Newest LG peril: Fishhook waterflea

By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor

Fishhook waterfleas have infested Lake Champlain and are seen as a threat to Lake George.

“To hear that fishhook waterfleas are abundant in Lake Champlain is a reason to get on high alert,” Roger Smith said in response to a Chronicle query. He oversees the Lake George Park Commission’s mandatory boat inspection program.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program issued an alert late last week that “nearly all fishing boats returning to Shelburne Bay and Converse Bay launches had downriggers infested with the tiny organisms.”

Lake George is known to have spiny waterfleas, but no fishhook waterfleas have yet been detected. Both types of waterfleas are difficult to see individually; they become visible when they cluster on fishing lines and anchor ropes.

Photo of downrigger lines encrusted with fishhook waterfleas and spiny waterfleas taken on July 1st at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Shelburne Bay Access Area on Lake Champlain.

Meg Modley Gilbertson, who oversees the Lake Champlain invasive species management program, told The Chronicle, “I am highly concerned, especially for the Adirondack region that has so many uninfested lakes.”

She said waterfleas are “voracious predators of native plankton” and can impact the bottom of the food web.

Monday morning, we forwarded the LCBP’s press release to Lake George Park Commission executive director Dave Wick, who then forwarded it to Mr. Smith and others throughout the organization.

A park ranger alerted other staff: “Please read the press release below about the Fishhook waterflea outbreak in Champlain. Make sure you ask every boat about fishing gear, every time. The odds of a fishhook waterflea arriving here have just gone waaay up.”

Mr. Smith said he notified all site supervisors at the boat-washing stations about the Lake Champlain infestation, recommending any boats coming from there be thoroughly checked.

“Any fishing equipment should be removed and dipped in hot water and then dried thoroughly,” he said. “These fishhook waterfleas are known to embed in a spool of a fishing rod. The line needs to be stripped, and the recommendation is to change the line entirely.”

Ms. Gilbertson told The Chronicle, “There is a great risk of transfer to uninfested lakes, which makes ‘Clean Drain and Dry’ all the more important.”

Could fishhook waterfleas flourish in Lake George? She said, “It’s very hard to say. Every lake is different. But there is no control technology. You can’t go through the lake with a sieve and collect them.”

Walt Lender, executive director of the Lake George Association, told The Chronicle, “Above and beyond the mandatory boat inspection program on Lake George.

“It is important for anglers to ensure that their equipment is clean when moving from lake to lake and from fishing spot to fishing spot, and that any area on their boat that could harbor any water flea is cleaned, drained and dry, and that anchor ropes are also cleaned.”

The FUND for Lake George’s Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said the infestation in Lake Champlain “means business as usual for Lake George as we have the most efficient and effective boat inspection program east of the Mississippi with a FUND 2020 goal of no new invasive species entering Lake George. This means higher level of attention to means of potential transportation including bait wells and fishing gear as well as bilges on boats.

“…Unfortunately, invasive species are spreading primarily through human actions such as boat transport. I would say we need to expect the potential for incoming invasive species and this is why we need to have continuous education as well as mandatory inspection programs.

DEC: Spread to LG ‘is not inevitable’

Contacted for comment, a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman said “the presence of fishhook water flea in Lake Champlain increases the possibility of this species being introduced to Lake George due to the proximity of these water bodies.

“The spiny water flea is present and surviving in Lake George, so it is likely the closely related fishhook water flea could also survive in Lake George.

“However, the introduction of fishhook water flea in Lake George is not inevitable. They are unable to move upstream so they will not be introduced through the LaChute River. Also Lake Champlain Boat Launch Stewards inspect boats, trailers, and equipment leaving the lake.

“Of course, the mandatory inspection program for boats entering Lake George serves as the last component of the efforts to prevent fishhook water flea and other aquatic invasive species from entering the lake.”

The spokesman added, “Yesterday, DEC announced a new pilot program in cooperation with the Lake George Park Commission and the Fund for Lake George at the Mossy Point and Rogers Rock boat launch sites to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species like the water flea.

“This pilot program complements the state’s existing boat inspection policy to specifically protect Lake George’s unique ecosystem by installing new gates this summer and providing staff to check boats for invasives before entering the lake.

“Through October 31, 2019, the gates will open before sunrise and remain open until 10 p.m., enabling boaters to head out early enough to go fishing while ensuring the boats are not carrying invasive species. This is in addition to the recently completed boat wash station at the Adirondacks Welcome Center [between Exits 17 and 18 of the Northway].” — Gordon Woodworth

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