Invasive species threaten native wildlife, endangered animals, agriculture and even bodies of water. That’s right, even bodies of water. Many of us don’t realize the impact aquatic invasive species can have because we don’t spend a lot of time on or near water.
Aquatic invasive species have the potential to devastate the ecosystems within our lakes, rivers and streams. They can also damage our equipment, such as boats and drains. And, most importantly, once they are established in open-water environments, some of these species are virtually impossible to eradicate.
Aquatic invasives in Ohio
In Ohio, aquatic invasive species are a growing problem. They come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t always easy to identify. Some of the most problematic invasive species include:
- Asian carp. Asian carp is a generic term that applies to four invasive species — bighead carp, silver carp, black carp and fertile grass carp. All of these species grow to large sizes, exclude native fish and disrupt the food chain. They have established populations in the Ohio River and many other states. They are accidentally spread because young bighead and silver carp are similar in appearance to common baitfish, such as gizzard shad.
- Zebra Mussel. Zebra mussels are a freshwater mollusk. They are about 1-inch long with a triangular or D-shaped shell. They are known for attaching themselves to pretty much any type of object in the water. They spread by attaching to boats and being carried from one body of water to the next. Once they are established, they are almost impossible to eradicate.
- Hydrilla. A submerged aquatic perennial that covers the surface of the water and restricts boating, fishing, swimming and other water activities. The hydrilla has small leaves — less than 1 inch long and wide. this invasive species spreads when a small plant fragment floats downstream and forms a new plant.
- Phragmites. An aquatic perennial that reaches almost 15 feet high. It grows in stands that exclude almost all other vegetation. Phragmites is native to North American; however, the introduction of a non-native strain from Europe has readily and aggressively expanded throughout the United States.
- Red Swamp Crayfish. This aggressive crayfish measures 2-5 inches long. Its native range stretches from northern Mexico to Illinois, however, it spread due to its popularity in classrooms and as a food item. Once introduced to a new habitat, this highly adaptable crayfish chews up vegetation, outcompetes native species and alters water quality.
- Round Goby. The round goby is an aggressive bottom dweller. It grows up to 10 inches long and reproduces multiple times in one season. It is distinguished by a black spot on its dorsal fin, fused pelvic fins and raised eyes. This fish causes population declines in other bottom dwellers once introduced to a body of water. They have also been a threat to native mussels. It has managed to spread via being used as a baitfish.
- Snakehead. This freshwater fish outcompetes native species of fish, disrupting the local ecosystem in a body of water. It also has the ability to survive out of water and wriggle to new locations, using an air bladder that works like a primitive lung to breathe. It can grow up to 33 inches long.
- White Perch. This fish is actually a bass species. The white perch is known to be a prolific competitor of native fish. It’s even believed to have caused declines in Great Lakes Walleye populations. It’s deep laterally compressed body measures 5 to 7 inches long.
- Sea Lamprey. Although Ohio is home to six native species of lamprey, which are an important part of the ecosystem, the sea lamprey is an invasive species. they tend to attack and kill lake trout and other coldwater species of fish.
How can you stop the spread of aquatic invasive species in Ohio?
Now that you are familiar with the most common types of aquatic invasive species in Ohio, you should follow a few basic steps to help prevent spreading them.
- Do not release live bait into the water when you’re done fishing. As you may have noticed, many invasive species spread and establish new populations this way. Even if your bait isn’t supposed to include invasive species, there’s a chance one might be in there by mistake as some can be hard to distinguish from common baitfish.
- Remove all aquatic life from your equipment. Check your boat, motor, trailer and any other equipment you used out on the water for plants and animals before leaving the waterway. Don’t take them with you and introduce them to the next body of water you visit.
- Drain your livewell and transom well before leaving the launch.
- Wash your boat and all equipment.
- Never release aquarium fish, invertebrates or plants into outside bodies of water.
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