Vermont, April 1, 2014.   As the 2014 river season beckons, the Connecticut River Watershed Council asks all river users to protect the Connecticut River and its tributaries from invasions of exotic plants and animals. Whether you use a powerboat, row, canoe, kayak, wade, swim, fish or sail, river enthusiasts have a special responsibility to protect the Connecticut River watershed. Being responsible is not a difficult task — just think: Check, Clean or Dry!

There are no “fixes” once exotics are in our waters. When exotics establish themselves in a new habitat they propagate more quickly than native species. If these invaders find their new surroundings welcoming they explode because they do not face their usual predators. In some cases our native species are not resistant to newly arrived viruses. In their uncontrolled explosions, exotics deny native species their usual habitat. They also create problems for humans; just ask anyone living on a lake where Eurasian milfoil has taken hold and choked their lake or ask someone responsible for keeping a water intake pipe open in the presence of zebra mussels.

A potential invasion of a virulent infectious virus Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, called VHS is just some 75 miles to the west of our watershed. VHS has the potential to kill fish by the thousands. Moving fish from one water body to another risks spreading the virus. Heed the restrictions on moving untested uncertified baitfish between water bodies including those you net yourself. Beyond the virus, know where your bait came from, what the species is 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.

Water Chestnut is an invasive water plant and a new patch discovered in the mainstem of the Connecticut River in the Hinsdale, NH reach of the river, could mean trouble for the whole river. Volunteers have been working for two years to eradicate this new infestation by hand pulling and they will be back at it this year.

Zebra mussels were discovered in Massachusetts just outside the Connecticut River watershed. The MA response was swift; they closed the boat ramp, closed boat ramps within easy driving distance of the contaminated lake and at the Quabbin Reservoir. Even with that quick response, the odds are good 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.

The brief discussion today does not even address the other increasing number of aquatic invasive species including Phragmites, Chinese mystery snail, rusty crayfish, curly leaf pondweed, spiny water flea, carp, or the freshwater jellyfish.

Care in preventing further spread of these infestations is the only tool we have at our disposal. Act as though every waterbody harbors problem species, rely on the precautionary principle, be safe not sorry.

It is not hard to protect the river though — just think: Check, Clean or Dry!

Check: At the ramp during trailering, thoroughly inspect your boat’s hull, drive unit, trim plates, trolling plates, prop guards, transducers, anchor and anchor rope, and trailer. Inspect all craft, powerboat or canoe and scrape off and throw out any suspected mussels and all waterweeds hanging from boat or trailer. Do not move live bait from one water body to another. Do not dump live bait into the water; the bait may be a non-native species or diseased.

Clean: Before launching your boat, thoroughly flush the hull, drive unit, live wells, any pumping system, bilge, trailer, bait buckets, engine cooling water system, and other boat parts. 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. One quick way to clean the exterior is to 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 in the water or next to the shore. If you are not sure that your water toy is clear of invasives you should dry it.

Dry: Dry out all items that can absorb or hold water. If you cannot clean your water toys or tools, boats and trailers, PFDs, water shoes and boots, etc. dry them thoroughly in the sun for up to 5 days before using them in another water body.

CRC hopes all of those who play on the river or its tributaries will be especially careful and protect our river from further invasions by exotics. You enjoy it, so don’t ruin it for yourself and remember: Check, Clean or Dry!

David L. Deen is the River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRC is celebrating over 60 years as a protector of the Connecticut River.