Invasive species awareness in Ontario

As a new open water season arrives here in Northwest Ontario we all need to be aware of aquatic hitchhikers on our boats as they become more established around us. Over the past couple of decades there have been several invasive species that have found their way into our region but with more awareness hopefully we can slow further spread of all species.

The phrase Clean, Drain and Dry your watercraft has been around for many years but this simple procedure after you move your boat, personal watercraft or fishing equipment from a body of water goes a long way in preventing the spread of critters we don’t want to see in our waters.

The Lake of the Woods watershed, to include Rainy Lake and Shoal Lake is one of the most visited bodies of water in North America, mostly for recreational fishing activities. Keeping these waters and all others across Sunset Country in their natural state as much as possible will provide us with excellent fishing opportunities for years to come and keep folks from around the World coming to visit our beautiful region, which is essential to our economy.

A pair of current threats to our waters are spiny water fleas and zebra mussels.

The Lake of the Woods watershed has hosted spiny water fleas for quite a few years so they are established in the system. These are small, nearly invisible fleas that live throughout the water column. While fishing, you will often notice them on your line, especially when they pile up where your line enters the reel. They are troublesome because they are small invertebrates that have a sharp spine which can be harmful and even deadly to the small fish that eat them. Young of the year sportfish as well as many of the bait species will eat these spiny water fleas. They can be carried from one body of water to another via any water that is transferred or even on your fishing equipment.

If you have been following the news you have probably heard of the discovery of zebra mussel veligers, mussels in their larval stage, in Muskeg Bay on the south end of Lake of the Woods and in Shoal Lake.

They are microscopic and nearly invisible to the naked eye so they can be transported easily. It’s very important that if you have a watercraft in these waters to make sure that you have gone through the Clean, Drain and Dry process before using them in another body of water.

The discovery of these zebra mussel larvae is not surprising because they are now widespread in Minnesota and they have become established in Lake Winnipeg so the likelihood of them arriving to Lake of the Woods is high. Fortunately, they have not exploded in the Lake of the Woods watershed. There is some research showing evidence that this watershed does not have calcium levels high enough to support zebra mussels, but these levels are right around the threshold where they can survive so it will take more time to see what happens. The best case scenario is that zebra mussels never become established in our region.

Invasive species can come in many forms – fish species, invertebrates and even aquatic vegetation so it’s important that everyone is aware that they are out there.

Often they are invisible and can hitch a ride in your bait bucket, livewell, bilge area, your watercraft trailer and even on your fishing equipment so Clean, Drain and Dry all of your equipment if moving from one body of water to another to prevent further spread of all invasive species.