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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook

PRESS RELEASE: October 16, 2014


  • Author Mary Penney, New York Sea Grant, (315)-312-3042
  • Cornell University Cooperative Extension Invasive Species Programs Coordinator Chuck O’Neill, (585)-831-6165
  • For Photos/Assistance: Publicist Kara Lynn Dunn, (315)-465-7578,
  • Additional contacts listed at end of release
Direct link to handbook:

New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook Now Available to Start New Programs, Standardize Training 

Ithaca/Oswego, NY. October 16, 2014.   New York Sea Grant Extension and the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Invasive Species Program have published a New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook. The 81-page, illustrated guide is the standardized model for starting new watercraft inspection programs and includes a Watercraft Inspection Steward Training and Field Guide section.

This new steward program development handbook is an important tool for use in fighting the running battle with aquatic invasive species,’ says Chuck O’Neill, New York State Invasive Species Clearinghouse Director and Cornell University Extension Invasive Species Program Coordinator.

O’Neill defines aquatic invasive species, also called AIS, as non-native fish, plants, and microorganisms that are likely to cause harm to the economy, environment or human health in the area where they are introduced.

The goal of watercraft inspection is to prevent and slow the spread of AIS.

The direct link to the handbook is   


Recreational boating is a known vector by which AIS hitchhike into new waters,’ O’Neill says.

Invasive Species Coordination Unit Coordinator David J. Adams of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, says, ‘Aquatic invasive species are a form of non-native, invasive biological pollution that are severely damaging New York’s natural resources. Movement of AIS between waters harms our environment and economy. This new resource, the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook, will encourage and support local stewardship of the waters of the State and help mitigate the impact of invasive species.’

Watercraft inspection stewards, also known as boat, lake, and watershed stewards, play a critical role in AIS management.

The introduction of new populations of invaders is changing the ecology of lakes across New York State. By teaching boat owners the impacts of AIS and how to inspect their vessels, trailers and gear and to remove and properly dispose of aquatic hitchhikers, the stewards provide one of the first lines of defense against the damage of aquatic invasive species,’ O’Neill says. 

New York Sea Grant has been involved with waterfront steward programs since 1985. NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist Mary E. Penney, who has managed stewards working along Lake Ontario since 2006, authored the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook.

This handbook represents a cooperative effort built on the experience and expertise of the program leaders of existing waterfront stewardship programs in New York and others with invasive species expertise. Each collaborator was crucial in developing content on standardized watercraft inspection protocol, AIS identification and distribution, regulations, how to plan a new program, steward field training, and other aspects of starting a proper watercraft inspection program,’ Penney says. 

The New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook Advisory Committee working with Penney included representatives of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, Catskill Region Invasive Species Partnership, Finger Lakes Institute, Lake Champlain Basin Program, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, Lake George Association, New York Sea Grant, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Parks, and Paul Smith’s College Watershed Stewardship Program.

The Clean, Drain, Dry watercraft inspection processes detailed in the new handbook are in keeping with the national Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!TM campaign led by Wildlife Forever, Brooklyn Center, MN, with support from the National Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and partners nationwide. 

Stewards with two of the newest steward programs in NY: the New York State Parks Boat Stewards and Conesus Lake Stewards field tested the Watercraft Inspection Steward Training and Field Guide section of the handbook in 2014.

Conesus Lake, due south of Rochester, is one of the smaller Finger Lakes. Cornell Cooperative Extension/CCE of Livingston County Executive Director Louie ‘Bo’ Freeman manages the Conesus Lake Stewards, a collaborative program by CCE, Conesus Lake Association, Livingston County, and SUNY Geneseo. 

Training this year with Mary Penney and the steward training section of the new handbook was a tremendous asset to us. The field guide is organized with readily accessible information that is pertinent to the clientele on Conesus Lake, and the comprehensive data collected will be a phenomenal resource,’ Freeman says.

New York Sea Grant and New York State Parks will hold a day-long, spring 2015 Watercraft Inspection Steward Workshop that will use the new handbook to help the organizers of new and young steward programs. The workshop planning partners include Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper®, Lake Champlain Basin Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Paul Smith’s College, and Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management in the Adirondack Park, Finger Lakes, Catskills, St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario, and Western NY regions.  

The New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook is available online at and    

The NYS Environmental Protection Fund through a contract with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation supports the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook, Cornell University Invasive Species Program, and NY Invasive Species Clearinghouse. 

Additional Media Contacts:
Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program: Hilary Smith, 518-576-2082
Catskill Region: Paul Lord, SUNY Oneonta, 607-436-2818
Conesus Lake Stewards: Louie ‘Bo’ Freeman, 585-991-5420
Finger Lakes Institute: Lisa B. Cleckner, 315-781-4381
Lake Champlain Basin Program, VT: Meg Modley, 802-372-3213 x215
Lake Champlain Sea Grant: Mark Malchoff, SUNY Plattsburgh, 518-564-3037
Lake George Association: Emily DeBolt, 518-668-3558 x301
New York Sea Grant: Mary E. Penney, 315-312-3042
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation: David J. Adams, 518-402-9149
Paul Smith’s College Watershed Stewardship Program: Eric Holmlund, 518-327-6341

Perpectives on AIS from Anglers and Lake Professionals

Oneida Lake’s Changing Environment: 

Perspectives on AIS from Anglers and Lake Professionals 

by Jordan Bodway, 2014 New York Sea Grant Launch Steward 

Now more than ever the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) has become an increasingly pertinent issue for everyone who enjoys Oneida Lake. Oneida Lake is an integral part of central New York’s recreational value and economic stability. Creel surveys conducted by Cornell University from 2002 to 2005 revealed that the lake’s fishery annually generated between 200,000 and 300,000 angler hours during the open water season. 

As a result of my interest in protecting the integrity of the place I call home, I filled a position with New York Sea Grant (NYSG) as a 2014 Launch Steward. The NYSG Launch Steward program educates boaters at selected boat launches on how to look for, remove and properly dispose of aquatic hitchhiking debris and organisms. I was stationed on the north shore of Oneida Lake at Godfrey Point, a public launch owned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).  

Prior to working at Godfrey Point this summer, I was familiar with Oneida Lake’s vast aquatic life but unaware of the condition and health of the lake as it relates to aquatic invasive species (AIS). As a NYSG Launch Steward helping anglers learn how to conduct watercraft inspections to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species, I had the opportunity to speak with many people, including experienced anglers, some who come from long distances to utilize Oneida Lake; charter captains; and individuals involved with fisheries management.

Mike Masucca & Adam Henderson Captain's of Little O' Charters expressing their concern 
on AIS at Godfrey Point Boat Launch. Photo: by Jordan Bodway, NYSG  
Cornell University Fisheries Biologist Tom Brooking stationed at Cornell University’s Biological Field Station at Shackelton Point notes that AIS have become another factor to consider when conducting studies on Oneida Lake.  For example, Brooking points out that increased weed growth in the lake is partially a result of the introduction of zebra mussels, an AIS.

Native to the Black and Caspian seas region of Eurasia and western Asia, these mussels were first sighted in Lake St. Clair, between Detroit and the Canadian province of Ontario, in 1988, believed to have been introduced into the Great Lakes by the ballast water of oceangoing ships. They officially reached Oneida Lake in 1991 and quickly proliferated.

“When the mussels entered Oneida Lake, the entire habitat changed. By filtering and clearing the water, the zebra mussels have altered the natural conditions of the lake,“ says Brooking. “Sunlight can penetrate deeper into the water column, cultivating higher vegetation growth which helps support vegetation oriented species like pickerel, largemouth bass, and sunfish.”

Although some species are thriving as a result of these changes, perch and walleye fry, both of whom benefitted from the algae green water, are now much more vulnerable to predation.  Additionally, clearer waters might allow for fish eating birds such as cormorants and terns to be more successful in their pursuit for food.

While some species use the vegetated areas for refuge, some types of vegetation such as Eurasian milfoil and European water chestnut form thick mats and can become depleted of dissolved oxygen and provide poor habitat. In addition, these species reproduce rapidly due to an absence of limiting factors and are poor sources of food for waterfowl.

Chris Scriba Captain of Scriba Fishing Charters &Jordan Bodway discussing the changing 
ecology of Oneida Lake. Photo: by Jordan Bodway, NYSG
Fishing charter operators I spoke with believe the increased water clarity influenced by the zebra mussels has given fish such as walleye an advantage over anglers. Walleye are known to avoid strong light, and consequently tend to avoid shallow reefs, in search of thick weed beds or deeper water where they aren’t as exposed to anglers.

The Cornell Biological Field Station found gobies this summer at low densities near Brewerton and throughout Oneida Lake nearly as far as Lewis Point. Some anglers believe the gobies will make fishing better in Oneida Lake by serving as a food source for creating larger fish.

Others express concern about the potential for negative impact by the gobies and a dramatic increase in the goby population that could result in dietary changes in fish, potentially harming angler productivity.

One angler worried that the establishment of the round gobies in Oneida Lake could become detrimental to bass populations advocated for banning the catch-and-release season to allow the bass to remain on nesting beds. When bass are removed from their beds as a result of angler activity, round gobies use the opportunity to invade their nests and consume the bass eggs, according to Cornell University scientists, although population-level impacts are not as clear.

Most everyone I spoke with stressed the importance of being aware of the potentially negative effects that AIS can have on a body of water. Oneida Lake is a dynamic body of water impacted by the introduction of the round goby and the potential for other AIS arrivals. Although many people are confident that Oneida Lake’s high productivity will help buffer the potential damage caused by new invaders, the issue of AIS should not be ignored.

Boaters and anglers can be proactive by following a simple Clean, Drain, Dry watercraft inspection protocol when launching and retrieving motorized and non-motorized vessels. Conducting a thorough investigation of your boat and removing and properly disposing of aquatic debris helps prevent and slow the spread of new invasive species into beautiful Oneida Lake.

There is no single solution to the AIS problem, but a collective effort to help stop aquatic hitchhikers will make a significant difference in time. Learn more at

Where Are They Now?

New York Sea Grant Stewards Find Career Success

Since 1985, students working as New York Sea Grant (NYSG) stewards have helped educate local citizens and visitors about how to enjoy New York’s natural resources in an ecologically-friendly way. Since 2006, the steward program has also served as an environmental science workforce development program providing participants with valuable career development experience.

The stewards’ focus on ecologically-responsible use of the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes and Wetlands Area and Salmon River Corridor expanded over the years to include education on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species in 7 counties stretching from Sodus and Port Bays in Wayne County to Black Pond in Jefferson County, inland to the Redfield Reservoir in Oswego County and Sylvan Beach in Oneida County, and sites in Cayuga, Onondaga and Madison counties.

The stewards reached audiences through public outreach events, the development of publications and PowerPoint presentations, one-on-one interaction, and assisting implementation and shoreline stewardship projects. The 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards helped develop the steward training and field guide section of the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook.

NYSG Provides Eco-Career Training

In 2014, NYSG tracked the career success of former stewards to see “where they are now.” The stewards credit the program with contributing to their futures as scientific professionals, conservationists, and environmental educators.

Former stewards are currently employed with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Terrestrial Environmental Specialists, Inc., the United States Geological Survey, Washington State University Extension and The Nature Conservancy’s Growing Leaders on Behalf of the Environment internship program;

 Former stewards value their NYSG experiences:

2013 NYSG Launch Steward Crew
Top (left to right) Nick Spera, Clinton Whittaker, Ryan Thompson
Middle (left to right) Brittney Rogers, Mary Penney
Bottom (left to right) Heather Dunham, Sophia Oliveira, Megan Pristolese
Photo by Dave White, NYSG

 “My time as a NYSG steward prepared me to think
on my feet, be adaptive to situations, and react to
diverse stakeholders respectfully and professionally”
— Shelby Persons, Terrestrial Environmental Specalists

 “Becoming a NYSG steward made me more aware of the importance of
 stakeholder engagement in the conservation process”
 — John Koltz, Booz Allen Hamilton

 “Being a NYSG steward really opened my eyes to the
amount of debate that surrounds environmental issues and policies” 
— Kyle Teufel, Baltimore Woods Nature Center

 “I gained the ability to translate complicated scientific
information, making it more easily understood by the public” 
— Ryan Thompson, Bristol Myers Squibb

 “Being a NYSG Scholar and Launch Steward,
I developed an understanding of how to work
collaboratively with private and public interests”
 — Matt Brincka, Washington State University Extension

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Increasing Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness

New York Sea Grant (NYSG) supports a host of important research and outreach projects on issues such as shoreline protection, fisheries, aquatic invaders, and water quality. One of these outreach projects includes the NYSG Launch Steward Program which began in 2012. The Launch Stewards spend majority of their time at boat launches conducting watercraft inspections and educating boaters (and families) about aquatic invasive species (AIS) they might be seeing or transporting on their vessels/equipment. During the 2014 inspections, more than 88% of boaters proclaimed that the Launch Stewards increased their awareness of AIS.

In addition to launch site education focusing on teaching boaters how to look for, remove and dispose of aquatic hitchhiking debris and organisms, another main priority of the NYSG Launch Stewards is to attend different events to educate the general public about preventing the spread of AIS. Throughout the summer of 2014, eight NYSG Launch Stewards participated in several outreach events ranging from boat shows and triathlons to statewide events including the Great New York State Fair.

Save our Sodus’ Citizen Self-help Exposition

Launch Stewards participated in the Citizen Self-help Exposition held by Save Our Sodus in the Village of Sodus Point, NY. Stewards staffed the display and spoke with event attendees about AIS-related issues and ways they could actively help prevent the further spread of AIS.  At the event, Launch Stewards set up a display booth with program-related literature, specimen preserved in resin and items to be given to those who were interested. Approximately 60 attendees browsed at the booth while more than 20 became familiar with the importance of maintaining a stable ecosystem and the importance of native and invasive species have in the Lake Ontario aquatic system.

The following events were attended by the 2014 Launch Stewards in chronological order. 

2nd Annual Oswego Paddle Fest

At the Oswego Paddle Fest, paddlers of all ages and abilities had the opportunity to paddle the locks on Oswego River from Fulton or Minetto to Oswego, depending on the desired distance each paddler wanted to go. The event encouraged a ariety of paddlers to enjoy and appreciate the unique beauty of the historic Oswego River. For those who didn't paddle, a finish line celebration was held at Lock 7, which included food, live music and many booths to check out. Launch Stewards staffed a display races finish line (at Lock 7). Launch Steward Jeremy Galvin educated the festival attendees and paddlers about AIS that are established in the Great Lakes basin and how paddlers can help prevent the spread of AIS by inspecting their paddling and other recreational gear. Any questions that were presented by attendees were answered. Informational literature and other items were also given away. Approximately 40 people spoke with the Launch Steward about the program while many others took time to look at the display and take extra information.

NYSG Launch Steward, Jeremy Galvin, awaiting paddlers at NYSG’s Launch Steward
Program display booth at the 2nd annual Oswego Paddle Fest.
Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

Oswego County Fair

NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward, David Newell attended the Oswego County Fair, in the Oswego County tourism and promotion building where they educated the public about AIS. During this event the Launch Stewards answered questions presented by the inquisitive public who were in attendance. Speaking to over 100 people throughout this five day event, the Launch Stewards were capable of increasing public awareness on the havoc AIS can have on our aquatic ecosystems.

New York Sea Grant’s Launch Steward Program display set up at the Oswego County
Fairgrounds in the Oswego County Tourism and Promotion building.
Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

Henderson Harbor Triathlon

NYSG Launch Steward, David Newell conducted an AIS educational program at the Henderson Harbor Boat launch for participants and spectators in attendance during the Henderson Harbor Triathlon. During this event Newell had the opportunity to speak to several large groups of attendees who took numerous educational pamphlets on AIS.

Skaneateles Antique and Classic Boat Show

NYSG Launch Steward, Robert Bucci operated a booth at the annual Skaneateles Antique and Classic Boat Show. During this even Robert was able to educate a wide variety of participants about AIS.  Over the course of this three day event, the Launch Steward spoke to more than 200 people, and dispersed educational materials to all who were interested in learning more about how to stop the spread of AIS. The Skaneateles Antique and Classic Boat Show offered spectators the ability to enjoy live bands, as well as view many classic boats, including an amphibious car that looked like a 60’s Chevrolet.

Amphibious car on Skaneateles Lake during the annual Skaneateles Antique Boat Show.
Photo By: NYSG Launch Steward, Robert Bucci
Empire Farm Days; Seneca Falls

NYSG Launch Steward, Jeremy Galvin spent three days working a booth at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls, NY. Throughout the duration of the event more than 165 people were educated on AIS.  The main attraction which drew many of the attendants at this event included AIS specimens (pickled and preserved in resin) which many were unaware plagued our water bodies. Fortunately Galvin’s extensive knowledge on the subject matter helped enlighten those interested in learning more about AIS, and how to prevent their spread by participating in Clean, Drain, Dry boating methods.

USGS R/V Kaho Commissioning Celebration

The Great Lakes Science Center celebrated the newest addition to its large research vessels, the R/V Kaho. The new, 70-foot R/V Kaho enables the USGS Lake Ontario Biological Station scientists to enhance ongoing explorations of Lake Ontario. NYSG Launch Steward Ashleigh Grosso attended this traditional christening and commissioning ceremony held in Oswego, NY. During the event, the Launch Steward spoke with more than 50 people about AIS and the NYSG Launch Steward Program.

NYSG Display at the USGS R/V Kaho event.
Photo by 2014 NYSG Launch Steward Ashleigh Grosso.

Magic in Minetto

NYSG Launch Steward, Ashleigh Grosso manned a booth at the annual Magic in Minetto event. A free, fun, family festival that included music, crafts, vendors, and a kayak and canoe race. Approximately 40 people gained knowledge about NYSG and AIS. Many educational resources were handed out to spectators and racers who were interested in learning more information. 

NYSG Launch Steward Ashleigh Grosso at the Magic in Minetto Display.
Photo By: Richard Drosse

Great Shipwrecks of New York’s Great Lakes exhibit

NYSG in partnership with many other organizations held an exhibit at the New York State Fair. The exhibit which highlighted the shipwrecks of New York’s great lakes was a huge success. During this event, the NYSG Launch Steward Program was able to outreach to nearly 7,200 patrons in attendance at the NYS Fair. During the 10 day event, all eight Launch Stewards were scheduled to attend and educate the public who came in to visit the exhibit. Those who visited the display were able to observe preserved AIS specimens, large AIS/Stop Aquatic Hitchhiker panels and view/collect educational fact sheets. The Launch Stewards helped to increase attendant’s knowledge on which species are present in the Great Lakes, as well as the adverse effects AIS can have on aquatic ecosystems.  In addition to this the Launch Stewards were able to hand out educational pamphlets and brochures educating boaters on proper clean drain dry boating methods. 

NYSG's Coastal Education Specialist, Helen Domske educating fair goers about
AIS at the Launch Steward's display booth.
Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers 

The 7,200 patrons that were educated on AIS does not include the total number 
of visitors to the Great Shipwrecks of New York's Great Lakes display.

Oswego County Conservation Field Day

NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward, Robert Bucci attended the 6th annual Oswego County Conservation Field Day hosted by Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District. During this day long event many classes from the area bring students to rotate through 6 or more stations where they learn about various environmental/conservation topics. The Launch Stewards educated 145 fifth graders, chaperones and teachers on the Lake Ontario aquatic food web and impacts AIS have on food webs. The interactive Lake Ontario aquatic food web activity is a hands on approach to further educate students about food webs and AIS influences on the aquatic ecosystems. Students, chaperones and educators from many different surrounding schools (i.e., Oswego and Pulaski) attended the event.

Some of the preserved specimen used during NYSG events to give patrons a better look at different species found in Lake Ontario. Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers 

Jefferson County Environmental Awareness Days

NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward, Robert Bucci attended the Jefferson County Environmental Awareness Days held at Fort Drum Natural Resource Management Area. The Launch Stewards educated 330 sixth graders, chaperones and teachers on the Lake Ontario aquatic food web and impacts AIS have on food webs. Students, chaperones and educators from many different surrounding schools (i.e., General Brown, Indian River) attended the event.

NYSG Chief Launch Steward Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward Robert Bucci eagerly waiting for the next round of students to learn about Lake Ontario's aquatic food web by participating in the interactive activity.  Photo By: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

Salmon River Fish Hatchery Open House
(National Hunting and Fishing Day)

The Salmon River Fish Hatchery (SRFH) held a one day open house on National Hunting and Fishing Day. NYSG Chief Launch Steward Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward Robert Bucci manned a large display to talk with visitors about AIS and their impacts on the environment. The Launch Stewards handed out fact sheets, brochures, published articles, watch cards and other information about AIS. The booth also contained the laminated, pickled and resin species. The visitors to the booth had a variety of knowledge about AIS, some presented questions they had, and many others learned new information. Many of the visitors had previous experiences with Launch Stewards while boating and fishing in the area. The launch stewards reached more than 275 people during the daylong event.

NYSG Launch Stewards showing some of the SRFH visitors the Sea lamprey and other preserved specimen while educating them about AIS. Photo By: SLELO field crew member, Sabrina Dreythaler

Guided Tours at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery

NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers and Launch Steward, Robert Bucci provided educational information to visitors over the course of the salmon run throughout the month of October at the SRFH. NYSG Launch Stewards assisted New York State Department of Environmental Conservation River Stewards with tours of the SRFH for multiple different groups including college classes/clubs, high schools, middle schools and many more. The Launch Stewards taught the field trip goers about AIS and how they can have a detrimental effect on fishing, the salmon and other species of the river and the Great Lakes. Visitors to the SRFH learned about AIS pathways, and prevention techniques, as well as the history of the SRFH, and the salmon and trout natural history.

NYSG Launch Steward Outreach and Education

The NYSG Launch Stewards attended 13 different events to teach others about AIS. More than 10,200 people were reached by the Launch Steward efforts during these events. The goal of the public education programs and watercraft inspections/launch site education offered throughout the boating season by the NYSG Launch Stewards is to empower boaters and the general public to prevent the spread of AIS. The NYSG Launch Steward Program is the product of valuable partnerships, these partnerships make outreach activities possible.