Spiny Water Flea Confirmed in Lake Champlain

Spiny water flea (Bythotrephes longimanus) 50th known nonnative and invasive species in Lake Champlain

Grand Isle, VT – The spiny water flea is the first aquatic invasive zooplankton to be confirmed in Lake Champlain, bringing the known number of nonnative and aquatic invasive species in Lake Champlain to 50. These specimens were collected this August in the Main Lake segment of Lake Champlain as part of the Lake Champlain Long-term Biological Monitoring Program supported by the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Sample analysis by the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh confirms multiple specimens from two different monitoring stations. Additional samples are being examined. Dr. Tim Mihuc, Director of the Lake Champlain Research Institute, states, “This is truly a sad day for Lake Champlain. The spiny water flea has potential to severely impact the planktonic food web and will be a huge nuisance to anglers. Unfortunately, now Lake Champlain has joined Sacandaga Lake and Lake George as a major hub for future invasions into the Adirondacks and Vermont waters.”

The Lake Champlain Basin Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response Task Force, which includes representatives from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Adirondack Park Agency, Québec Ministries of Environment and Wildlife, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program is currently assessing the potential impacts from this detection and is evaluating management options. There are no known control technologies to eliminate spiny water flea once they have become established in a water body. Efforts will be focused on preventing the spread of this species to other bodies of water in the region.

“This is disappointing news,” said VT ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz. “We knew that the spiny water flea would make its way to Vermont over time, given that it has been found in waterways that are connected to Lake Champlain, but now that it is here we need to take immediate action to prevent it from spreading to other water bodies within Vermont. The good news is that we have a successful Public Access Greeter program already established that offers courtesy inspections and educates boaters and anglers so that they can become active partners in protecting Vermont’s waters from invasives.” Markowitz also added, “The key is to clean, drain and dry all boats and equipment before moving from one water body (or one area of a water body) to another. The spiny water flea has not yet been found in any of Vermont’s other lakes and ponds. It’s up to us to keep it that way.”

Native to Eurasia, the spiny water flea arrived in the Great Lakes in ballast water in the 1980s, and is spreading to other water bodies. They feed on tiny crustaceans and other zooplankton that are foods for fish and other native aquatic organisms, putting them in direct competition for this important food source. Spiny water fleas are small crustaceans, and cause no known risk to people or human health. The tail spines of the spiny water flea hook on fishing lines and foul fishing gear. Spiny water fleas have altered zooplankton communities in some lakes where they have spread. They have rapid reproductive rates and in warmer water temperatures these water fleas can hatch, grow to maturity, and lay eggs in as little as two weeks. The “resting” eggs of spiny water fleas overwinter in lake sediment and remain dormant for long periods of time. The eggs are resistant to drying which has implications for the types of actions that will prevent their spread.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann said, “The presence of spiny water flea in Lake Champlain, while not unexpected, clearly demonstrates that DEC must continue to work to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species into Lake Champlain and other waters. New York State is taking important steps to combat invasives including new DEC regulations that prohibit the launching of any watercraft from a DEC facility or leaving a DEC facility with any visible plant or animal materials visible on, attached or in any part of the boat, boat equipment or trailer, including live wells and bilges. Boaters and anglers must Clean, Drain and Dry all boats, boating equipment, trailers and fishing gear after leaving the water and before entering the water. The water in bilges, live wells and bait buckets should be drained on the ground before leaving a water body.”

Spiny water fleas were found in the Champlain Canal and Lake George in 2012. Both water bodies flow into Lake Champlain. The spiny water flea also has been discovered in Lake Piseco and Lake Pleasant by Paul Smith’s College and Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program sampling efforts. These water bodies are located in the southern Adirondacks just outside the Lake Champlain basin. They have been previously confirmed in Great Sacandaga Lake (2008), Peck Lake (2009) Stewarts Bridge Reservoir and Sacandaga Lake (2010).

It is unknown how spiny water flea spread to Lake Champlain. They can survive in as little as a thimble of water. Spiny water flea adults, juveniles or eggs may have entered Lake Champlain in water that was not drained from a boat, in a vessel compartment, or attached to equipment such as anchor lines or fishing equipment. They might also have drifted through connected waters from the Champlain Canal or the outlet of Lake George. Monitoring and sampling efforts will continue to help delineate the extent of the infestation.

“For years we have been advising anglers and boaters to clean, drain and dry their gear to avoid spreading aquatic nuisance species” says VT Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter. “Spiny water fleas are one more example of why it is important for everyone who enjoys Vermont’s lakes and rivers to do their part to stop aquatic hitchhikers.”

Preventing the spread of spiny water flea:
Please take the following measures to reduce the spread of all aquatic invasive species. Spiny water fleas pose a spread prevention challenge because their eggs are resistant to drying. Disinfection of boats and equipment that are in contact with water bodies known to contain spiny water flea is recommended.

Clean- Inspect and remove plants, animals, and mud from boat, trailer, anchor lines, and angling equipment.

Drain – Drain water from all compartments including the bilge, live wells, bait buckets, storage compartments, etc.

Dry – Allow your boat, trailer, and all equipment including fishing gear, bumpers, ropes, and anchors to completely dry.
Drying times vary based on temperature, humidity, and material. Visit the Aquatic Invasive Species Network for guidance on drying times:

Anglers may have a greater likelihood of seeing spiny water fleas on their equipment. Some useful tips for anglers include changing fishing line and tackle when moving from one water body to another and carefully inspecting and removing any debris from fishing gear (including rods, spools of fishing line, nets, and downrigger cables). All boaters should focus on draining bilge water and checking anchor lines as they are likely vectors that spread spiny water flea. The Lake Champlain Basin Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response Task Force is developing disinfection recommendations.

Additional Contacts:

Deb Markowitz, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
(802) 828-1294

Dave Winchell, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5
(518) 897-1241

For more information please visit www.lcbp.org
USGS Spiny Water Flea Fact Sheet: http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.asp?speciesID=162

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