To the Valley News:
The following is a response to columnist Howard Hammond’s Sept. 12 column entitled Concern over invasive species: Fact or fiction?
Mr. Hammond raises some valid points, but notice his bias towards bass. The underlying concern with invasives is biodiversity. Do we really want every lake to be a great bass lake? Ecosystems that have great bass lakes, and great trout/salmon lakes, and great walleye lakes and great swimming lakes tend to be the most resilient to disturbance and of greater “value” to a variety of human uses of those ecosystems. I don’t doubt that macrophytes make for great bass fishing, but many ecologists would be puzzled as to why that should be the yardstick? His views imply that sailing, canoeing, swimming, trout fishing etc. are of lesser “value” than bass fishing. Smacks of an elitist attitude to me. Even if bass fishing is the “highest and most noble” aquatic use of the resource, plant densities can get so high as to preclude even diehard bass fisherman (think hydrilla in Florida, water hyacinth in Louisana).
Mr. Hammond has also cherry-picked the impacts. The 1984 invasion of Lake Champlain by white perch coincided with declines in walleye and perch fisheries. Is there a proven direct connection? No, but there is plenty of research in other systems showing predation of walleye and yellow perch eggs by white perch. How many Lake Champlain basin residents long for docks and shoreline areas free of zebra mussels? I don’t see anything positive about chronic botulism outbreaks (courtesy of zebra and quagga mussels) in Lakes Erie and Ontario, either. These outbreaks have killed ducks, gulls, loons, and bass. Is the presence of a loon on Lake Ontario less important than the increased growth rates of smallmouth in that lake? Who is to judge? Quagga mussels in Lake Ontario have now cropped off the “good” algae in favor of greens and blue greens that tend to foul the beaches with an odor reminiscent of the alewife die-offs of the 1960’s. The disappearance of Diaporia in Lake Michigan (as a function of cropping by quagga mussels) is doing no favor to the whitefish population. Do whitefish have less “standing” than bass? I can tell you that smoked whitefish is a lot more appealing (and legal) than is smoked bass. The ascendency of round goby in the Great Lakes has likely come at the expense of native sculpins. I don’t know what the “cost” of reduced sculpins has been – they are important and interesting component of the Lake Champlain ecosystem, and I for one would miss them.
Mr. Hammond needs to do some fact checking, too. Lake trout are in fact native to Lake Champlain though they seem to have been extirpated during the 1800’s (see Strategic Plan for Lake Champlain Fisheries, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Miscellaneous Publication 2010-03). I’m pretty sure that 99% of McDonalds fish sandwiches originate as native Alaskan pollack in the Bearing Sea. Yes, common carp have been here for decades. Just think if all the common carp biomass were converted to perch or walleye or bass?
Finally, Mr. Hammond is confusing non-native vs. invasive. Non-native is just that – plants or animals not originally occurring in the ecosystem in question (i.e. brown trout in North America, rainbow trout east of the Rockies). Most non-natives cause few problems (rainbow trout are a good example, but it should be noted that brown trout continue to negatively impact native brook trout populations in some Adirondack streams). Only when a non-native “causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” do we apply the term “invasive.”
Mark Malchoff, Plattsburgh