This article was featured in the 2023 Winter Newsletter by Kiernan LaFaver-SLELO/TILT 2022 Watercraft Inspection Steward.
With an estimated 187 aquatic and terrestrial invasive species identified within the Great Lakes region, it is inevitable to come upon at least one during outdoor recreation activities due to their commonality in the landscape. From the widely distributed and naturalized common buckthorn to the notorious and menacing Spotted Lanternfly invasive species are found throughout the region. Of these invasive species, a great number are rampant within our waters.
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are found throughout New York State in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and even inland seas, such as Lake Ontario. Recreators may be more likely to encounter AIS if they regularly use New York’s waterways, for boating, kayaking, and fishing. While boaters typically only have a few items that come into contact with water, such as the motor, hull, and trailer, sport anglers often have many more. In addition to the common boating surfaces, anglers have trolling motors, fishing lines, and various cables for electronics. Anglers also have more accessories that come into contact with the aquatic landscape and therefore present more opportunities for aquatic hitchhikers to catch a ride to previously uncontaminated waters.
There are many ways that AIS can become attached to fishing gear. Common AIS that can directly interact or attach to hooks and fishing lines include the round goby and colonial zebra mussels. In fact, zebra mussels can quickly invade motor props or boat hulls if left in water for prolonged periods of time. Other AIS such as invasive watermilfoil and Water Chestnut, may be picked up via fishing line, attach to waders, or be pulled up when running a trolling motor in shallow water.
Plants may also be picked up when launching and retrieving boats, especially in the later summer months when most aquatic plants have achieved their maximum height during the growing season.
What can you do as an angler to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species? The process is very simple. Clean off anything on your boat, trailer, or fishing equipment that does not belong, such as plants, animal matter, or mud-which can hold microscopic invasives. Drain anything that can hold water, such as your bilge, live wells, and bait buckets. Dry the boat and compartments that can hold water, your trailer, and dry and sanitize your fishing equipment. In addition to helping stop the spread of invasive species, this process is great for regular maintenance and improves the looks and lifespan of your boat and equipment. At the end of the day, a clean boat is a good-looking boat!
If you should encounter AIS, take these steps to prevent its spread. Dispose of found AIS in a garbage can or designated receptacle. If you catch something that you suspect to be northern snakehead or tench, do not release the fish, put it on ice and contact the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation at firstname.lastname@example.org. Report observations for all invasive species at nyimapinvasives.org, New York’s invasive species observation database.