New York Sea Grant's Launch Steward Program: STOP AQUATIC HITCHHIKERS!

New York Sea Grant's Launch Steward Program: STOP AQUATIC HITCHHIKERS!

The New York Sea Grant (NYSG) managed Launch Steward Program teaches boaters how to look for, remove and properly dispose of aquatic hitchhikers to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. NYSG Launch Stewards are stationed at select boat launches along Lake Ontario from Wayne County to Jefferson County and inland on Oneida Lake and the Salmon River Reservoir.

This blog will provide a glimpse into steward activities while providing boaters with tips to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Watercraft Inspections: Clean, Drain, Dry

Over this past summer, you may have met a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward at your local boat launch. Who are these people in the red shirts, and why are they asking questions?

Launch Stewards in the eastern Lake Ontario region are typically college and/or graduate students hired and trained by New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a statewide network of integrated research, education, and extension services promoting coastal economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

A boater inspection his trailer for any unwanted aquatic hitchhikers that may have become attached during launch/retrieval of his watercraft. Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The goal of the NYSG Launch Stewards is to increase public awareness about identifying aquatic invasive species (AIS) and helping to control the spread of AIS to different bodies of water.

Aquatic invasive species are non-native plants and animals that threaten native plants, wildlife, and their habitat. AIS degrade boating and fishing areas, and can reduce lake shore property values and tourism. Once AIS are established, containment is difficult.  By voluntarily participating in watercraft inspections, you too can help slow the spread of AIS. Inspecting your boat before entering and after leaving a body of water and removing any type of debris (plant and/or animal matter) from your watercraft, properly disposing of that debris, and drying your vessel will slow the spread of AIS.

During the 2014 NYSG Launch Steward Program, NYSG Launch Stewards were able to educate more than 10,600 people at various boat launches to help stop the spread of AIS in the eastern Lake Ontario/Oneida Lake regions. Over the course of the summer, the Launch Stewards inspected various watercrafts identifying AIS as well as other aquatic hitchhikers that can hitchhike on various points on the boat and trailer.

On average, 8% of the boats inspected by NYSG Launch Stewards had one, if not more, aquatic hitchhikers present. The three most abundant AIS found this past summer in chronological order include; Eurasian watermilfoil at 68%, Zebra mussels at 15% and Curly-leaf pondweed at 15%. Many of these aquatic plants are able to propagate from small leaflets of the mother plant. This adaptation allows many of the AIS to spread easily and is why it is so important for boaters to follow inspection protocol. The Launch Stewards were well receptive with boaters; and due to their efforts, helped to increase public awareness on AIS to those who previously were unaware of the harmful affects they had on the lake ecology.

Boater drying his boat, helping to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

Three important steps of Clean, Drain, Dry are:

Inspect & Clean: Remove all visible plants, animals, fish, and mud from your boat, trailer, or other equipment and dispose of these debris in a suitable trash container or on dry land away from vehicle traffic and water. It is also important to check any other type of equipment that comes into contact with the water such as tubes, fishing, gear, and even scuba gear.

Drain: Drain water from bilge, live wells, ballast tanks, boat bodies, and any place capable of holding water, before leaving the boat launch.

Dry: Dry your boat, trailer, and all equipment completely. Drying times vary depending on the weather and type of material. Dry by hand, or let vessel sit to dry for at least five days, which is enough to kill most aquatic organisms that may be left on the boat during the summer months.

Practicing watercraft inspections protects our local waterways and habitats and keeps them a valuable resource for use now and for future generations.

Patron inspecting scuba diving gear for any aquatic invasive species;
Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers 

Anglers: Proper Disposal of Bait Helps Slow Spread of AIS
  • The NYSG Launch Steward Program shares the following tips to empower anglers in the battle to slow and stop the spread of aquatic invasive species that can damage your favorite fishing areas.
  • If you are an avid fisherman in New York State, please follow New York State bait laws.
  • It is best to purchase live bait from a licensed dealer in the region which you plan to use it.
  • Learn to recognize juvenile Asian carp (a disastrous AIS in the Midwest).  The juveniles look similar to some common bait minnow species.
  • Never dump bait directly into a body of water. Many invasive species are spread when people inadvertently dump live bait such as non-native minnows, worms or frogs in or near the water.
  •  Unwanted bait should always be disposed of in the trash or at a waste disposal station which many boat launches have. 

Boater disposing aquatic plant material into a waste disposal station;
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Ryan Thompson 

Aquatic Pet/Plant Owners: Proper Disposal of Unwanted Pets/Plants
  • Another condition in which invasive species are spread is from the release of unwanted exotic aquatic plants or pets from their aquariums. 
  • Unwanted pets or plants can usually be returned to an aquarium supplier.
  • Importantly, aquarium owners or gardeners should consult their state and federal lists of prohibited invasive species before purchasing a new plant or animal.
  • Using native flora in ponds and aquariums is a simple way to avoid the spread of AIS.

Tips for Fishing at the Salmon River

As the leaves start to change and we prepare ourselves for a long Central New York winter, new outdoor activities start to take place. One such popular activity among outdoorsman includes fishing for Pacific Salmon on the Salmon River. As anglers get out their waders from basement storage, and prepare themselves to hook up with a monster Chinook Salmon, it is important to note that AIS can still be spread.

One such hitchhiker which can attach to felt waders includes Didymo or rock snot. This nuisance algae prefers freshwater rivers, and streams with cold water temperatures. Didymo can negatively affect stream habitats and sources of food for fish. To help stop the spread of AIS please reference the picture below which depicts the proper protocol and gear to inspect before and after visiting the Salmon River or other Great Lakes tributaries.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NYSG Launch Stewards: Helping to Control the Spread of Alien Invaders

The overall goal of the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program was to increase public awareness on identifying aquatic invasive species (AIS) and how the public can help control the spread of AIS to different bodies of water.

So, what are invasive species?

  • Invasive species are non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem and their introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm. 
  • Aquatic invasive species can outcompete the native species that occupy the same niche. 
  • Some of the AIS that are common in New York bodies of water include the zebra mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, Hydrilla and the European water chestnut. 
  • Zebra mussels have been linked to food web disruptions, causing a bottom-up trophic cascade which adversely affects the lake ecosystem population dynamics. 

Eurasian watermilfoil, Hydrilla, and European water chestnuts form thick mats of vegetation at the water’s surface, blocking sunlight for native plants and decreases in dissolved oxygen levels, leading to fish kills.

Early detection is crucial to controlling AIS as smaller populations are easier to eliminate or manage, than larger ones. Individually removing plants by hand with small infestations rather than large established areas may help to reduce overall management costs.

Volunteers and Launch Stewards at a European water chestnut hand-pull on the Oswego River near Battle Island, Fulton, NY. During this event, the group removed 1,250lbs. of water chestnut;
Photo by: Richard Drosse

AIS Hand-Pulls 

Hand-pulls involve the public/volunteers in physically removing unwanted species from a body of water. On July 14, 2014, in partnership with the Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District (OCSWCD), St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM), and the Oswego County Guides’ Association, the NYSG Launch Stewards assisted in educating participants about AIS prevention and to help stop the spread of the European water chestnut in a hand pull event on the Salmon River. Approximately 30 participants (including many local volunteers) removed more than 300 pounds of European water chestnut from the river.

European water chestnuts collected from the Salmon River, Launch Stewards Ashleigh Grosso (Left) and Rob Tornatore (Right); Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

To learn more about organizing a local AIS hand-pull event, please reference the "Steps and Procedures to Help Organize an Invasive Plant Removal and Disposal" online at

Mechanical and Herbicide Control of AIS

Large populations of AIS may require the use of mechanical harvesters or pesticides.

Mechanical harvesting machines cut and collect the aquatic plants, removing them from the water by a conveyor belt system. The plant matter is stored in the harvester until the collection can be removed and disposed of away from the water body. 

Mechanical weed harvester removing aquatic plants on Sodus Bay, 2013.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

The application of herbicides is also used to achieve control of AIS. Highly infested areas often must be treated for multiple years to eliminate the invading population. Aquatic herbicides are chemicals specifically formulated for use in water to kill or control aquatic plants.

Aquatic herbicides are sprayed directly onto floating or emergent aquatic plants or are applied to the water in liquid or pellet form. Most herbicides have restrictions on the use of the water body immediately after treatment, lasting up to 30 days, depending on the dose rate or use of the area. Follow-up monitoring should track the applied chemical and changes in the plant communities, water quality conditions, and impaired uses.

The effectiveness for any given herbicide treatment varies with the treatment design, and the conditions of the water body and treatment site listed.  In general, the effectiveness of an herbicide treatment will last anywhere from several weeks to several months, usually corresponding to a single growing season. 

Since seeds and roots frequently are not affected by treatment, once the chemicals have degraded or washed out of the system, plant growth will resume, and reapplication may be necessary. Effectiveness rarely carries over to the next growing season.  

Please note: only licensed applicators should handle herbicides

Public Education About AIS

Another means of controlling AIS is through public education. The NYSG Launch Stewards have educated boaters and members of the non-boating public about such programs as Clean, Drain, Dry watercraft inspection. These programs have led to increased public awareness on the various AIS that plague our lake ecosystems; as well as the vectors in which they can spread. With the Launch Stewards helping patrons visiting the boat launches identify AIS, the Launch Stewards were able to inform the public how they could become stewards themselves, by reporting sightings of suspected invasive species to Follow the previous link to learn more about these efforts. 

2013 NYSG Launch Steward Megan Pistolese conducting a voluntary watercraft inspection with a local boater at Henderson Harbor Boat Launch. Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

Various organizations such as OCSWCD, SLELO PRISM, and Save Our Sodus were able to locate several priority sites with European water chestnuts. Once located, these organizations, the Launch Stewards and many concerned patrons helped target and remove these infestations from several bodies of water. Throughout 2014 Launch Steward Program, the Launch stewards were able to remove a total of 2,050 pounds of European water chestnuts in three separate locations, which helped restore large portions of New York’s aquatic ecosystem.

NYSG Launch Stewards: Getting Familiar with The Issues

The college students hired by New York Sea Grant (NYSG) to work as Launch Stewards come from different educational institutions and have different knowledge bases and work experiences. NYSG has developed an in-depth training program to get the stewards up to speed on the current aquatic invasive species (AIS)/AIS-related issues in the region.

The NYSG Launch Steward training prepares the students to perform to the standard consistent with NYSG outreach and provides them with the information and resources needed to respond to boaters' questions. Travel to the various launch sites enabled the stewards to identify variances in aquatic plant and animal species at the sites across seven counties. NYSG provided additional training throughout the boating season.

In 2014, the Launch Stewards attended weekly team meetings to discuss experiences at their designated launch sites and share different perspectives on how to help educate the public about stopping the spread of AIS. The stewards also discussed projects they were developing to help further increase public awareness on AIS.

Above: NYSG Launch Stewards going over materials during a weekly team meeting. From Left to Right; Jeremy Galvin, Maggie Markham, Jake Barnes, Rob Tornatore, Rob Bucci, Ashleigh Grosso, Jordan Bodway.

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The Launch Stewards updated and created educational displays, PowerPoint presentations and posters for use at local fairs/events and at launch sites. The Launch Stewards extended outreach in cooperation with a variety of public and private environmental organizations by attending events such as European water chestnut hand-pulls, the Skaneateles Antique Boat Show, Magic in Minetto, Empire Farm Days and the New York State Fair.

NYSG Launch Stewards: Aquatic Plant Identification Training

Part of the annual training of the NYSG Launch Stewards focuses on aquatic plant identification. In 2014, staff at Cornell University’s Biological Field Station at Shackelton Point provided native and invasive aquatic plant identification training. This training highlighted plant species commonly found at the launch sites within the NYSG Launch Stewards' coverage area.

Above: NYSG Launch Stewards holding different aquatic plant species during the aquatic plant identification plant training at Shackelton Point with Limnology Research Support Specialist Kristen Holeck. From Left to Right, Ashleigh Grosso, David Newell, Maggie Markham, Jeremy Galvin, Jordan Bodway, Rob Tornatorre, Rob Bucci, Jake Barnes

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The plant identification training was instrumental in helping the Launch Stewards prepare to educate the public, reinforcing how quickly AIS can spread and the many negative impacts AIS can have on our environment:

  • Unchecked or not properly managed AIS can quickly impair recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • AIS are particularly detrimental to our fisheries as an overabundance of plant growth can reduce oxygen levels in the water which contribute to fish kills.
  • AIS can also destroy stands of native vegetation, adversely affecting the animals that depend on the native vegetation for food and habitat.
  • Excessive plant growth can also lessen aesthetic appeal, potentially causing lower property values.

With this invaluable information, the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards were able to effectively communicate and stress the importance of stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species to the public.

Above: Shackelton Point's Limnology Research Support Specialist Kristen Holeck helping to educate two of the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards on identifying and differentiating between many of the native and nonnative species they were most likely to encounter working throughout the summer. Left to right: Rob Tornatore, Jordan Bodway, Kristen Holeck

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

NYSG Launch Stewards: iMapInvasives, You can Too!

Trained to identify and locate AIS, the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards also learned how to utilize iMapInvasives (, an online, GIS-based data management system that assists citizen scientists and natural resource managers working to protect natural resources from the threat of invasive species.

The iMapInvasives website aggregates, organizes and provides information on the extent of AIS and terrestrial invasive species infestations from a wide variety of sources, supporting early detection of new populations of invasive species that may require rapid response and analysis of management strategies at scales relevant to diverse user needs.

The iMapInvasives partnership seeks to support all those working to safeguard environmental resources from the effects of invasive species, including citizens, volunteers, natural and agricultural resource managers as well as scientists, program administrators, and policy makers.

The general public can learn more on the iMapInvasives website.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 NYSG Waterfront Launch Stewards Educating Boaters on Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention (By Kara Lynn Dunn)

Eight New York college students interested in environmental science careers have finished working with the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Launch Steward program. This past summer the launch stewards educated boaters about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). The stewards have demonstrated watercraft inspection at sites along the Lake Ontario shoreline from Sodus Bay to Henderson, the Oswego River, Little Salmon River, Salmon River, Sandy Creek, Stony Creek, and Oneida Lake from Bridgeport to Brewerton.

The 2014 New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards are, front row from left, Rob Bucci,
Brittney Rogers, Ashleigh Grosso, and Jordan Bodway, and, back row from left,
David Newell, Rob Tornatore, Jake Barnes, and Jeremy Galvin. Photo by: NYSG

Brittney Rogers of Mexico is serving as Chief Steward with responsibilities for coordinating scheduling and overseeing steward activities, which include collecting data on how often boaters are practicing aquatic invasive prevention practices on their own. She is a 2013 SUNY Oswego zoology graduate who worked with the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program in 2013, completed an externship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia earlier this year, and is a Kindred Kingdom Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. volunteer.

Jake Barnes, a junior at Cazenovia College, is studying environmental biology. :As an angler, I have grown to care about the aquatic ecosystem. Working with the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward program offers the opportunity to provide anglers and boaters with information about how they can help protect our water resources," says Barnes.

Jordan Bodway, a junior at the State of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is studying environmental science. “I am interested in protecting the integrity of our water resources. Working as a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward has provided me with valuable experience in public outreach through interacting with boaters and visitors to the launch areas about how they can help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species,” says Bodway.

Robert Bucci of Pennellville is a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate with a degree in Environmental Science/Ecology. He brings experience as a Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve naturalist and an environmental educator at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ecology Camp to his role as a Launch Steward. "I am interested in building my aquatic species knowledge as a Launch Steward and helping to ensure healthy ecosystems for future generations by interacting with boaters with a goal of becoming an Environmental Conservation Officer," says Bucci.

Jeremy Galvin of Oswego is a sophomore studying Environmental Science Systems at Le Moyne College. "My interest is in environmental engineering. Working with the New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards was a great opportunity to interact with the community and encourage a positive attitude toward conservation," says Galvin.

Ashleigh Grosso of West Monroe is a Cayuga Community College freshman studying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Science. GIS use photographs and images from satellites, GPS waypoints and other data sources to create interactive maps for decision makers in environmental, government, law enforcement and other fields. "I have begun to explore career options related to the environment, environmental education and technology. I enjoyed working as a Launch Steward to help educate boaters about aquatic invasive species and how to slow their spread," says Grosso.

David Newell, a junior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is studying Natural Resources Management. "I am interested in working as an Environmental Conservation Officer and the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward program has given me the opportunity to network with environmental professionals and interact with the public about aquatic invasive species," says Newell.

Rob Tornatore, a senior at the College at Brockport, is studying Environmental Science with a career goal of becoming an Environmental Conservation Officer. “I have enjoyed working as a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward and helping to keep our lakes healthy for future generations. The Steward program allowed me various learning experiences for both the stewards and the boaters who participate in the watercraft inspection demonstrations,” says Tornatore.

The stewards provided a voluntary service for operators of motorized and non-motorized boats, and shared information on the easy-to-implement Clean, Drain, Dry method that boaters can use to help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species such as European water chestnut, Hydrilla, Waterfleas, European frog-bit, Asian clam, and Rusty crayfish.

The Launch Stewards are seen overlooking the lake at Beaver Lake Nature Center located in
Baldwinsville, New York. The time spent at Beaver Lake Nature Center was spent learning more
about the native flora and fauna species, along with the many unique adaptations these species
 have. The Launch Stewards pictured from left to right are Anthony Tornatore, Canastota; Robert Bucci, Pennellville; Jordan Bodway, Sylvan Beach; Chief Steward, Brittney Rogers, Mexico;
 Jeremy Galvin, Oswego; Ashleigh Grosso, West Monroe; David Newell, Henderson;
Jake Barnes, Wolcott. Photo by: NYSG

The students hired as the 2014 New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards have been trained by New York Sea Grant, which has developed the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook for the Cornell University Statewide Invasive Species Outreach Program. The handbook is funded in part by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

New York Sea Grant Coastal Community Development Specialist Mary Penney serves as the Launch Steward Program Coordinator. New York Sea Grant coordinates the Steward Program in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; New York State Parks; the Towns of Henderson, Scriba, and Sodus; the City of Oswego; and Onondaga County Parks. Funding is through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance.

For more information, contact Mary Penney at 315-312-3042. New York Sea Grant offers an RSS news feed, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links online at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Water Chestnut Control: Start Early and Continue; Pull performed July 13, 2013 (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Nick Spera)

Plants are good for the environment, right? Not always.

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) in local watersheds and ecosystems are negatively impacting native plants, animals and habitat. An invasive species is defined by the federal Executive Order 13112 that establishes a National Invasive Species Council as a species that is non-native to the ecosystem of interest and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Locally, European water chestnut (WC), scientifically known as Trapa natans, is an AIS causing problems in Oneida Lake, the Salmon and Oswego Rivers, and some embayments of Lake Ontario.

Closeup of water chestnut rosettes during a WC pull in Sodus Bay.
 Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers
Originating from Europe, Asia and Africa, WC has made its way to North America over the years and now grows, and, often thrives, in freshwater habitats such as nutrient-rich lakes and slow moving or stagnant rivers.

Without control efforts, WC plants form dense floating mats that severely limit light and oxygen availability for native species. Water chestnuts easily outcompete native species by overcrowding to dominate waterways and increase the potential for fish die-off. Large colonies of WC also negatively affect boating, fishing, swimming and other aquatic recreation.

With such a quickly-reproducing species, control methods can be quite difficult. If not kept in check, WC will flourish and thrive until it clogs one area and begins to spread to surrounding waterways.

How do we manage something that has the ability to spread so rapidly?

The answer is through concern, persistence, and dedication. We're able to manage this with the help of environmental professionals, communities and volunteers who come together to raise public awareness of AIS and take on the challenge of AIS management.

Management and control methods vary depending on the location, level of invasiveness, AIS population size, and local conditions, such as the size of the water body and surrounding ecosystem.

Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager John DeHollander says the goal of treatment depends on the site characteristics and density of the WC population.

Hand pulls are done with groups of volunteers, with the goal of removing as much of the WC as possible. Still, some plants can be left behind.  Therefore, it is more reasonable to maintain control over a smaller infested area to prevent the WC from spreading further.

This volunteer is seen with baskets full of water chestnuts collected 
during a handpull event in 2012. Photo by: 2012 NYSG Launch Steward, Nick Spera
NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers collects water chestnuts at a local handpull
Photo by:  2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
When conditions of a WC infestation are not conducive for a hand pull, other alternatives such as mechanical and/or chemical treatment may be considered.

Mechanical harvesting machines cut and collect the aquatic plants, removing them from the water by a conveyor belt system. The plant matter is then stored in the harvester until the AIS can be removed and disposed away from water. This method works well on large communities of WC that have spread beyond control for mechanical harvesting.
Weeds harvested mechanically in Sodus Bay.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman
"Speaking from years of experience with mechanical harvesting at the same site (Ox Creek) annually for four years, then skipping the fifth year, we saw the water chestnut move right back in, making it look like the site had never been treated,” DeHollander says.

Eradication is very rare, but may be possible if the WC population is small; however, it would be necessary to continue treatment efforts for several years.

Suppression and containment are more reasonable goals for AIS treatment, particularly for larger AIS populations in isolated ecosystems.

With WC being such a rapidly spreading plant, it is sometimes necessary to control the spread of this AIS using chemical treatment. This sort of “shock” method is used to stop the growth and spread of the AIS so it hopefully becomes possible to regain control of the spread. It is important for local efforts to identify WC invasion early, so control efforts can be made early to prevent having to chemically treat the invasive spread and risk damaging other species in the surrounding ecosystem.

To learn more about organizing a local resource, please reference the "Steps and Procedures to Help Organize an Invasive Plant Removal and Disposal" online at

In partnership with Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District (OCSWCD), St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM), and the Oswego County Guides’ Association, the NYSG Launch Steward Program assisted in educating participants in AIS prevention and helped stop the spread of aquatic invasive species on July 13th, 2013. Approximately 38 participants (many of which included local volunteers) were in attendance; more than 530 pounds of European water chestnut were removed from the Salmon River during this event. Volunteers were required to bring their own personal flotation devices and boat (kayak or canoe worked as well).

For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Can We Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers? Here’s How (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Clinton Whittaker)

Aquatic Invasive species (AIS) are non-native species that cause harm to the environment, the economy or human health. AIS are an increasing problem threatening ecosystems all over the United States. Locally, the eastern and southern shores of Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake are being affected by Eurasian water milfoil and European water chestnut. These AIS can reduce property values, harm ecosystems, reduce native habitats where young fish grow, and damage the overall quality of fishing by making entire areas impossible to fish.

Groups including local state and federal agencies, Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), and extension programs, including New York Sea Grant (NYSG), implement or educate the public about several methods to prevent or slow the spread of AIS.

Different types of AIS control include prevention, and physical, mechanical, chemical, and biological means.

The mechanical aquatic weed harvester operated by the Sodus Bay Improvement Association. 
Photo: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

Prevention involves outreach and education that aims to keep pristine areas free of AIS and to contain AIS infestations to only the infested waters. 

With the goal of prevention in mind, the NYSG Launch Steward Program teaches boaters how to prevent the spread of AIS through voluntary watercraft inspections. The launch stewards are stationed at select boat launches located on Lake Ontario; Oneida Lake; the Oswego, Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers; and Sandy and Stony Creeks to offer voluntary education to boaters on how to look for, remove and properly dispose of unwanted aquatic hitchhiking debris, including AIS. 

Through this outreach, the stewards are empowering the public to self-inspect watercraft, and by implementing watercraft inspection the boaters are helping to prevent the spread of AIS.

Physical control uses manpower to manage AIS. Hand pulls to remove water chestnut from infested waters are typically done by groups of people. On Oneida Lake water chestnut hand pulls have been co-organized by the Oneida Lake Rotary Club and New York Sea Grant, and the Finger Lakes PRISM with local Bass Masters. 

The Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District’s hand pull efforts on Oneida Lake are focused at Big and Muskrat Bays. 

Those interested in organizing a local hand pull will find a how-to tutorial by NYSG Launch Steward Nick Spera online at www.nyseagrant/ccd/stewards

Mechanical control uses machinery to cut and remove AIS. The Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District runs a mechanical harvester on Sodus Bay in an effort to control aquatic weeds. The aquatic harvester is used annually to control the water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed there. 

Chemical control is an expensive, last-resort means of control that uses aquatic pesticides and requires appropriate training and certification. Chemical treatment to control water chestnut in the Oswego River has resulted in a smaller and less robust water chestnut population compared to years when the chemical control was not used.

Biological control introduces an invasive species’ natural predator into the aquatic environment. Years of controlled laboratory research are completed on biological control methods before a release is tested with diligent monitoring in a water environment. One concern with this method is that the biological control species, e.g., introduction of Pacific salmon to consume alewives in Lake Ontario, should not out-compete or prey on the local natural species. 

Prior to the introduction of Pacific salmon in Lake Ontario, the alewife population experienced major die-offs in the summer months. As a result of the Lake Ontario Pacific salmon stocking program by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the alewife population has been reduced to manageable numbers. 

AIS impact us all. While it may be possible to contain, suppress, and, in some rare cases, eradicate AIS infestations, management takes considerable time and money. Because some control methods can be expensive and labor intensive, education methods, such as the NYSG Launch Steward Program, are important as cost-effective ways of engaging the public in helping to prevent and slow the spread of AIS. 

For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What is That on Your Fishing Line & How Do You Report It? Identifying and Reporting Unknown and Aquatic Invasive Species (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Brittney Rogers)

If you are among the anglers who enjoy fishing on the Great Lakes, have you ever caught something you had never seen before? If you answer yes, you are not alone. More than 180 aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes are disrupting food webs, degrading aquatic habitats, and displacing native species. Do you know what to do if you find an AIS at the end of your fishing line?

To limit and, in some cases, prevent the spread of AIS and protect the health of popular fishing spots and recreational waterways, it is important for the public to be able to accurately identify and report AIS. Once AIS have become established, it is more difficult to remove or manage them, which is why tracking their distribution range is vital for early detection and controlling the spread of the unwanted species.

The first step after encountering what you think may be an AIS is to try to properly identify the species. The New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse is a useful tool to help you distinguish between AIS and native lookalikes. To help you identify your ‘catch,’ the Clearinghouse website consists of photos, species-specific characteristics (size, color, etc.), range, and tips for limiting AIS spread.

If you cannot confidently identify your ‘catch,’ a sample of the species can be delivered to your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) representative for identification. Contacts for local PRISMs can be found at

When collecting samples, be sure to seal the specimen in an airtight package, e.g., a sealable plastic bag, and include the date; the location, including GPS coordinates; and your name and contact information.

This round goby, an AIS, was not what an angler hoped to hook on a recent Lake Ontario fishing trip.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
Terrestrial and aquatic invasive species observations can be reported to New York’s online database, managed by the NYS Natural Heritage Program. This tool is user-friendly and field-ready with a smartphone application.

To upload data to iMapInvasives, you must receive a username that is generated when you attend a free training session, typically offered by PRISMs in the spring.

After completing training you are ready to begin adding your observational data to the iMapInvasives database. The site provides step-by-step instructions and currently has six different data forms for use: observation, assessment, survey, treatment, infestations, and projects. The site also has species distribution maps, tables, and reports by species/areas.

If possible, take a well-focused, up-close photograph of the species and of the habitat where the species was found. The photograph can be sent electronically to local experts and may be needed for archiving purposes. Photographs are also suggested as collected specimens can lose their color.

Once iMapInvasive/PRISM experts receive a reported finding, they will confirm or correct the sighting using the specimen, photographs, and/or site visits.

The confirmed observational data provided by citizens help PRISM partners develop and implement management strategies for AIS.

Through species identification and iMapInvasives training, you and natural resource managers gain knowledge about which areas/habitats are at greatest risk of invasion, which species pose the greatest threats, and which areas are the most pristine so you can implement preventative practices to help keep these areas clean of AIS.

It’s not too late to make a difference in the fight against AIS. For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

This is part of the NYSG Launch Steward article series that was published in local newspapers.