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

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

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