Anglers aren’t responsible for introducing aquatic nuisance species to our waters, even though they are going to be the ones who pay the highest price in terms of cost, inconvenience, and diminished access.
Certainly some have spread mussels and plants inadvertently via their trailers and boats. Even a few have moved illegally moved plants in ill-advised attempts to improve fisheries.
But the aquarium and plant nursery industries brought milfoil, water hyacinth, and other troublesome aquatic plants to our waters, while commercial ships introduced mussels in their ballast water, via the Great Lakes.
Still, fishermen, especially B.A.S.S. members, are showing that they can be the adults in the room for this battle.
“As anglers, we know about invasive species; others are not as educated,” says Ken Snow, conservation director for the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation. “That’s why our members spend days at the ramps to help educate.”
New Mexico’s Earl Conway adds, “We have several members that volunteer to do boat inspections, and we are very close to being able to do our own inspections at club and state level tournaments. The state officers know that bass boats are clean and that we are educated and cooperating with them.”
In West Virginia, Jerod Harman has been training anglers to clean livewells and boats for two years. “We do this training at meetings and on our website,” he explains.
He’s also working with the state to create segments about aquatic nuisance species for the television program “West Virginia Outdoors.”
In Oregon, Lonnie Johnson has recommended that clubs hold their own inspections during tournaments, while Washington’s Mark Byrne says, “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”
Anglers, he adds, are not complaining about doing what they can to help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species.
What can they do. What can you do?
“Clean, drain, dry.”
If you’re a bass angler, this phrase should become as familiar to you as “catch and release.”
It’s included in the new voluntary guidelines being developed for recreational activity by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF), an intergovernmental organization chaired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The ANSTF also has recommendations for motor boaters (nonanglers), non-motorized boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers, and seaplane operators.
The hope is that this advice will help prevent the spread of problematic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, Asian carp, golden alga, and didymo (also called “rock snot”).
Of course, many states , counties, and municipalities aren’t content with voluntary guidelines. Economies, water supplies, and recreational activities all could be devastated by these invaders. As a consequence, inspections, sticker programs, and other strategies designed to minimize risk are being initiated, with collateral damage taking shape as increased fees and more limited access.
For example, Colorado has implemented a mandatory boat inspections program, with funding provided by a hike in registration fees. In California, registration cost could go up as much as $10 in 2014 to finance a mussel monitoring, inspection, and eradication program. Concern is understandable, as Lake Tahoe could sustain economic losses of as much as $20 million annually if mussels are introduced, according to officials.
Attentions these days mostly are focused on the West, Great Plains, and Upper Midwest. Mussels and Asian carp are expanding north, threatening inland waters, while the shellfish have crossed the Continental Divide. But even southern waters are at risk, as evidenced by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission making “permanent” last fall an emergency order for some of the state’s waters, after zebra mussels were found in Lake Ray Roberts. The order requires boaters leaving any of the listed waters to drain their boats completely.
“We see tougher inspection programs coming up more and more,” cautions Susan Shingledecker, director of environmental programs for the BoatUS Foundation.
She helped develop the ANSTF’s new proposed guidelines, and urges anglers and boaters to follow them, showing that “we are doing all we can.”
Concurrently, she hopes that states will bring consistency to their programs to reduce confusion and anxiety among anglers and other boaters. “State by state would be preferred to lake by lake,” she adds.
Here are the angler recommendations in more detail:
Inspect and clean off plants, animals, and mud from gear and equipment including waders, footwear, ropes, anchors, bait traps, dip nets, downrigger cables, fishing lines, and field gear before leaving water access. Scrub any visible material on footwear with a stiff brush.
Drain water from boat, motor, bilge, bladder tanks, livewell, and portable bait containers away from ramp.
Dry everything at least five days, unless otherwise required by local or state laws, when moving between waters to kill small species not easily seen OR wipe with a towel before reuse.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)