Alewives, like the one pictured above, were first discovered in Lake Champlain in July, 2004. Columnist Howard Hammond believes some lake users and politicians overreact to the presence of non-native species.
It seems the hot topic in the last few months has been the invasion of non-native species of aquatic plants and fish into Lake Champlain. To quote the Lake Champlain Basin Program Guide for Aquatic Invasive Species: “The Lake Champlain Basin is home to a number of invasive species that cause economic and ecological harm to our ecosystem.”
I have to ask: what harm? Yes, it is costly to try and rid the eco- system of a harmful species once it’s established but then what harm is the species causing? Where is the peer reviewed research and long term studies? Just to say non-native species are harmful or will compete with the existing food chain without some documentation doesn’t seem very scientific. Actually, it seems very irresponsible.
Eurasian Watermilfoil is the most commonly named invasive plant species in Lake Champlain. I am sure milfoil causes problems with the million dollar waterfront houses’ water intake systems or the use of Jet Skis in the shallow flats from the heavy growth. But then again it seems from my years of fishing that where the milfoil grows so does the best fishing occur. Ask any big time pro and he will always say, ”find the milfoil, find the bass.”
A recent survey by Bassmaster Magazine named Lake Champlain one of the top five bass lakes in the USA, that probably wouldn’t have occurred if milfoil hadn’t invaded the lake. One has to pick their poison: the economic benefit of a great fishery or no weeds and no fish. I have witnessed the TVA in the south spend millions of dollars treating the lakes of the south to kill milfoil and hydrilla to protect the million dollar lakefront properties and megawatt hydro-electric plants, and wind up with a limited fish population. Case in point, Fort Loudon Lake in east Tennessee, during the years the lake was polluted with milfoil and hydrilla the bass population thrived, today no weeds and no fish. One can fish all day and maybe get five bites, compared to Lake Champlain where you can catch five bass in five minutes.
Recently, Mark Malchoff of the Lake Champlain Sea Grant spoke before the Essex County Board of Supervisors concerning the possibility of the invasion of other species he finds disturbing, namely hydrilla and the round goby. He gave his opinion that they could cause “economic havoc.” Please bring on the havoc! I recently returned from 10 days of fishing two bass tournaments on the western basin of Lake Ontario, an area filled with hydrilla, milfoil and round gobies. Believe me the bass are bigger and more plentiful than Lake Champlain. There were far more 20-pound sacks of smallmouth brought to the scales by the same fisherman who competed on Lake Champlain three weeks ago. And it’s strange that not once did I encounter any Spiny Waterfleas.
Before you get up in arms about invasive species here are some facts. Brown trout and rainbows are non-native species stocked by the DEC. Lake trout are not natural to the lake and the common carp has been here my entire life. In fact until a few years ago if you bought a fish sandwich at McDonalds it was probably made with common carp meat. There are pluses and minuses to every situation, but before we throw out the bath water let’s make sure the baby isn’t in the tub.
I really tire of the politicians wanting their names in the press by taking a stand that seems popular without the real facts. This great country was shaped by all forms of ecological changes. Some of these non-native aquatic creatures may just improve the fishery.
Howard Hammonds is a guide and experienced bass fisherman living in Westport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.