MADISON - Nearly 10 percent more anglers and boaters took a key step in preventing the spread of invasive species and fish diseases last year than in previous years, spurring state invasive species experts to urge them to keep up the good work in 2014 when the inland fishing season opens May 3.
"Anglers and boaters really stepped up to the plate last year and started draining boat bilges and the containers carrying their day's catch in significantly greater numbers," says Bob Wakeman, who coordinates aquatic invasive species efforts for the Department of Natural Resources. "We're really pleased with the response and hope to see even more boaters and anglers draining their boat bilges, live wells and the containers holding their catch."
Boaters and anglers over the past decade have reported a high awareness of the state law that requires them to remove any attached plants and animals from their boats and equipment before leaving a water body to avoid accidentally spreading aquatic invasive species and fish diseases. However, awareness has been much lower among anglers and other boaters that the smallest invasive species - like microscopic zebra mussel larvae and spiny water fleas - can spread in leftover water from boat bilges, live wells and buckets.
Aquatic invasive species are non-native plants and animals that can harm Wisconsin's aquatic wildlife and economy by outcompeting native species and hampering recreation. The invaders are transported to new lakes and rivers when they hitchhike on boats, trailers, fishing equipment, machinery or other gear.
To raise awareness of draining requirements, DNR and partners launched a statewide "Drain Campaign" last summer. With help from volunteers, wardens, county staff and other partners, Wisconsin anglers heard reminders to drain water from their live wells and buckets on the radio, in newspapers, and from their local natural resources staff.
Thousands of anglers also received complimentary ice packs at the boat launch, since ice is an excellent and legal alternative to water for keeping the day's catch fresh on the drive home. Using ice is not required, but Wisconsin law does require that all water be drained before leaving the landing, with some exceptions for live bait, Wakeman says.
"Our partners helped get the word out quickly, and we also saw boaters and anglers talking to each other about what needs to get done before moving on to another lake," Wakeman says. "We were really pleased with the results and thank boaters for stepping up to the plate."
The extra reminder from the campaign is already yielding some positive results. After just one summer, surveys by watercraft inspectors at boat landings found a 6 percent increase in the number of boaters who report draining water from their catch when they leave the landing, as well as a 9 percent increase in boaters who report draining their bilges.
DNR and partners will again focus this spring and summer on raising awareness of the need to drain boat bilges, live well and containers of water, and will be giving away the ice packs in June at many popular landings, Wakeman says.
Efforts by water users to follow Wisconsin's prevention steps have had a big impact on keeping invasive aquatic species from spreading to inland lakes, Wakeman says. Search by region, county or alphabetical lake now for a listing of lakes and rivers where invasive species have been documented.
University of Wisconsin research shows that of the 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, about 4,000 are suitable for zebra mussel and state surveys have shown that only 163 lakes are invaded by zebra mussels thus far; spiny water fleas, another potentially damaging species, have only been found in 12 waters, and that more than three-quarters of the lakes with public access surveyed were free of Eurasian water-milfoil, despite its being in Wisconsin for more than 50 years.
"By taking a few extra minutes before leaving a boat landing or shoreline at the end of the day, boaters and anglers are making a big difference," Wakeman says. "Thanks for keeping it up and for keeping Wisconsin fish, lakes and rivers healthy!"
To stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, complete the following steps before traveling away from a waterbody:
INSPECT your boat, trailer and equipment
REMOVE any attached aquatic plants or animals
DRAIN all water from boats, motors and all equipment - including live wells and buckets
NEVER MOVE live fish away from a water body.*
*Limited exceptions apply for live bait. Search the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keywords "bait laws."
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Wakeman 262-574-2149