Survey finds Michigan boaters could do more to prevent the spread of invasive species

Most Michigan boaters take some precautions to slow the spread of invasive species, but few take all of the recommended steps on a regular basis.

Familiar Great Lakes invasive species, including zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, have made their way into inland lakes with the unknowing help of anglers and boaters. A survey was conducted this spring in order to learn more about steps that boaters currently take to prevent the spread of these and other aquatic nuisance species, and how to educate people regarding aquatic nuisance species prevention. Researchers with MSU’s Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies (CARRS) mailed the survey to 1,000 randomly selected boaters registered in the state of Michigan, and 371 surveys were returned. 

Not surprisingly, most boaters were well aware of the threats posed by aquatic nuisance species. The vast majority (83%) indicated that aquatic nuisance species are a moderate, serious, or very serious problem for Michigan’s economy, while only 1% thought that they pose no threat to Michigan’s economy. In addition, 21% of boaters reported that aquatic nuisance species hampered their recreational experience during 2011. Some reported that Eurasian watermilfoil clogged their favorite waterways, while others reported that zebra and quagga mussels hurt fishing, cut feet, or resulted in blue-green algae blooms.

Boaters reported that they knew more about Asian carp than species such as quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) that are already causing serious problems for Great Lakes ecosystems. Knowledge of Asian carp increased dramatically since the last similar survey was conducted. In 2003, 38% of boaters reported knowing virtually nothing about Asian carp while less than 6% reported no knowledge of Asian carp in 2011. Newspapers, television, and magazines were the top sources of information about Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species, but over 30% of boaters now get some of their information online and 38% reported learning about invasives at a sport, fishing, or boat show.

Although awareness of Asian carp has increased dramatically in recent years, along with escalating media coverage, this apparently has not translated into greater adoption of generalized invasive species prevention practices by boaters. The percentage of boaters who reported taking prevention actions did not change from 2003 to 2011.

The good news is that the majority of boaters do take some of the recommended steps for preventing the spread of aquatic nuisance species. Between 85-90% of boaters regularly (always or often) inspect their boats, remove plants and other debris, and drain their bilge and livewell before moving boats between water bodies. On the other hand, only 57% regularly dry their equipment for five days and 39% regularly spray down their equipment. 

Recommendations suggest either drying or spraying equipment, and 67% of boaters indicated they would always or often spray or dry. On the other hand, 10% indicated that they would never spray or wash and 5% of all boaters said they would never take any of the recommended steps. Unfortunately, it only takes one boat to infect a pristine lake with zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, or another less well-known but equally damaging invader.

Full results are now available on the Michigan Sea Grant website.

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