WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A new study quantifies the economics of the bait worm industry, as well as its environmental impact.
Globally, the bait worm industry accounts for $6 billion worth of business activity each year. Surprisingly, the price of bait worms is greater than many premium seafood products.
A pound of bait worms goes for roughly $82 in the U.S. -- more than lobster. Each year, roughly 120,000 metric tons, or 264 million pounds, of bait worms are unearthed and sold.
Extracting significant quantities of bait worms can be profitable for harvesters, but the process is costly for local ecosystems. Harvesting bait worms requires the displacement of coastal sediments, disrupting vulnerable habitats and robbing shorebirds of sustenance.
In the new study -- published in the journal Fish and Fisheries -- researchers warn more work needs to be done to assess the health of bait fisheries.
"This is the first assessment of its kind in the world, highlighting the extraordinary value of worms and the huge amounts removed at local, national and global scales," lead study author Gordon Watson said in a news release. "We hope that it provokes people to take action to fully assess these fisheries and ensure they are managed effectively for the future."