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River steward on the lookout for invasives

June 8, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
WILMINGTON — With water temperatures warming up and hatches in full swing, fly fishermen will be hitting the West Branch of AuSable River.

That’s good news for the Wilmington region, whose economy depends on fishing tourism, but it also means there’s more risk invasive species entered the valuable waterway.

That’s where AuSable River steward Joel Brandt comes in to play. His job is to educate the public on threats now facing the river.

The river steward program is run by the AuSable River Association and funded by the Lake Champlain Basic Program, with assistance from the Champlain Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Brandt’s job has three main tasks. He’s responsible for educational outreach with visitors’ bureaus, talking with staff at fishing shops and interacting with fishermen and other outdoorsmen on the water.

The main threat to the West Branch of the AuSable river is didymo, or rock snot. This algae can smother entire stream beds with mats as thick as 8 inches and ruins the habitat for fish, insects and recreation users.

“Studies show (rock snot) affects invertebrates, specifically the mayflies and the caddis flies, which you would think would have repercussions to the fish population because that’s their food,” said Carol Treadwell, who heads of the AuSable River Association. “The real negative impact to the fishery is that it makes fishing difficult, fouls your line. It’s difficult to walk through the stream. It’s not a pleasurable experience.”

Rock snot is found in several rivers in Vermont and New York, including the Esopus River in the Catskill Park and the Kayaderosseras Creek in Saratoga County. It has made fishing in those rivers much less pleasurable.

“It kind of ruins the experience,” Brandt said. “It looks like wet toilet paper or insulation. It makes the river look like it’s polluted.”

Rock snot travels on the bottoms of felt-soled boots and other fishing gear. Because it’s so small, it’s sometimes impossible to notice. The AuSable River Association and many other conservation-minded organizations recommend that fishermen take steps to clean their gear in between fishing trips. Rock snot is killed when submerged in water above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bleached or put into detergent or very salty water. Items can also be frozen. If cleaning steps cannot be taken, it’s suggested that fishermen dry their gear for 48 hours.

Rock snot could be very damaging for the West Branch of the AuSable River, which has a strong reputation for trout fishing. The river is stocked with thousands of brown and rainbow trout annually, including some as large as 20 inches long.

“The AuSable is know for its fishing,” Treadwell said. “It brings in $4 million of fishing tourism annually, which is a quarter of all the fishing tourism in Essex County, but there’s unnamed dollars it attracts in scenic tourism.”

As part of Brandt’s job he asks the fishermen if they have been to river’s where rock snot is present and if they are aware of invasive species. Last year’s survey showed that the majority of fly fishermen were aware of rock snot but that most spin fishermen were not.

But rock snot isn’t the only invasive that the AuSable River Association is concerned about. Other river invaders include the New Zealand Mud Snail and non-native crayfish and minnows. The mud snails are tiny, about one-eighth of an inch, but they reproduce quickly and can reach a population of a half million per square meter. These snails deplete food supplies for trout and disrupt the ecosystem.

Live bait can be problematic because it can carry diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia, which is fatal to fish.

For the most part, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts have been receptive to the river stewards, according to Brandt and Treadwell. They don’t want to see the river ruined either because they are there to enjoy it.

“I’d say the majority, 90 percent, of the people are receptive,” Brandt said. “Occasionally, I bump into people that are really receptive. Those people are generally people that have fished in rivers like Battenkill or Delaware all their life and then when didymo became present that was a huge bummer for them because it spoiled a spot that was a favorite.”

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Carol Treadwell, executive director of the AuSable River Association, stands with this summer’s river steward Joel Brandt.



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