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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Glance at the Aquatic Profile of Sodus Bay (By: NYSG Launch Steward Sophia Oliveira)

The New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program has expanded to include Sodus Bay, the largest sheltered bay on Lake Ontario. A popular recreational and tourism area, Sodus Bay is an excellent place for the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program to be educating the public about the importance of preventing and slowing the spread of harmful aquatic hitchhikers.

Boaters enjoying a day on the water at Sodus Bay.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria
With an average depth of 18 feet and a maximum depth of about 48 feet, Sodus bay provides habitat for fish and other freshwater aquatic organisms. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Sodus Bay covers a surface area of about 3,357 acres and is located in the Towns of Sodus and Huron in Wayne County.

This extensive bay supports an abundance of fishing, making it a popular year-round fishing destination with the local and out-of-county anglers. Summer bass fishing, ice fishing for perch, and spring bullhead fishing are popular angling activities.

Beautiful day for launching a boat at Sodus Bay
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria

The NYSDEC monitors the fish species in the bay by implementing lake creel surveys, gill net sampling, and electrofishing. Field biologists are evaluating whether or not walleye stocking is effective, along with monitoring fish species and community populations. The bay supports a vast variety of fish including longnose gar, bowfin, northern pike, chain pickerel, channel catfish, brown bullhead, white perch, rock bass, pumpkinseed, bluegill, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, walleye, yellow perch, gizzard shad, and pugnose shiners. According to International Union for Conservation and Nature, pugnose shiners are a threatened species due in part to habitat degradation.

       "A sunset view of a watercraft on Sodus Bay"
               Photo courtesy of: Wayne County Tourism office

While the bay provides suitable habitat for native fish and plants, a number of factors, including AIS, are decreasing the water quality and suitability of the ecosystem to the natives. AIS such as Eurasian water milfoil, Curly leaf pondweed, and European water chestnut are becoming nuisances to native plant species by outcompeting for resources.

Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District's Weed harvesting Program at work in Sodus Bay. 
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria

Sodus Bay is a tourism gem of the southern Lake Ontario region, important to both the environment and economy. Stewardship, research, education, outreach, and citizen awareness and interest are all important ways to help support Sodus Bay as a valuable resource for fishing, boating, swimming, and vacationing as well as  its role in the local and Great Lakes ecosystems.

This summer please take the opportunity to meet the NYSG Launch stewards at Sodus Bay, Port Bay, and elsewhere in the shoreline region to learn about the voluntary watercraft inspections that help with AIS management.

NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers shakes hands with boater after showing him how to inspect his boat for aquatic hitchhikers. Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
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.   

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reaching Out with Outreach

One of the chief responsibilities of the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Launch Stewards is educating the public about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. In addition to launch site education that focuses on teaching boaters how to look for, remove and dispose of aquatic hitchhiking debris and organisms, the launch stewards also provide attendees of local outreach events (festivals, fairs, tradeshows, etc.) and formal outreach events with AIS prevention tips. The 2013 NYSG Launch Stewards have attended a variety of outreach events and participated in hands-on AIS control events.  


The season was kicked off with Dune Fest (organized by NYSG, NYSDEC and NYS Parks) on May 30th, at Southwick Beach State Park. Launch Stewards educated nearly one hundred 7th graders from Belleville-Henderson and Sandy Creek Middle Schools on the aquatic food web of Lake Ontario and impacts of AIS. A game that simulated the interactions between different species in aquatic ecosystems was used to show students how the introduction of AIS significantly disrupts the food web and affects the ecosystem.

The food web diagram above was used to develop the game.
Diagram compliments of NOAA

Instructors of each group of students stood in the middle of a circle of students and Launch Stewards and acted as the sun. Stewards explained how the sun provides the necessary energy for the lower level of the building blocks of the wood web (primary producers). Students selected and wore a picture and description of a native species that is found in Lake Ontario. The stewards wore AIS pictures. To represent the species interactions a ball of string was thrown from the sun (the instructor), to native species beginning with primary producers (algae, phytoplankton and aquatic plants). The string was held onto by each person while the ball was thrown to various species throughout the trophic (energy) levels in the ecosystem creating a food web. Once each student had a place in the food web, AIS were introduced by the Stewards who tugged on various parts of the food web demonstrating which native species were affected by the introduction of AIS. The game was a fun interactive way to show students how AIS change the food web. Students learned that everything in nature is connected and that the introduction of AIS changes the food web.

2013 NYSG Launch Steward Megan Pistolese acting as the Sea lamprey during the NYSG Aquatic Food Web activity. Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman


On June 22, Launch Stewards participated in the Citizen Science Expo held by Save Our Sodus (SOS) at the Sodus Bay Yacht Club. The event helped attendees learn how they can get involved and help prevent and/or slow the spread of AIS.  AIS specimens were presented and a discussion was given about the different AIS that are impacting Sodus Bay and Lake Ontario. These specimens were used to show attendees how to properly identify AIS. Attendees also learned how they can prevent the spread of AIS by following the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging.

NYSG Launch Steward Sophia Oliveira teaches a family about some of the AIS in Lake Ontario.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman
In addition to the NYSG Launch Steward display there were other organizations there to provide valuable information about science of Sodus Bay. Some of the other organizations in attendance included Save Our Sodus, NYSG Clean and Safe Boat, SUNY ESF researcher Dr. Greg Boyer, Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Wayne-Monroe CCE. It was a great day and event. Thanks to SOS for inviting us and putting this event together to provide the residents of Sodus Bay information about various science efforts going on in the bay.

The 2013 NYSG Clean and Safe Boat at Save Our Sodus' Citizen Science Expo.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

Weather station buoy deployed by Dr. Greg Boyer, SUNY ESF.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman


On July 11th Launch Stewards were invited to speak to teach people about watercraft inspection and common AIS and native lookalikes. A discussion about what Launch Stewards do and how they interact with boaters as well as a boat inspection demonstration was given. Ideas about how to better improve the water quality of Sodus bay were presented. This event was organized by Save Our Sodus, Arney’s Marina and NYSG.  


The Launch Stewards participated in a number of European water chestnut hand-pulls throughout the season. Hand-pull locations included the Salmon River (Pine Grove Boat Launch, Oswego County, NY),  Emerald Point in Sodus Bay (Wayne County, NY), and Oneida Lake. European water chestnuts are a common AIS that have become established in many local waters in high densities limiting boating access and impacting the aquatic food web. Physical removal the plant by kayakers and boaters is one of the ways to reduce their populations and help slow their spread. Weed harvesters have also been used throughout Sodus Bay and other parts of the Lake Ontario watershed to help control aquatic invasive plants.

NYSG Launch Stewards at the Port Ontario Water Chestnut Hand-Pull at Pine Grove Boat Launch.
From left to right: Nick Spera, Brittney Rogers, Megan Pistolese and Clinton Whittaker
Photo by: Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District, John DeHollander

One of Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District's Aquatic Weed Harvester in Sodus Bay.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers hand-pulling European water chestnuts.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese


On June 15th, Launch Steward Ryan Thompson manned a NYSG and AIS informational display at the finish line of the Oswego triathlon. Triathlon organizers are becoming more interested in AIS prevention education at their events because the aquatic leg (swim or paddle) is a potential vector for the spread of AIS. Many attendees admitted they had not thought about their wetsuit, booties, and other triathlon swim gear being a vector for the spread of AIS. During this event participants and onlookers learned about AIS and tips to prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers. Attendees were interested in learning about the current status of AIS in Lake Ontario. Anglers in attendance shared stories with Ryan about their experiences with AIS and expressed concern about the potential impacts of AIS on sport fish populations. Events like this allow Launch Stewards to share the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging.


On July 29th, Launch Steward Heather Dunham attended a Wear It event at Wright’s Landing. Similar to other events, information about AIS and the NYSG Launch Steward Program was presented to attendees. People were also encouraged to wear life jackets as part of the Wear It event.


August 7th -8th, Launch Steward Megan Pistolese accompanied Dave White, NYSG Recreation and Tourism Specialist, at the 26th annual Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls, NY. The event is the largest outdoor agricultural show in the northeast, filling 300 acres with displays of the latest agricultural equipment, educational seminars, demonstrations and opportunities to ask experts about just about anything that has to do with farming. During the event an informational table was displayed showing viewers examples of AIS. NYSG spoke with attendees about the impacts of AIS and how implementing the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging can prevent their spread. Dave White gave demonstrations on the various life jackets that can be worn and the Clean and Safe boat was loaded up with different types of boater safety equipment.

Dave White discusses AIS issues with a colleague at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls, NY.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese 
AIS information table at Empire Farm Days
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

NYSG Clean and Safe Boat Display
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

Although a few weeks remain, we hope you will take the chance to stop by and visit with us at future outreach events. The NYSG Launch Steward Program would like to thank all of the organizations that have invited us to participate and partnered with us in these outreach events.