all the science in place to find out."   

Baldea, whom Slattery praises for cooperating with every aspect of the 
nuclear worm investigation, says his Vietnamese import is getting a bad rap. 
Biological tests have shown that  vibrio bacteria  are also present in the 
bloodworms  fishermen have baited their hooks with for decades, both on the 
Chesapeake and elsewhere, he says.    

"We've never had any problems from that," he says, "and nobody worries 
about it or even points it out. Everybody just picks on the nuke worm."  

But Slattery says a mounting ecological concern over invasive species of 
plants and animals has caused new attention to the growing business of 
imported live bait and its possible environmental fallout. Who knows what 
doomsday scenario might be triggered by the brassy minnow (Hybognathus 
hankinson), the white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) or the hornyhead 
chub (Nocomis bigguttatus)? You can dial up more than 50 Internet sources 
for living things that wriggle, creep and crawl. They can be in your mailbox 
tomorrow via FedEx.   

According to a 2001 report from Slattery's office, live-worm imports alone 
were a 70 million dollar b******s in the United States from 1998 to 2000, 
though more than 90 percent of that consisted of night crawlers from 
Canada. nuclear worms are a relative drop in the bucket, he says, and 
nobody really knows much about them.   

Where did they get their name? Baldea's bait shop, Slattery says: "That was 
a bit of m******g genius from Mike."   

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