As we come up to the 4th of July, it’s get ready, get set, go as river users are off at the start of river season! The Connecticut River Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited asks all river users to protect the Connecticut River and its tributaries from exotic plants and animals. Whether you use a powerboat, row, canoe, kayak, wade, swim, fish or sail, to enjoy or watershed all water enthusiasts have a responsibility to protect the Connecticut River and its tributaries from the introduction of exotic aquatic species.
There are no “fixes” once exotics are in our waters. Once exotics establish themselves in a new habitat and if these invaders find their new surroundings welcoming, they explode because they do not face their usual predators. In their uncontrolled explosions, exotics deny native species their usual habitat. Invasive plants, animals, and fish also create problems for humans; just ask anyone on a lake where Eurasian milfoil or water chestnut has taken hold and choked their lake or ask someone responsible for keeping a water intake pipe open in the presence of zebra mussels.
The list of invasives we face continues to grow, so the responsibility to stop their spread increases. Lake Champlain is now dealing with the spiny water flea, a small critter that multiplies in profusion and although fish do eat them, they cannot digest them. In fact, a small fish has problems even swallowing them. The Connecticut River has not yet seen these pests but all it would take is a clump of them attached to an uncleaned fishing or down rigging line or a live well contaminated with them to start their invasion of our river.
Zebra mussels were discover in Massachusetts just outside the Connecticut River watershed. Even with the quick response to close boat launch ramps, the odds are good that the mussel will get into the Connecticut River watershed. In NH, the Asian clam may claim another lake this year.
This brief discussion does not even address the other aquatic invasive species including Phragmites, Chinese mystery snail, rusty crayfish, curly leaf pondweed, carp, or the freshwater jellyfish, all in or near our watershed.
Care in preventing further spread of these infestations is the only tool we have at our disposal. Act as though every waterbody harbors problem species. Rely on the precautionary principle, be safe not sorry.
It is not hard to protect the river. Just Check, Clean, or Dry!
Check: At the ramp during trailering, thoroughly inspect your boat’s hull, drive unit, trim plates, trolling plates, prop guards, transducers, anchor and anchor rope, and trailer. Inspect all craft, powerboat or canoe and scrape off and properly dispose of any suspected mussels and all waterweeds hanging from boat or trailer. Do not move live bait from one water body to another. Do not dump live bait into the water; the bait may be a non-native species or diseased.
Clean: Before launching your boat, assume that some exotic was in the last body of water you were in and you are carrying it. You should thoroughly flush the hull, drive unit, live wells, any pumping system, bilge, trailer, bait buckets, and engine cooling water system. Drain all bilge water, live wells, bait buckets and any other water from your boat and equipment at the ramp as you leave a water body. One quick way to clean the exterior is to use a hot hard spray from a do-it-yourself carwash.
Dry: Dry out all items that can absorb or hold water. If you cannot clean your water toys or tools, boats and trailers, PFDs, water shoes and boots, etc. dry them thoroughly in the sun for up to 5 days before using them in another water body. Hot water pumped through an engine’s intake is one method of preventing zebra mussel growth inside an engine’s cooling system. Do not use chlorine bleach or other damaging washing solutions in the water or next to the shore. If you are not sure that your water toy is clear of invasives, you should dry it.
Both Vermont and New Hampshire have recently increased boater responsibilities to prevent moving invasives among water bodies including enforcement provisions for boat owners. Beyond the changes in the law, TU hopes all of those who play on, in, or under the river or its tributaries will take personal responsibility and be especially careful to protect our rivers from further invasions by aquatic exotics. You enjoy it, so do not ruin it for yourself and others, and remember: Check, Clean, or Dry!
David L. Deen is an honorary trustee of the Connecticut River Conservancy and a board member of the Connecticut River Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited.