Aquatic invasive species are often called a nuisance. So much for understatement. The truth is they are becoming a serious barrier to boating enjoyment and our industry's prospects for growth and we must become engaged.
The American Boat and Yacht Council, recognizing the problem, took the industry lead by convening the first aquatic invasive species summit two weeks ago. It brought together more than 100 participants from federal and state water resource agencies and key segments of the boating industry for a first-ever wide-ranging discussion of aquatic invasive species.
"The participation was indicative of the concern about [aquatic invasive species]," ABYC president John Adey said. "The group was about half agency-half industry representatives. First, it was an opportunity for agencies and boating to learn what each other is seeing and to share expertise where it exists. Second, it provided a time in breakout sessions for groups to brainstorm ideas that each could take back and investigate going forward."
The arrival of aquatic invasive species isn't a new story. In 1988, zebra and quagga mussels from the Black and Caspian seas were discovered in Lake St. Clair, having hitched a ride into the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway in ship ballast water. By 1989, they were found in Minnesota's Duluth/Superior Harbor. Within seven years, the zebra mussel had spread to 18 states and two Canadian provinces.
Early on, the majority of the expansion appeared to occur within commercially navigable waters, thus commercial shipping seemed the primary source within connected bodies of water. Since then, however, the overland spread to isolated inland waters has rapidly increased well beyond waters connected commercially.
Current requirements that commercial ships change and treat ballast water before entering the St. Lawrence are believed to be preventing new arrivals. But, as for the invasive species already here, well, that horse is already out of the gate. Eradication isn't in the current picture; ways to mitigate are.
For example, to combat the spread, there have been proposals in places like Texas to have boaters decontaminate their vessels before being permitted to launch into some lakes. Minnesota, recently held its own in-state summit and is allocating $10 million this year to programs for invasive-species prevention. In other areas, suggestions have been made to have boaters wait in line for an inspector to approve using the ramp. Even some lake homeowners associations could seek to close access to anyone from the outside.
Obviously, unless there is a macro perspective on invasive species seeking feasible mitigation actions, it's possible boaters going from one area to another could face a myriad of rules or outright restriction. For boating, things can't go that way.
From the marine industry's perspective, we need to ask if there could be ways to use designs to help stop the spread and mitigate the impact of what's already there. That's how NMMA director of engineering standards Robert Newsome sees the possibilities. He led a large group of boat designers, trailer manufacturers, engine builders and systems designers to the summit.
"What's come out of this initial meeting," Newsome said, "is designers now have a better understanding of what's happening out there, and they can begin exploring ideas and concepts that might have a positive impact." As examples, he cites the possible industry-wide adoption of the sealed tubes and strake designs that Premiere Pontoons is sharing with other manufactures through ABYC and NMMA; or exploring questions like: can the hull drain plug be lower in a hull to totally eliminate any standing water?
At least two things will come directly from the first summit. ABYC is preparing a complete set of minutes from the summit, the first time many aspects of the problem will have been compiled. In addition, working with other partners, a central location will be created where all available AIS information can be accessed by resource managers, industry designers and engineers, and even the boating public. None currently exist.
Finally, Adey is encouraging state marine trade associations to join the effort by working with their local dealers and marinas to provide materials that call attention to good practices their customers can employ to help halt the spread of invasive species.
We'll look at the real harm aquatic invasive species can do in Part 2 on Thursday.