As the waters of the Connecticut River beckon us to begin the 2010 boating season, the Connecticut River Watershed Council is asking all boaters to help protect the Connecticut River from invasions of exotic plants and animals. Whether you are a power boat, rowing, canoe, kayak or sail enthusiast along with your enjoyment of the river you have a special responsibility to protect the Connecticut River watershed. Being responsible is not a difficult task for boaters just think: Check, Clean and Dry!

For those who fish, know where your bait came from, what species and whether or not it is a native to the body of water where you are fishing. The introduction of the wrong species of baitfish into a water body can have devastating effects on the resident fish; newly discovered smelt in Lake Champlain is one of our latest documented invasions.

Three years ago we learned of a potential invasion of an infectious virus Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, called VHS discovered just some 75 miles to the west of our watershed. VHS has the potential to kill fish by the thousands. The virus is spread by moving fish from one water body to another. Heed the restrictions on moving untested uncertified bait fish between water bodies including those you net yourself.

Three years ago the invasive algae Didymosphenia geminata, better known as didymo or rock snot was discovered in the Connecticut River just below the Connecticut Lakes. It has since been found in the White River, the Mad River and the Battenkill. Didymo has the potential to destroy river bottom habitat and make our watershed rather unappetizing to fish or swim in. Fishers wearing felt bottom waders are the major risk of transporting this invasive to new water. Soak waders in hot soapy water for 20 minutes or completely dry them out before going into new waters.

Last year zebra mussels were discovered in Massachusetts just one lake outside the Connecticut River watershed. The response was swift; the boat ramp was closed as were boat ramps within easy driving distance and at the Quabbin Reservoir. Even with that quick response the odds are great that the mussel will get into the Connecticut River watershed. Boaters in MA must now certify on a signed form that their boat has either not been in any water body with zebra mussels or that they have cleaned the boat with hot water and Lysol, bleach or vinegar.

When exotics establish themselves in a new habitat they propagate more quickly than native species. Exotics do not face their usual predators and as with VHS our native species are not resistant to new viruses. In their uncontrolled explosions, exotics deny native species their usual habitat by killing off the native flora and fauna. They also create problems for humans, just ask anyone living on a waterbody where Eurasian milfoil or water chestnut has taken hold and choked their lake or someone responsible for keeping a water intake pipe unclogged in the presence of zebra mussels.

Here in the Connecticut River watershed boats are the biggest threat to import or spread invasive species. There are no “fixes” once milfoil, zebra mussels, rock snot or other exotics are in our waters. Care in preventing further spread of these infestations is the only tool we have at our disposal. Act as though every place you launch harbors these problem species. It does not matter if the waterbody actually harbors exotics; rely on the precautionary principle, be safe not sorry.

What should boaters be doing to protect the river? Think: Check, Clean and Dry!

Check: At the ramp during both launching and trailering, thoroughly inspect your boat’s hull, drive unit, trim plates, trolling plates, prop guards, transducers, anchor and anchor rope, and trailer. Scrape off and trash any suspected mussels, however small and all waterweeds hanging from boat or trailer. Live bait should not be taken from one water body to another. Do not dump live bait into the water; the bait may be a non-native species to that waterbody.

Clean: Before launching your boat into uninfected waters, thoroughly flush the hull, drive unit, live wells, any pumping system, bilge, trailer, bait buckets, engine cooling water system, and other boat parts that got wet while in infested waters. Use a hot hard spray from a do-it-yourself carwash. Hot water pumped through an engine’s intake periodically is one method of preventing zebra mussel growth inside an engine’s cooling system. Do not use chlorine bleach or other environmentally damaging washing solutions next to the shore.

Dry: Boats and trailers should be allowed to dry thoroughly in the sun for up to 5 days before being launched into uninfected waters. Drain all bilge water, live wells; bait buckets and any other water from your boat and equipment at the ramp as you leave a water body.

CRWC hopes boaters will be especially careful and protect our river from further invasions by exotics. You enjoy it so protect it and remember: Check, Clean and Dry!

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David L. Deen is the River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRWC is celebrating over half a century as a protector of the whole Connecticut River.