Despite well established rules about transporting invasive hitchhikers, each month more lakes and rivers are added to the list of infested water bodies. An invasive algae known as didymo (Didymosphenia geminate) has made its way into the Connecticut River in Vermont and New Hampshire, and its creeping south. Water Chestnut is spreading across East Coast waterways. Red Swamp Crawfish have been found in Southern Wisconsin.
Aquatic Invasive species (AIS), diseases, plants and even insects are creating problems across Minnesota. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about another new problem. Zebra Mussels, Spiny Water Fleas, Eurasian Milfoil, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), Grass Carp, Silver, Black and Bighead Carp, Rusty Crawfish, Round Goby, Ruffe, Sea lamprey all have our attention.
Questions from lake shore associations, anglers and natural resources agencies are: Who’s to blame? How are the problems being spread? What can we do
Who’s to blame? Fishing contests are amongst the usual suspects, next are those unfamiliar trucks and boat trailers at the public access ramps.Fishing tournaments and Special Water events are easy to target, they are all required to obtain a County Sheriff’s water permit (Minnesota Statute 86B.121 and the larger events have DNR permits (Minnesota rules 6212:2400-2800; Minnesota Statutes 97C.081, 86B.121). And while these folks are likely to have been on many different lakes over the season, they are also likely the best informed and self-regulated anglers. Yet since they are easier to scrutinize then boaters or fishermen from resorts or out-state or just regular boaters and anglers, they often operate under a microscope. These are the groups that need to join into coalitions with lakeshore and other conservation efforts facing the challenges of combating the spread of AIS.
Recreational anglers and boaters aren’t much better at the blame game, they point to waterfowl or docks and floating rafts. Everyone has an idea of who to blame. Maybe it’s those big Yachts that are moored for long periods or maybe it’s the DNR nets that move from lake to lake.And what about the tiny DNR budget for AIS, are there sufficient staff and resources to enforce the existing laws? Does their budget even come close to equaling what we spend yearly on latte’s or double mocha’s?
The conversation needs to move beyond the blame game. LakeAssociations need to join forces with organized angling and boating groups. Targeting fishing tournaments, water ski or other water events increases division, these groups can showcase responsible behavior.Anglers and boaters need to make sure they are part of the solution, not the problem.
Minnesotans’ need to outgrow their polite, shy, keep things at an arms distance nature. When at a boat ramp and they see a boat or trailer packing a bale of weeds, we need to offer a friendly hand to clean it off. We will need to develop more patience at the ramp to give folks the time they need. If we want our Kids to become good caretakers of our natural resources they need to learn it; from seeing parents practice responsible behavior.
When I’m up on Leech or Gull or the Whitefish Chain fishing a Bass tournament, I might be on the water daily three or four days before the event. On these days as I load up it is easy to give in to “Why bother crawling under the boat - since I’ll be back on the same water, same lake, same spots tomorrow morning” but it needs to become part of my routine.
Other outdoors groups have learned how to solve problems. The snowmobile groups have a trail monitor program and have figured out ways to funnel dollars in to CountySheriff’s departments for increased surveillance and contact. Maybe we can add a new category to our Turn in Poachers (TIP) program, and have a method to report violators?How about a Statewide Volunteer AIS Inspector training program and having them at the boat ramps at peak times?
Fact is, that AIS's are here, they will move to more lakes and streams and if we can combine efforts to try to contain it; we might make a difference.
Vern Wagner, Vice President, Anglers For Habitat. Tournament Director, Bassmasters Weekend Series