Thursday, February 17, 2022

Calling on New York State Leaders to Protect Lake Champlain from Invasive Species

 

round gobyBy Peg Olsen

Here in the Adirondack region, we know how special Lake Champlain is. It provides year-round recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike and drives our local economies. It hosts some of the best fishing in the nation and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Lake Champlain provides so much to our communities, and now we need the state to step up and protect it.

Invasive species outcompete native wildlife and cause severe harm to our ecosystems and our economies. Their proliferation can lead to the extinction of native plants and animals and threaten our way of life.

Lake Champlain is facing that threat now, with the looming introduction of invasive round goby. Round goby is a small fish species native to southeastern Europe that arrived in the Great Lakes 31 years ago in a ship’s untreated ballast water. Round gobies aggressively outcompete native fish for habitat and feed on their eggs and young, harming native fisheries and local businesses.

This past summer round gobies were detected in the Hudson River, having made their way from the Great Lakes via the canal system. The only thing preventing round gobies from entering Lake Champlain from the river is a set of physical barriers in the Champlain Canal that are shut for the winter season. But if all the canal locks are re-opened in May for the summer season as planned, there will be nothing to block round gobies from infiltrating Lake Champlain and wreaking havoc on its natural ecosystem.

It is therefore imperative that New York State keeps just one canal lock closed in the Champlain Canal to prevent this devastation, until a permanent invasive species barrier is built. Reopening a clear path for round goby to get from the Hudson River to Lake Champlain is tantamount to a deliberate introduction of a new invasive species to Lake Champlain –  the state can  prevent this with one simple closure.

This would have been a much more difficult ask centuries ago when the canal was relied upon for commerce, but over time transportation methods have evolved and commercial shipping no longer takes place on the Champlain Canal. The vast majority of recreational boaters would not be impacted by a single lock closure, and there will be no economic impact on our communities. There will, however, be a major economic hit impacting many thousands of people if we allow round gobies to enter Lake Champlain.

The round goby’s impact on native species threatens many types of recreation that draw thousands of visitors annually, particularly the lake’s world-class bass fishing scene. This summer alone, the Adirondack Coast and the City of Plattsburgh are hosting seven professional bass fishing tournaments, which attract anglers from around the world. This heavily contributes to the recreation economy around Lake Champlain, and it is all at risk if round gobies are allowed to take a trip on the canal to the lake.

Once established, invasive species are often impossible to eliminate, so the best strategy is to prevent round goby from spreading now. If the state allows round goby into Lake Champlain, local communities will pay the price, including the high financial burden of trying to limit the damage.

If common sense isn’t enough, the State of New York is obligated under an agreement with Vermont and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take all necessary actions to prevent introductions of invasive species into Lake Champlain. In this case, all it would take to meet that obligation is to keep one locked closed while a permanent solution is implemented. New York has a responsibility not just to all New Yorker’s, but also to our neighboring states to keep round goby out of our lake.

This is a rare opportunity where we already have the infrastructure and capabilities in place to prevent further harm. The solution to this threat is simple – keep a barrier closed that is already closed. Only one lock out of 11 over the 60 or so miles of the canal needs to remain closed to prevent a round goby infestation. Across the country, lock closures are commonplace for a variety of reasons, and in this case, the reason to close a single Champlain Canal lock is clear and urgent.

Re-opening all canal locks this summer would open a direct path for round goby to enter Lake Champlain. The Nature Conservancy, along with several local governments, businesses, and organizations are calling on Governor Hochul to prevent this devastation by temporarily keeping one lock closed in the Champlain Canal until a permanent invasive species barrier is developed, which the Army Corps of Engineers is doing now. We ask all who enjoy Lake Champlain and its beauty, recreation, and economic benefits to join us.

Peg Olsen is The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Director.

 

 

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com




5 Responses

  1. Mike Vickers says:

    I’m curious on what the possible solutions to this would be. It seems keeping the canal closed permanently would be the only way to prevent the entry of the gobies.

    I’m not fully versed on the impacts in the Great Lakes, but I’ve heard that the gobies have actually improved the bass fishing on Lake Erie. I’m not sure if that’s true, but the word is the fish are fattening up on them.

    • JT says:

      Mike,
      Gobies are plentiful in the St. Lawrence River. I have heard that they are fattening up the bass which is good for the bass fishing tournaments, however, I have read they are a problem for the muskies and populations are on the decline. Bass guard their nests keeping the predator gobies from eating their eggs, whereas, muskies do not and the gobies are feasting on the muskie eggs. Also read that the gobies carry a virus called viral hemorrhagic septicemia that is killing a large number of adult muskies.

  2. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, Peg. This alarm bell needed ringing.

  3. Gene Porter says:

    With all due respect Peg, I am not aware of ANY definitive proof that any invasives have migrated upstream into Lake Champlain via either the strongly flowing Richelieu River or the Champlain Canal that flows weakly southward from the feeder canal. It is much more logical to conclude that the invasives have arrived via boat bilges and bait buckets.
    Gene Porter

  4. Zephyr says:

    Blocking the Champlain Canal by closing one lock would prevent larger pleasure boats from transiting the canal, and some of them can’t be easily or economically transported overland by truck. I have personally moved a larger boat through the canal from Lake Champlain to the Hudson and it would have not been possible to do so by truck–too wide. To move something like a 35-foot sailboat by truck (if it isn’t too high or wide) can cost many thousands of dollars. Closing the canal would be a big hit to businesses catering to larger boats, like marinas and such. I suspect there would be huge pushback from those businesses.

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