What is an “aquatic invasive species” and how can I help keep them out of our lake?
By Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.
We tend to hear more and more concern about invasive species, but what are they and how can we help prevent their spread? An invasive species is one that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and that has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, economy or human health. The Rainy-Lake of the Woods watershed is vulnerable to introductions of non-native species, aquatic ones in particular, due to its proximity to several large water bodies and systems (i.e. Great Lakes, Mississippi drainage system, Red River) and its popularity as a tourist destination. There are a wide variety of aquatic invasive species in our basin, including rusty crayfish, northern clearwater crayfish, zebra mussels (in Minnesota and under investigation in Shoal Lake), spiny water flea and rainbow smelt. These invasives impact our aquatic ecosystems by competing with native species for resources, such as food and habitat, and can destroy native fish spawning habitats. They are highly successful because they tend to not have any natural predators, they are highly adaptable, they reproduce very quickly and they thrive in disturbed systems. Various species of invertebrates have invaded our basin’s waters through pathways that include ballast water, recreational and commercial boating, the aquarium and water garden trade, live food fish, and bait bucket release.
So….what can we do as boaters, anglers, resort owners or float plane operators to help prevent these invasions?
Did you know that if you put your boat in a lake that’s infested with an aquatic invasive species, you can threaten the health of the next lake you put your boat into if you don’t take precautions? This is one of the key vectors for the spread of invasives, but there are simple steps each of us can take to minimize the impact. Whether you are a recreational boater, an avid angler/tournament participant, a float-plane operator, a waterfowl hunter or a resort/campground owner, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind…simply, remember “Clean Drain Dry”:
· Clean all visible aquatic plants from your boat, trailer and equipment when leaving a waterbody
· Inspect and clean your trolling motor as it can easily collect invasive animals and plant debris in shallow water
· For float plane operators, pump out floats into a sealable container and dispose upland
· If possible, pressure spray your boat and trailer and spray inside compartments with hot water, far from the water’s edge
· Waterfowl hunters – clean plants and mud from your boat, motor, trailer, waders/hip boots, decoy lines, anchors, pushpoles and ATV
· It is illegal to dump your bait bucket contents into any waterbody in Ontario, including on the ice. If using live bait, buy local. It is illegal to bring live bait into Ontario
· Drain your boat, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, motor, drain bilge, livewell and baitwell by removing drain plugs…upland, away from the water and before leaving the lake you were on; keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft
· Allow your boat and equipment to dry in the sun as long as possible (5 days) before putting it into a different waterbody
· Resort and campground owners, be sure your guests have helpful information available to them – pamphlets upon check-in or signs at your access points to alert customers to best practices
For more information if you live in Ontario, go to www.invadingspecies.com. For those in Minnesota, go to https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/ais/index.html .
This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.