I couldn’t grasp what I was looking at. The plant appeared to be hydrilla, but it was nearly transparent. I picked it up out of the bucket of mullet I had just netted.
I briefly pondered the similarities between the hydrilla I routinely plow through in search of big largemouth and this new saltwater weed I had just encountered. Then it dawned on me – this wasn’t some unnamed specie, this was in fact hydrilla. It had fallen out of the cast net I was using, the same one I had thrown for shiners on an inland pond the day before, and had become bleached-out after contact with the salty water I was now playing in. I chuckled to myself at the misconception.
Then things became a bit more serious. What if this hadn’t been saltwater? What if I had just introduced hydrilla to an environment without even knowing it? Of course there was no real danger here, as hydrilla won’t grow in the salt, but what if? My goodness, it could have been so simple ...
Today, exotic species are everywhere thanks, in part, to simple mistakes like mine. In some cases, God himself has moved things around through massive weather events. In others, careless human beings have taken it upon themselves to do so. One thing is for certain: The spread of many exotics are completely changing bass fishing, oftentimes for the worse.
Exotic plants in Florida are a case in point. A topic we occasionally hit on, and will be investigating further in the near future, many of Florida’s fabled bass fisheries are becoming has-beens due to the relentless spraying by government agencies trying their best to control hydrilla, hyacinths and more. Through much of the North, exotic mussels have cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars and been responsible for the near collapse of entire fisheries. Across our country’s mid-section, fisheries managers chew their fingernails worrying about flying carp. Examples are endless – even the bass itself is a feared exotic in some parts of the U.S.
Many feel there’s nothing we can do, really. Any solution is simply unrealistic, due to the size of the problem.
The scientific community thinks otherwise, however, pleading with boaters and anglers nationwide to try. With proper precautions, they say, we can dramatically reduce the spread of exotics.
Case in point: In New York, anglers are required to carry certification for live bait they use to prevent spreading “uncertified” exotics from lake to lake. In Texas and many parts of the South, boaters are required to remove all vegetation from boat trailers before going down the road. And, beginning this year, Utah will have mandatory check stations for boat trailers along busy routes to prevent the spread of quagga mussels. These are just a few examples of hundreds of regulations now in effect nationwide.
In addition, we’ve all recently heard about ways to clean and dry our boats before launching in a new lake. The theory goes that the smallest amounts of water, often contained in a bilge or livewell, can hold exotic invaders without us even knowing – sometimes even just their eggs or larva. On many popular lakes in California, for example, even one drop of water coming out of an outboard’s intake (for example, when the motor is trimmed down) results in a failed inspection, and the boat owner is prohibited from launching.
Perhaps all of these laws and regulations are pointless. It’s likely that, in time, exotics will spread wherever nature allows, regardless of our efforts, right?
Maybe. But what if science discovers a way to limit or prevent exotics from entering new waterways, and our preventative efforts are rewarded with fisheries safe from disaster? The management community has done so with pesticides specifically targeting larval sea lampreys, for example. Through those efforts, entire salmon and trout stocks have been rebuilt from the verge of extinction. In fact, it may hit home for some to find that the same control is now being done on Lake Champlain, with attempts to restore salmon stocks that once produced “harvest by the wagon-load with pitchforks.” Will results someday be similar for control of Asian carp, or round gobies? Perhaps.
In any case, it goes without saying that we all must comply with every regulation thrown at us when it comes to the control of nuisance and exotic species. While it often seems that regulators just like to hear themselves talk, and that additional regulation actually makes the problem worse, here there can be no discrepancy.
Clean and dry your boat and trailer thoroughly between each use. Sanitize your bilge and livewells. Don’t ignore the small amounts of water within the engine.
Like me, many of you may have come to the realization that bass fishermen, often traveling form lake to lake, may be the biggest culprits in this equation. My cast net example certainly brought new light to the issue for me.
This may be our only chance to save America’s fisheries. Let’s give it our best shot.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)