Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Call For Mandatory Boat Washing

The Adirondack Council is urging the NYS Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to protect the park’s priceless rivers and lakes from harmful invasive species by renewing the law that forbids the spread of non-native plants and animals from one lake or river to another.

The Council is also urging lawmakers to add a provision requiring that all boats be decontaminated before they are launched in Adirondack waters.

New York Environmental Conservation Law 9-1710 requires that boaters take reasonable precautions to remove harmful, non-native plants and animals from watercraft when transported in New York State. It is due to expire on June 1. The Council is also asking friends of the Adirondack Park to contact state officials to support mandatory decontamination.

The current law passed five years ago, with a “sunset provision” dictating that it should be allowed to expire this year if the Legislature felt it had been ineffective. The law helped educate boaters and should be renewed. But it would work better if boat washing were mandatory in the Adirondacks.

State funding has been helpful in bolstering volunteer and not-for-profit efforts. Free inspections and decontamination have stopped many infestations before they reached an Adirondack lake. But we need many, many more of them and in a hurry.

And a word to anglers: Unless you own stock in the copper or Kevlar industries, some invasive species are likely to cost you money.

Boat washing and decontamination are the most effective means to limit the spread of invasive species from one place to another. Some of the park’s most popular large lakes and rivers have harmful, non-native species in them already. The Council wants to help those who seek to limit their numbers and avoid spreading them to pristine waters. Much of the park’s interior has not yet been affected by invasive species.

Invasive species infestations harm the environment, the economy and outdoor recreation. Prevention is always easier and less expensive than trying to remove a troublesome invader later on.

Many other states have imposed mandatory boat washing. However, only Lake George and Loon Lake have imposed similar rules here. The entire Adirondack Park deserves similar treatment. Staffed decontamination stations are located at many other popular lake and river launches. Their use is currently voluntary. Almost everyone complies. That is encouraging.

Its abundance of clean, healthy water is one of the reasons our Adirondack Park is a national treasure. It’s no easy task to keep it clean and healthy. With the cooperation of boaters and some creativity, the state can make this work.

Boat decontamination stations aren’t needed at every public launch. They are small and easy to set-up. Stations could be posted at popular launches and on main roadways. They could be inside and outside of the park. There is a state-of-the-art boat wash station just outside of the park, at the newly renovated Northway (I-87) rest area and Adirondack welcome center. It is located just north of Exit 17 in Warren County.

There are plenty of opportunities for public/private partnerships. Paul Smith’s College and Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program have provided much of the labor for current inspection efforts throughout the park, with support and funding from New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. Our defenses against invasive species are worth a sizeable investment.

Invasive species can kill-off or out-compete native plants and animals, damaging the web of life in lake and river ecosystems. The loss or displacement of a single native plant or animal species affects the fate of other species around it. Some alter entire ecosystems.

For example, a plant called Eurasian milfoil has been transported to the Adirondacks on contaminated boats and trailers from other contaminated waters. It grows faster and taller than many native aquatic plants. It kills off many by shading them from the sun. Removal is difficult, since any remaining fragments can root and grow into new plants. Park communities and state officials have spent millions of dollars trying to control it.

An invasive animal accidentally introduced into Adirondack waters (likely from Lake Ontario) is the spiny waterflea. This crustacean out-competes native zooplankton that native fish eat. The waterflea’s hard, barbed shell makes it difficult for native fish to digest, reducing the suitable food supply for native fish. The entire fishery suffers stress.

It can also clog fishing gear – and worse.

When I was a cub reporter for the Watertown Daily Times, back in the 1980s, the late Charlie Decker (then State Editor) was kind enough to bring me fishing on his small boat on nearby Lake Ontario. Anyone who recalls the Saranac Lake native will smile when they hear that Charlie delighted in frightening the daylights out of me by plowing his 18-foot guppy into monstrous breaking waves on the big lake, soaking us both to the skin, while crooning “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

In those days, Charlie lived in Sacketts Harbor and fished Lake Ontario every day. He used big ocean-fishing poles and caught 30-pound salmon and massive lake trout, using regular fishing line and a downrigger to get our Lake Clear Wabblers down 40 feet or so. The fishing was good.

The company was great. If he hadn’t passed away in 1991 from a sudden brain hemorrhage (at the age of 34), he’d still be fishing the lake today. After he died, it took me a long time to return to the lake to fish again.

About a decade later, Bill Cooke of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment invited me to go with him on a fishing charter he’d received as a gift. We took an excellent ride with an outstanding captain and first mate out of Oswego. But we were immediately aware that something important about the lake had changed.

The captain and mate had strung their poles with copper wire, not monofilament (clear fishing line). Both had a leather-and-Kevlar glove on one hand. It didn’t take long to figure out why.

As Bill started to haul in a fish, a green blob started to form on the top eyelet of the fishing pole, where the wet line first met the pole. We couldn’t see them, but the water was teeming with spiny water fleas. Hundreds, no, thousands of the tiny, armored critters hitched a ride on the line and piled up in bunches at the tip of the pole, clogging the eyelet, until the line would no longer move. They didn’t belong in the lake. They weren’t there 10 years before. They are native to Asia.

At that point, the first mate employed “the glove” to carefully remove them. This brought the fishing action to a halt, as the line went slack, and the fish Bill had already hooked spit a disgorged wabbler back at us.

Removing the blob was then less urgent, but no less difficult. While the mate was de-blobbing, I risked being impolite and asked the captain how much a saltwater reel rigged with copper wire might cost. He didn’t want to say. (I dropped the subject, but looked it up later. My first car cost me less.)

“It’s OK to lose a fish,” he said as he strapped me into his stern chair. “Just don’t drop the rod and reel — unless you’re a real strong swimmer.”

It is likely that spiny waterfleas came to Lake Ontario in the bilge water of an ocean-going vessel that traversed the St. Lawrence Seaway to reach Lake Ontario.

Within five years, spiny waterfleas were discovered in the Great Sacandaga Lake. Not long after, they spread into the Lake Champlain watershed and to Indian Lake. A cousin called the fishhook waterflea seems to have arrived about the same time.

Mandatory decontamination can stop this trend right there. Anything less means you might need copper wire and “the glove” to fish any of the park’s biggest and most popular lakes. How many anglers out there think that’s a good idea?

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.

8 Responses

  1. Smitty says:

    I can’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want mandatory decontamination, especially with the free cleaning stations scattered throughout the park. But I wonder, is decontamination effective for watercraft with jet propulsion engines that pump water into the engine? It’s impossible to see inside. Do they completely drain?

    • John Warren says:

      They put very hot water on the intake.

      • Msmitty says:

        Thanks. I live close to the Star Lake free boat wash station. Hardly anyone stops by, despite hundreds of boats passing by on route 3 every weekend. Must be an incredibly booring job for the young folks manning the station. I believe that the only thing that will get people to inspect and wash their boats is to make it mandatory. Someone offered that it would be needed to make it available 24 hours a day. Not true. Just provide a tag showing it was cleaned thats good for a specific time period, say 48 hours.

  2. Walt Paul says:

    It is not a matter of decontamination not being a part of a solution to a problem but a problem of logistics. How do you operationalize and fund 24 hour inspection stations for all water craft including car tops for Adirondack Park water? Last I knew rivers flowed into lakes.

    Walt Paul

    • John Sheehan says:

      A fair question: We’ve given it some thought but would like to hear what others have to say about that too. I think there are a lot of options. Right now decontamination is happening with state funding through the Environmental Protection Fund and organizational help from the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, the Lake George Park Commission, the Town of Chester, and Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute. But we need many more. Decontamination stations are pretty cheap to assemble and can be operated by a single individual. A pressure washer. collection tarp and hot water tank might even fit into the bed of a pickup truck. Lots of people make money plowing snow and hauling firewood. It could spur a roadside cottage industry here to supplement the institutional operations, if the state reimbursed operators a reasonable fee for each boat cleaned. I could also imagine local car washes offering boat cleaning. They already own all the equipment.

  3. adkDreamer says:

    Does NYECL 9-1710 control: NYCRR 576 Aquatic Invasive Species Spread Prevention?


    I submitted a FOIL request last fall on NYCRR 576 – No enforcement has ever been recorded on this rule:

    PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST of 9/27/2018, Reference # W042333-092718

    Dear Mr. REDACTED,

    I write in response to your Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking:

    List of specific violations (date/time/description of violation/penalty assessed) of NYCRR 576 Aquatic Invasive Species Spread Prevention including all applicable subsections.

    A diligent search of the files maintained by DEC produced no responsive records.

  4. adkDreamer says:

    I have submitted a FOIL request to New York State Police, re: any enforcement of 9-1710 / NCRR 576 during the period 2013-2019.

  5. John R says:

    Where can I find evidence to back up your statement “Free inspections and decontamination have stopped many infestations before they reached an Adirondack lake.” Isn’t that what the legislature wants in order to renew the law?