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Doing our Part: Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention

  • Blog Post by: Vern Wagner
  • August 10, 2011 - 2:26 PM

All anglers and especially those of us who fish in Bass Clubs and Tournaments need to do their part in preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. This means more then just cleaning our boats and equipment. It might mean becoming a volunteer boat inspector. I’m suggesting that we all get the needed training and then contact the lake Associations and DNR to find volunteer opportunities. We need a behavior change at the boat ramp, and to do this we need anglers, not just DNR staff, Conservation officers or Lakeshore Association volunteers. We have over 3,500 fish-able lakes in Minnesota, with thousands of public and private accesses. Why Bass Clubbers and tournament folks- the 3 % of anglers in Minnesota? Isn’t it true that they are likely the best educated and self regulated? Maybe, but we are the folks who seem to get the most blame from the out-spoken and seemingly reactive lake shore owners?  To their point of view if someone is fishing on a lake infested with Zebra Mussels, then travels a week or month later to another lake, they need to be targeted. It’s understandable but hopefully misguided. Tournament anglers can be the leaders in showing best practices, but it’s up to them (us) to show up and be part of the solution.

 If your not part of the solution, you may be part of the problem

Sure AIS might be spread in a few other ways, then by boats and trailers. So what? Does this mean that we shouldn’t be trying to prevent what we can?

I hear it all the time, guys saying what about birds - can’t they also spread it? Or “Are they spraying down the ducks and geese too as they move between bodies of water?” Here’s another common comment “Are they going to scrub my boat down with soap as well? Perhaps wax it afterwards? ....and lift the boat off the bunks so those can get scrubbed too?? What a waste of time and money. Or that since we don’t know 100% about how travels it is pointless!

Then there are the anglers who really believe that Zebra Mussels are good for the lakes. The story goes like this “What they are not telling you is that the Zebra Mussel is also responsible for bringing the Lake Erie back from the brink”. True! The increased water clarity seems to have helped the Smallmouth Bass population increase, but as we all know, a shift in one fish population usually has an indirect effect on the whole ecosystem, rarely a positive one.

Here is what really happened: The destructive mollusk's larger, look-alike cousin, the Quagga, has finally pushed the zebra out. The zebra and the Quagga have been battling for turf in Lake Erie since the mid-1990s. Quagga won because they can live in deeper, colder water. The zebra mussel, named for its distinctive brown stripes, is a native of Europe. It first showed up in American waters in the mid-1990s and has since been blamed for everything from clogging water intake pipes of power plants to the destruction of freshwater unionid clams in the western basin of Lake Erie. The Quagga hails from Russia and showed up in Lake Erie in the mid-1990s. Although it is a bit bigger than the zebra, its impact on the lake is the same Quagga or Zebra, it really doesn't matter.

Fact is that zebra and quagga mussels impact food webs, which directly impact the fish you may be angling for. As they feed, zebra mussels deposit feces and regurgitated food (pseudofeces) on the bottom of a lake. These substances become food for bottom-dwelling worms, scuds, insect nymphs and larvae, making those invertebrate forms more abundant. Some fish may respond to this change by increasing their benthic (bottom) feeding or orienting to other prey that forages on the bottom. Also, as zebra mussels feed, they filter plant plankton from the water. This in turn makes the water clearer. Fish that are light-sensitive may seek deeper waters to find shelter from the penetrating rays of the sun.  As zebra mussels feed, they filter plant plankton from the water, making the water clearer. Fish that are light-sensitive may seek deeper waters to find shelter from the sun. As the sun penetrates deeper, aquatic plants can take root in more extensive areas than they did before zebra mussels moved into the area. Vegetation provides small fish with more places to hide and makes it more difficult for large predators to feed. This can result in stunted fish populations as well as pose significant problems for boaters.

Another idea is to let nature take care of the problem. (Rather then delay me at the ramp) Diving ducks and fish, such as sheepshead, common carp, redear sunfish and round gobies, do eat zebra mussels. Though they may reduce the number of zebra mussels in a limited area, none of these animals will eradicate zebra mussels from a lake. 

Anglers, people who trailer boats and other water equipment are seen as the problem, yet the greater threat may be the movement of watercraft that has been sitting in infested waters for long periods of time, and have live adult Zebra clusters. But we shouldn’t rule out daily users, vegetation or mud stuck to a trailer can contain ZB’s.  Water in livewells and bait buckets could contain young Zebra Mussels that are small and free swimming. 

To help with fishing contests and tournaments a special set of Best Practices has been developed, sort of a menu of measures that could be utilized. These can be found on the MN DNR website at http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/recreation/fishing/tournaments/tourney-ais-bmp.pdf

While we likely will learn more about how AIS is spread and could be better controlled, we need to focus on current best practices. What is at stake; is our lakes, rivers, fish populations and quality fishing.

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