Take care to not spread invasive species

It was a glorious Independence Day weekend in the Upper Peninsula, with scores of people taking to the region’s waterways.

Let’s hope while having fun, those on boats or other forms of watercraft in the Upper Peninsula region took care to make sure they didn’t have any foreign riders on board with them.

This is Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week in Michigan, aimed at convincing those who use the state’s lakes, rivers and streams to practice safe boating in terms of not giving exotic, potentially harmful non-native organisms and even viruses a means to spread.

The list of invasive aquatic species already in Dickinson County is daunting. Rusty crayfish, zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil all have been found in Lake Antoine. Carney Lake has milfoil as well, as does Norway Lake.

Potentially on the horizon: New Zealand mud snails, discovered this year in the Au Sable and Pere Marquette rivers in Michigan. According to the state Department of Environmental Quality, “Introductions of New Zealand mudsnails have been linked to recreational uses like fishing, since New Zealand mudsnails can easily hitchhike rides on recreational gear, especially waders.”

More than 180 alien organisms have been found in the Great Lakes basin so far, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. In Michigan alone, 55 non-native species have been labeled as prohibited or restricted.

It’s not just that these species can outcompete their native counterparts. They also potentially carry pathogens that can decimate local populations that have no past exposure – think viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, which resulted in a new law making it illegal to place a live fish in Michigan public waters without a permit unless freshly caught in that same body of water. And in January, the federal government classified 201 non-native salamander species as a threat to U.S. wildlife because of a fungus causing major salamander die-offs in Europe that – for now – has not been found in North America.

The state has an estimated 900,000 registered boaters who use 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. That’s a lot of territory to cover. So personal responsibility has to play a factor, since law enforcement oversight is stretched thin.

The state now requires by law that those who take to Michigan’s waterways:

– Remove aquatic plants from boats, boating equipment and boat trailers before launching or placing in the water.

– Drain live wells, bilges and all water from boats before leaving the access site.

– Dispose of unused bait in the trash. Do not release bait into the water.

– Don’t transfer fish to water bodies other than where they were caught.

It also recommends you:

– Inspect and remove plants and mud from boats and trailers and dry equipment before leaving the access area. Dispose of the material in a trash receptacle or otherwise away from the water body if possible.

– Wash boats and trailers before leaving the access area if possible, or at a nearby car wash or at home.

– Dry boats and equipment for at least five days before launching into a different body of water.

– Disinfect live wells and bilges with bleach solution of 1/2 cup bleach to 5 gallons of water.

Some launches offer wash stations to potentially shed boats of vegetation and other organisms that might cling or lurk on watercrafts. We encourage taking advantage of what might be available in terms of cleaning off boats.

The risks when it comes to invasive species are too high to not practice caution when cruising the waterways of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.