Meadville Tribune

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May 5, 2013

Fishing tourney is used to talk about invasive species

ESPYVILLE — Fisherman Chuck Gisselbrecht knows there is a simple way to prevent unwanted species of plants and animals from fouling Pymatuning Lake.

“You’ve got to watch what you’re doing,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re not dragging any seaweed when your boat comes out of the water.”

“You also want to clean off the boat, trailer and your equipment,” added Beth, his wife and fishing partner.

The Clarion County couple was one of 147 teams fishing Saturday at the Pymatuning Lake Association’s annual fishing tournament for crappie.

For officials of the association and the Pennsylvania Sea Grant, the tournament offered the opportune time to educate fishermen and the public about the dangers of unwanted aquatic hitchhikers.

The nonprofit Pymatuning Lake Association promotes business and conservation in the Pymatuning Lake area of western Crawford County. Pennsylvania Sea Grant is federal and state-funded program that supports research and outreach about the use and conservation of coastal resources.

Pymatuning Lake so far is free from aquatic hitchhikers, but does face a number of threats — both from plant and animal life.

“The problem is a lot of invasive species like Quagga Mussels and Zebra Mussels are very adaptive,” said Sara N. Grisé, a coastal outreach specialist with the Pennsylvania Sea Grant.

Both Zebra Mussels and Quagga Mussels are fresh-water mussels that are an inch long or less, but cluster together by the thousands to clog pipes for water systems.

However, for a lake such as Pymatuning, the problem is that Zebra/Quagga mussels produce microscopic larvae that float freely in the water, and thus can pass by screens installed to exclude them.

Zebra/Quagga Mussels also impact lakes because they reproduce in huge numbers, out-competing other native mussels that are filter feeders, starving them. They also adhere to all hard surfaces, including the shells of native mussels, turtles, and crustaceans.

Plants like Eurasian watermilfoil and Hydrilla also can cause problems, because they, too, grow quickly.

“If they get in a lake, they can completely take it over,” Grisé said. “It becomes so thick you can’t get a boat or a canoe through. It takes away from the fishing, swimming, the water quality and clarity — all the recreational aspects of a lake.”

To counter the threat, fishermen are asked to inspect their boats, trailers, motors and equipment upon leaving the water.

“If they see anything to pull it off,” Grisé said. “We want people to drain the bilge water in their boats now before they leave. People should wash the equipment with hot water at a car wash or at home or use a pressure washer.”

Thorough drying of boats, trailers and other equipment also is effective, she said, with at least five days of drying recommended.

Since invasive plants and animals are nearly impossible to eradicate once they become established, preventing their spread is the most effective way to protect waters, according to Grisé and Joel Brown, president of the Pymatuning Lake Association.

“It’s the transfer that can cause it to spread so quickly,” Brown said. “We’re  asking people to use common sense with loading and unloading their boats and fishing equipment.”

Using common sense is something the Grisselbrechts and other fishermen like Rick Gamble of Butler and his son, Dan, 12, said they do to avoid transferring invasive species.

“We need to take care of the lake habitat,” Rick said. “We clean off the boat and trailer every time. We want to preserve the lakes.”

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