Monday, January 4, 2010

Week of January 4, 2010

Happy New Year! Blog updated 1/8.

Officials swap stories of battle against invasive species

Social pressure, regulations discussed as tools to prevent spread of unwanted plants, animals

By Rona Kobell
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Journal

nutriaSpiny water fleas, furry mitten crabs, northern snakeheads, dead man's fingers-they all sound like something out of a horror movie. But unfortunately, the story of the invaders that took over the nation's seas is all too real.

These marauders enter our waterways, either introduced accidentally or on purpose, and within a few short years, many establish breeding populations. They gobble up native fish and native habitats. With no natural predators, there's no stopping their growth. They breed like rabbits-or, as the case may be, nutria.

With nature unable to control them, wildlife managers try their best-but often, they're simply too late and the results are devastating.

Invaders take several paths into the waterways. Some are brought in for a specific reason, and then things go terribly wrong. MSX, one of two diseases that have devastated native oyster populations, was accidentally brought to the East Coast with foreign oysters imported for research.

In December, the Mid-Atlantic Panel of Aquatic Nuisance Species met in Baltimore to discuss the various vectors for bringing in the invaders and how to better manage them. The panel, which was organized by Maryland Sea Grant, was established in 2003.

It took the place of the Bay Program's Invasive Species Workgroup and, based on lessons learned here and elsewhere, is aimed at preventing new invasions when possible, and containing them when prevention doesn't work.

"Some of them hang out in a bay and stay for 50 years, and don't spread-until they do," said James Carlton, director of the Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies Program at Williams College in Massachusetts.

The case of the Asian carp and the Great Lakes is an example of the threat an invasive species can pose, and the millions of dollars in effort it takes to combat it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought the Asian carp to the United States, seeking a natural weed killer. In the 1970s, catfish farmers in the Southeast began importing them as a natural pond cleaner.

But floods in the Mississippi caused the ponds to overflow, and the carp swam into the great river. In some parts of the Mississippi, the voracious carp is the dominant species. They can weigh up to 100 pounds and can consume 40 percent of their body weight daily. They have no natural predators, and are so bony that U.S. consumers don't want to eat them.

The carp was recently discovered in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a man-made body of water connecting the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers has an electronic barrier at the canal to stop the fish from entering the Great Lakes. But Michigan authorities are complaining that the electronic barrier-which costs $40,000 a month to power-is not enough to keep the carp from the Great Lakes. They want the Corps to close the canal and protect Michigan's $7 billion tourism/recreational fishing industry. But, closing the canal would disrupt a huge amount of interstate commerce between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, and the Corps is planning to use federal stimulus money to erect another barrier to further insulate the Great Lakes.

So, in 40 years, the Asian carp has gone from a helpful pond cleaner to a multimillion-dollar nuisance.

snakeheadThe northern snakehead hasn't proven to be the nuisance that Asian Carp is, but it's still worrisome that scientists have discovered hundreds of them in the Potomac River and several of its Northern Virginia tributaries. Scientists believe the snakeheads got to the Potomac sometime around 2002, when a male and female were dumped into Dogue Creek. So far, the bass in the river are tolerating the voracious Chinese fish, but scientists worry the peaceful co-existence won't last long, given snakeheads' copious breeding practices.

Live bait is also an excellent vector for invasive species. Fishermen should never release unused bait into the water or leave it on shore. They should save it, give it to another angler or put it in their freezer. [...]

Robert Wiltshire, founder and director of the Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species, said that it's not enough to tell people to clean their boats. It has to be socially important for them to do so. Managers can appeal to the environmental sensibilities of a fly fisherman in a canoe, but Wiltshire said, that same message wouldn't go over well with a jet skier.

"We can't do this through regulation. The real action is through peer-to-peer sharing," Wiltshire said. "You need your fishing buddy to tell you to clean your boat, not the Game Board." One way to do that, he said, is to reach out to professional athletes in competitions such as the X-Games.

The biggest conduit for aquatic invasive species, though, is ballast water used to balance ships that travel the world.

Carlton, of the Mystic maritime program, said the nation's scientists and port managers must work together to reduce the surprises. For decades, environmentalists have pushed for stricter federal standards. And when they didn't materialize, many states took matters into their own hands. In 2000, Washington state required ships to exchange their ballast water 50 miles from shore. Oregon and California soon followed suit.

In 2004-eight years after Congress passed a voluntary program to regulate ballast water, the Coast Guard required ships to flush ballast water from their tanks and replace it with ocean water when they were at least 200 miles from shore. But most of the ships couldn't comply with that standard.

Gregory Ruiz, who studies invasives and ballast water at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, said the exchanges, while "better than nothing" are an imperfect answer. The exchange does not get rid of all organisms. And it can be dangerous for a ship to destabilize itself in the middle of the ocean.

Over the last several years, the shipping industry and marine scientists have agreed that onboard treatment systems using chemicals to kill all of the invasive species are a far better option. The Coast Guard is now proposing that all ships have a treatment system on board by 2016.

The Chesapeake Bay is now home to 170 invasive species, from the invasive reed, phragmites, to nutria, a foreign muskrat, on Maryland's Eastern Shore to the shellfish-eating rapa whelk in Virginia and zebra mussels in the Susquehanna.

Bay policy makers didn't really start to study the problem of invasive species until the mid-1990s, when they were already clearly a problem in San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes.

But now, the Chesapeake is one of two places in the country where new ballast water treatment systems are being tested. The Maritime Environmental Resource Center, which does its research aboard the Cape Washington near Baltimore's Inner Harbor, is testing ballast water treatment options. Part of a partnership between the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and the Maryland Port Administration, the center is also looking at ways to limit hull fouling from invasive species and to rein in air emissions from ships.

Read the story at link



Weeds Across Borders 2010 conference
in West Virginia

June 1-4, 2010
National Conservation Training Center
Shepherdstown, West Virginia, USA

The Weeds Across Borders 2010 Coordinating Committee is now accepting abstracts for oral (paper) and poster presentations. The theme of this year’s conference is “Plant Invasions: Policies, Politics, and Practices”. Program session topics include: Cooperation & Partnerships, Applied Research Reports, New Issues, Border Management & Recreational Pathways, Economic & Ecological Impacts: Trends & Predictions, Awareness & Education, and Early Detection & Rapid Response.

For more information on the Call for Papers and a tentative Conference Agenda, visit the WAB 2010 website or see the attached files.

Weeds Across Borders is a biennial international conference covering the interests of professionals and organizations involved in weed management and regulation. It is composed of an affiliation of organizations from various jurisdictions across North America with a common interest in sharing information and promoting weed management throughout North America. Because weeds do not respect human imposed laws or boundaries, we must develop partnerships, share information, and coordinate programs and projects that cross these boundaries.

The goal of the conference is to provide a forum for educating, sharing, and disseminating knowledge about weed management, regulatory issues, and concerns about weed dispersal across and between all jurisdictional boundaries in Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

For more details, visit the Center for Invasive Plant Management.

WAB Conference Contact:

Emily Rindos
Center for Invasive Plant Management
Montana State University-Bozeman


To Capital/Mohawk PRISM Members,

Our next meeting will be held on January 28, 2010, at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar. An agenda and directions to the Center are attached. Our feature speaker will be Mike Flaherty from DEC's New Paltz office discussing northern snakeheads.

Also attached are draft minutes from our October 9 meeting at Schodack Island State Park. I would ask attendees to review the minutes and send me corrections/revisions.

Happy New Year! Hope to see you at Delmar.

Peg Sauer


Illinois Asian carp: New York attorney general to file brief in Supreme Court

Lawsuit wants to close canal in Chicago

Associated Press

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is joining the legal effort to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes because the species could devastate the fishing industry and the environment.

Cuomo said he plans to file a brief Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Michigan's request for an injunction to close a Chicago canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi water basin. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio also are supporting the request.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reviewing the suit.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has said that closing the canal would not prevent the carp from migrating.

Read the article at link.


NYSDEC announces changes to bait fish regulations

Anglers now have 10 days to use purchased, certified bait
Alewife and rainbow smelt allowed in certain Western New York waters

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis today announced revised regulations that extend the time period for anglers to legally possess and use certified bait fish from seven to 10 days after purchase, and also allow the use of some bait fish in certain Western New York waters that had previously been prohibited. The new rules become effective today.

The movement of uncertified bait fish can be a principle avenue for the transmission of fish diseases. In an effort to protect New York’s fisheries from the introduction of invasive species and diseases, DEC enacted rules to restrict bait fish use ( ) including limiting the use of certified disease-free bait fish to within one week of purchase. After receiving requests and input from anglers seeking to extend that time period, DEC is providing an additional three days to allow certified bait fish to be used in state waters. With the extension to 10 days, anglers can potentially use the bait fish over consecutive weekends, depending on the date of purchase. The 10-day period will extend from the date of purchase indicated on the required, dated bait fish receipt. [...]

In addition, the new regulation allows for the use of two bait fish species in additional waters of the state where their use is currently prohibited. Alewife may now be used in Hemlock Lake (Livingston County), Canadice Lake (Ontario County) and Waneta Lake (Schuyler County). In addition, use of rainbow smelt as bait will also be allowed in Hemlock Lake and Canadice Lake, as well as Honeoye Lake (Ontario County). These species are being added to the acceptable list of bait fish species that can be used because reproducing populations of alewife and smelt currently exist in these lakes and their use as bait fish poses no biological threat to the waters’ fish communities.

While DEC is expanding the list of waters where the use of alewife and rainbow smelt is permitted, use is still subject to the statewide regulations pertaining to the use of bait fish, including the prohibition against the overland transport of uncertified bait fish. Information about these requirements and other freshwater fishing regulations can be found at on the DEC website.

Read the story at link.


Everglades National Park unveils “Don’t Let It Loose” billboard campaign

Everglades National Park, in partnership with other Federal and state land management agencies in Florida, recently unveiled a year-long campaign to highlight the ongoing issue of invasive species in the Everglades. Over the next twelve months, a statewide network of billboards will feature select nonnative species and advise viewers to “Don’t Let It Loose.”

The introduction of nonnative plants and animals poses a significant challenge to successful Everglades restoration. In recent years, the proliferation of several high-profile species in south Florida has served to illustrate the need for prevention and control, with public education being viewed as an important tool in the effort. Several “un-wanted” species of plants and animals will be featured statewide on billboards donated by the Florida Outdoor Advertising Association and produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Viewers will be directed to, where visitors can learn more about invasive species, report sightings of nonnatives, or find help for unwanted exotic pets.

Read the story at link.



chesapeake bay fishing said...

Very interesting article on the Asian carp. Thank you.

Don Mitchel said...

Another problem that the southern fish farmers pose is the interstate transportation of fish using natural waters.
As bills like H.R.3669 address the problems of invasive species by private pet owners, it should be noted that fish farmers have had meetings with officials of the Federal government discussing their belief that waters of fish being brought into our country need to be considered for problems. As industry will play an important role in helping keep our waters clean, problems including interstate transportation with no federal endorsement, disease, virus, invasive and chemical use are all problematic as fish farmers move their fish across state lines without considering the quality of water used or what is added, while using an international set of standards regarding testing of the fish only. This water often ends back in our natural waters. Some fish farmers will deliver fish through fed –ex by air to all states. They even have a bait fish that has a patent pending that will live in salt or fresh water, which they will deliver this way. As the Presidents Ocean and great lakes initiative is aware of this problem and how states such as mine did not bother to address water as problematic so long as the fish had an inspection in the last year in another state out of their jurisdiction. Fish transported and sold in the US often change hands many different times with many different water changes and chemicals often are used without regard for state laws during transportation and can be brought into my state from anywhere in the country without worrying about disposal. I have seen the transport water and it is often milky, suds, full of scales, invasive (crabs, pollywogs, etc.) with the possibility of pathogens and virus. In the mid 1990’s as the fish being delivered from Arkansas to me were dying of disease, it was not uncommon to see bait fish, ornamental, food fish on the same truck being spread out from tank to tank as space was freed up, as I know I often added more water to take them to their next delivery. This water and the fish are often unloaded from tanks on trucks through pipes to tanks fed by natural water where the overflow is back into natural waters. I am in the industry and do believe that mandatory safe procedures can solve this. As high level administration officials that now negotiate trade with China involving water movement through ballast systems, did not recognize virus and pathogens in natural waters for fish transport when they were involved as a senator from NY, despite knowing that our state university helping formulate policy about bait fish was busy studying virus in water, with a grant, I doubt whether they will care about the dangers of ballast water or the carbon footprints associated with bring foreign products into our country in order to keep our large retail employers shelves filled with foreign manufactured products.