By COLLEEN OTTE
Capital News Service
LANSING — Alert anglers are to the Great Lakes what the military is to the United States: the last line of defense against invaders.
“Anglers are kind of the eyes and ears on the water for us,” said Seth Herbst, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division.
A recent study by researchers at Cornell University found that anglers in the Great Lakes region are aware of and concerned about the threat of aquatic invasive species.
Already such invaders have significantly altered the ecological makeup of the Great Lakes.
In the 1950s and 1980s, populations of alewife, a herring species, peaked in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. They multiplied rapidly because nothing ate them, while the population of lake trout that would have eaten them was down due to overfishing and the invasion of the parasitic sea lamprey.
And those pesky zebra mussels that hurt your feet when you wade into the water? Those are thought to have been introduced into the Great Lakes via the ballast water of ships travelling the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1988.
Also introduced by way of ballast water was the round goby, first discovered in the St. Clair River in 1990. The round goby consumes the eggs of native fish.
The study published in the “Journal of Great Lakes Research” assessed anglers’ knowledge of aquatic invasives and their concern about, familiarity and compliance with related regulations.
“Awareness of the advice and recommendations about what to do to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species was very high,” said Nancy Connelly, the study’s lead author and a Cornell Department of Natural Resources research scientist. “Most anglers knew something about aquatic invasive species and knew of the recommendations. They were, in most cases, taking some actions like inspecting their boats, removing aquatic plants and animals, those sorts of things.”
According to the study, three-quarters of anglers indicated they had heard of aquatic invasive species and knew something about them. Twenty-one percent indicated they’d heard of them but didn’t know much, and fewer than 5 percent had never heard of them.
Almost all (95 percent) anglers who were aware of invasive species thought they could hurt native fish and reduce how many they could catch, the study said. More than 90 percent were moderately or very concerned about invasive species.
While more than 80 percent of anglers said they knew the rules and recommendations to prevent the spread of invasives, just 45 percent indicated anything beyond basic awareness.
The study created a score based on the self-reported frequency of taking five actions to prevent the spread of invasives: inspecting fishing and boating equipment, removing plant or animal material, draining boats’ water-holding compartments, drying equipment and disinfecting or rinsing equipment with hot water.
Ten percent never did anything, and only 5 percent always took all the actions, the study found.
Anglers generally disregarded the more significant activities requiring time and money such as letting their boats dry when traveling between water bodies and disinfecting equipment, Connelly said.
“They were definitely taking steps, but maybe not enough,” she said. “So our primary recommendation was that further outreach efforts by the states don’t need to necessarily focus on convincing anglers that they need to do this – they were already concerned and aware – but trying to help them by providing boat washing stations and other things that would help them actually take the actions that are necessary.”
Tom Hamilton of Whitehall Township, a retired fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said anglers have the resources to prevent invasive species — it’s just a matter of whether all consistently use them.
“When it comes to invasives, there are a lot of us who are really trying to keep up with it,” he said. “Sometimes the invasives problem is bigger than we can handle, even though we know what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Near-100 percent compliance with recommendations may be needed at certain sites, the study suggested. Even a low probability of transporting live bait between water bodies could spread invasives species.
DNR’s Herbst said, “If you just have one fisherman with one or two Asian carp or any other invasive species in their bait bucket and they dump it, then it’s kind of a high unlikelihood that they would become established. But think about how many anglers we have in the state.
“Even a low risk at high frequency becomes a high risk. That’s an important thing that I talk to a lot of people about, Herbst said.
“We do have some bait that shows up from Southern states and Western states, and that’s where we would be concerned with the potential for juvenile Asian carp showing up in the bait trade,” Herbst said. “It’s unlikely, because we do have regulations in place.”
Juvenile Asian carp can be confused with common baitfish, he said. Anglers who find suspicious minnows in their live bait should take a picture and report it to the DNR, Herbst said. They should dispose of the fish in the trash rather than dump them overboard.
Colleen Otte writes for Great Lakes Echo.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS EDITORS
“The role of anglers in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes region,”: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0380133016300387.
By COLLEEN OTTE