Invasive species: Boaters and anglers have critical role to play in Kawartha Lakes

By Matthew Robbins

Invasive species: Boaters and anglers have critical role to play in Kawartha Lakes
Fish species like the round goby can be devastating to Kawartha Lakes ecosystems.

The rivers and lakes of Kawartha Lakes are once again teeming with life. Boat owners everywhere are eager to take their isolation to the open water. However, we need to consider our waterways’ future. Our aquatic ecosystems have long faced a debilitating, fast-spreading and almost virulent threat, and when our current health crisis finally does subside, we will once again be faced with the challenge of invasive species.

This problem has roots that go as far back as the first European settlers and is likely familiar information for Kawartha Lakes residents. The zebra mussel, for instance, is well known in this region for its influence on water clarity and subsequent declines in species like walleye. Another familiar story is the spread of Eurasian water milfoil during the 90s, which clogged our boat-channels and smothered native vegetation.

Unfortunately, the story of exotic species has gone far beyond this and the list of new threats is growing. More recent perils for our region include the spiny water flea, water soldier, round goby, phragmites, and starry stonewort, just to name a few.

With serious ecological, financial and even health consequences that follow the introduction of these small but influential species, it is important to understand the part that we recreationalists play in their spread. Did you know that boating (and boat-related activities) is now considered the dominant source of aquatic invasion in Ontario? These critters cling to the side of our boats, hide in livewells (a tank found on many fishing boats used to keep bait and caught fish alive.) These creatures even stick to our fishing tackle. They are large fish, tiny invertebrates, unassuming plants and barely detectable algae, and they are all a serious threat.

Fortunately, preventing the spread of aquatic non-natives can be surprisingly straightforward for boaters and other water-sports enthusiasts. “Clean Drain Dry” is a near-universal protocol used to reduce the risk of exotic species hitching a ride between waterbodies.

As the name suggests, it’s quite simple…

Clean: Clear off any debris, be it vegetation, mud, mussels, etc. from the boat and your equipment before leaving the water, ensuring that potential invaders stay where they are.

Drain: It is important to drain away any water the boat might be holding before it reaches another waterway, as standing water can act as an oasis for species stowed away on your vessel. Pull both the livewell and the transom plugs and allow the boat ample time to drain.

Dry: Letting a boat (or other watercraft) to sit out in the sun for an extended period can be an effective way of killing any critters that may have been missed by the first two steps. It is recommended that boats are dried for a minimum of 5 days to make this effective.

“Recreationists who aren’t able to complete the full drying period, or who are looking to go beyond ‘clean drain dry’ should use a pressure washer or hot water (greater than 50 degrees Celsius) to clean their boat.” says aquatic program specialist Brook Schryer of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

“Doing this will increase the likelihood of success in preventing the spread of invasive species. When it comes to boating and angling, making sure to clean and drain your vessel…as a bare minimum.”

Besides, personal discretion may not always be an option. A recent proposal on the environmental registry of Ontario explored the notion of putting Clean Drain Dry into mandatory law, making this a good time to get ahead of what may end up being the new reality for all Ontario boaters.

Boaters who keep their vessel confined to one waterbody all season don’t get a free pass either. While on the water, it is important to use primary channels and to avoid running through thick vegetation, as many problematic species (including milfoil) can reproduce through fragmentation. This is to say, small fragments of the plant which are broken off can develop into entirely new plants, making motors the perfect mix of destruction and distribution.

When passing through lock systems, it is also vital to inspect and drain your vessel in much the same way you would when passing over land. Locks, like the one in downtown Lindsay, can act as a barrier to invaders in their spread from one part of system to the next.

Ultimately, one of the most important actions that we can take is to educate ourselves on the species which pose a threat to this area. By learning to identify non-native species, regular citizens can become citizen scientists and contribute to our understanding of invasive species distribution through programs like EDDmaps Ontario or iNaturalist. Any potential invasive species sightings should be either reported to one of these two sources or to the ministry of natural resources and forestry invading species hotline at 1-800-563-7711.

In this part of the world, you are never far from water. Kawartha Lakes is especially well known for its lakes and rivers, several of which remain largely untouched by invasive species. Keeping these ecosystems healthy, much like our personal health, is a matter of conscious effort and sacrifice.

A note for anglers: Although not exclusively boat-related, anglers play a key role in preventing the spread of invasive species. Fish species like the round goby, which can easily be overlooked in a bait bucket, have the potential to be truly devastating to Kawartha Lakes ecosystems. Even species that are native to Ontario, like smallmouth bass or crappie, can play the role of an invasive when introduced into an unfamiliar waterway. For this reason, anglers should never simply release their bait into the water after a day of fishing.

1 Comment

  1. dik burns says:

    Good article Matt

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