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Education is the Key

Mike McDonald

Is the spread of exotics to inland lakes just a matter of time? Some reports of new infestations of exotics quote experts as saying as much. It may be true for some situations, but overall, I think it’s a harmful attitude. Hearing recognized experts say, “It is just a matter of time,” makes the public apathetic. It gives people an excuse to be lazy and not take responsibility for their actions. It may be more difficult to stop some easily-transported exotics like zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, but it can be done. Preventing fish like ruffe and round goby from getting into our inland lakes and rivers should be easy through public education.

Sometimes we also hear that all it takes is one male and one female to start a new infestation of an exotic. While it is true that the species invading the Great Lakes are aggressive, prolific, and adaptable, the risk of establishing a reproducing population with just a one-shot introduction of a couple individuals is low. It takes repeated introductions of several individuals by many anglers to increase the risks. That’s why education is the key.

This past summer we received affirmation that education works. It came in the form of two sharp, young anglers fishing the Duluth-Superior harbor. They called Sea Grant to report that they found a large population of round gobies (see article this issue). It’s clear that they paid attention to newspaper and TV reports related to the identification and concern over this invader. They also made the effort to collect a sample and contact our office. It is refreshing to see these two young anglers enjoy and become stewards of our natural resources. Their efforts alerted us to a problem that was worse than we imagined. More importantly, it generated more media attention that will educate even more young anglers to report new sitings of exotics and not spread them to new waters.

With each new infestation, it is easy to focus on what appears as a failure of “our” educational efforts (and I don’t just mean Sea Grant’s efforts). But many of these new infestations really were “just a matter of time” because of things like downstream migration of exotics or upstream movement of boats. The almost monthly reports of new zebra mussel colonies up and down the Mississippi River in the early 1990s are a good example. It was just a matter of time until the Mississippi from St. Paul to the Gulf was colonized.

Let’s celebrate that we have no inland lakes in Minnesota infested with zebra mussels, ruffe, round gobies, sea lamprey, alewives, or threespine sticklebacks. The success of any educational campaign is a concise, consistent message. So, next time, let’s not say “It was just a matter of time.” Education is the key.

A new exotic in the Great Lakes will give us a chance to practice not using this phrase. Cercopagis pengoi, otherwise dubbed the fishhook waterflea, is similar to the spiny waterflea. It probably came over from the Baltic Sea, where it has invaded, or from the Black and Caspian Sea, where it is native. Found on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, it will likely spread throughout the Great Lakes in a matter of a few years. You will hear more about this new invader as it spreads through the Great Lakes, entangling on fishing lines and commercial fishing gear. We can’t stop it from moving through the Great Lakes, but we can work to keep it from moving inland as long as we make boaters and anglers feel like they can make a difference.

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Mike McDonald
Minnesota Sea Grant Director

By Mike McDonald
September 1998

Return to September 1998 Seiche

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