It was a cool, gray, misty May afternoon when students from the Rhinelander School District’s after- school program filmed a public service announcement for the Oneida County Aquatic Invasive Species program. They spent the afternoon working hard at creating a video that would help people remember to drain water from their boats, livewells and buckets before leaving our lakes and rivers: “Remember, by not draining, you have a bunch of species…so don’t spread the beasties!”
So, exactly what are the “beasties” the students were talking about?
Many of the aquatic invasive species (AIS) that can be transported by water are invisible or nearly invisible to the naked eye. It is quite easy to observe vegetation hanging off a boat trailer, but it is certainly another thing to realize we might be spreading AIS and not even see what we are spreading!
Take the deadly fish virus, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), for example.
VHS is a virus that can survive in water for at least 14 days. This virus can infect more than 28 fish species; 19 of them are sport fish. Some of our most susceptible native fish are musky, largemouth bass and yellow perch. This virus can cause hemorrhaging in internal organs, bulging eyes, bloated abdomens and unusual behavior, and can quickly result in death of the fish. Infected fish shed the virus through their urine and reproductive fluids, so making sure anglers don’t transport water or infected fish are the best ways of keeping this “beastie” at bay.
Many of us have heard of zebra mussels. Many of us have seen pictures of them clogging water intake pipes, covering the shells of our native mussels or coating the surfaces of rocks, piers and other hard surfaces. But how many of us realize that zebra mussels begin life as tiny, microscopic, free-floating larvae called veligers? How many of us realize that using your livewell in Lake Winnebago and emptying it into the “lake down the road” could infect that other lake with the dreaded zebra mussel? Yep, that can certainly happen!
It is thought that zebra mussel veligers originally hitched a ride in ballast water of ships that traveled from Europe to the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s. Ballast water is brought onto the ship to allow the vessel to remain stable. When cargo is loaded onto the boat, some of the ballast water may not be needed and will be expelled…possibly in a different country than where it originated!
Closer to home, though, local anglers and boaters shouldn’t be transporting water via their livewells so our lakes and rivers can stay zebra mussel-free!
Speaking of ballast water, one other AIS that took a very long ship ride to the U.S. is the spiny water flea. It is only about 1 centimeter long, but has a long, sharp, barbed spine that is 70 percent of its body. This is one aquatic invasive species I wouldn’t want to see super-sized!
Spiny water fleas eat zooplankton (like our native Daphnia) and can cause imbalances in a lake’s food web. In some lakes, certain Daphnia species have been decimated by the fleas and small fish are struggling to find prey (they can’t eat the spiny water fleas due to the large spine). When huge numbers of spiny water fleas attach to our fishing lines, anglers tend to notice the jelly-like glob on their line. It is when populations aren’t huge and showy that spiny water fleas can be easily overlooked and transported via a bait bucket, livewell or bilge water.
As you can see, there are a number of AIS that are not so readily observed. In 2012, Oneida and Vilas counties’ AIS programs were the first to create an “Icing your Catch” program aimed at increasing the drainage of livewells and buckets, and suggested that anglers use ice to keep fish fresh.
The project expanded into a DNR “Draining Campaign” during the summer of 2013, with more than 41 counties participating, free ice packs and ice given to anglers, celebrity radio spots and lots of media coverage!
Just remember, not all AIS are visible.
“Before leaving the water, drain livewells and buckets containing your catch. It’s the law!”
To view the public service announcement created by Rhinelander School District students for the 2013 “Draining Campaign,” visit oneidacountyais.com or visit us on Facebook.
Michele Sadauskas is the Oneida County AIS coordinator and may be reached at (715) 365-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact her to arrange AIS presentations and/or workshops, report any suspicious plant behavior, or find out more about any of the above mentioned projects. She welcomes all questions.