SDRA Voluntary Inspection Program: Promoting Proper Boater Hygiene to Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

SDRA Voluntary Inspection Program:

Promoting Proper Boater Hygiene to Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

The 2014 season of lakefront recreation on Smith & Sayles Reservoir (SSR) is now behind us, and the lake drawdown has begun. Of the many activities that members and guests enjoyed on SSR  this summer, fishing was, as always, popular.  Indeed, due to the frequency of fishing boat launches on the boat ramp, Sand Dam Reservoir Association (SDRA) has conducted a voluntary Boat Inspection program in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection (DEM) and Save The Lakes (STL) for the last two seasons.

Boat inspections are important on SSR and other Rhode Island lakes because Rhode Island is the only state in New England that does not have a formal inspection program to monitor boats that visit boat ramps. According to Mary O’Keeffe, Boat Inspection Coordinator for SDRA, “DEM and other State agencies need to take this problem more seriously and provide support (both in terms of staff and proper washing stations) for a formal boat launch inspection program.” She reminds us that the problem of invasive species is not going away, and the infestation will only get worse unless Rhode Island takes serious, formal steps to monitor boats and educate boaters. SDRA has four core Boat Inspection volunteers– Mary O’Keeffe, Ron Baker, Judy Colaluca, and Carolyn Fortuna— as well as occasional additional folks who conduct boat inspections when bass fishing tournaments take place on SSR. These boat greeters were trained over the 2013 winter and provided written materials as resources for themselves and boaters.

In order to determine when the SDRA Boat Inspection team would be needed at the ramp, coordinator Mary O’Keeffe worked prior to the 2014 bass fishing season alongside DEM, which provided an itinerary of planned fishing tournaments.  Fifteen tournaments were scheduled for SSR, and SDRA’s Boat Inspection volunteers were present at the boat launch for 13 of the 15 tournaments.  (The only tournaments in which greeters were not present were March 30 and July 25th.)

The Boat Inspection team inspected 117 boats during the 2014 season. A total of 24 boats had plant material with suspected invasives upon arrival.  That means about 20% of the boats were “dirty” boats: boats that had the potential to infest SSR with invasive species.

What is the process like to inspect a boat?

Program coordinator Mary O’Keeffe outlined SDRA’s Boat Inspection program.

“First, we approach the owners to introduce ourselves, explain the voluntary Inspection program, and talk a bit about the problem of invasive species— both in general and on our lake. If we have freebies to hand out (floating keychains, bumper stickers with rulers for measuring fish), we provide these to the boater and ask for permission to perform the inspection. We then walk around the boat, looking for plant material. It is important to look under the boat and inspect the trailer, since this is where plant material is often found. If plant material is found, we show it to the boater and explain that even very small plant fragments can spread invasives from one lake to another. If the boater is willing, we also inspect the live well on the boat and explain that this is also an area that can carry invasives. This provides an opportunity to talk about animal invasives like Asian clams and zebra mussels.”

Ron Baker, longtime SDRA member, states that fishing clubs “get indoctrinated as they apply for and receive tournament licenses.”  As a result, Ron feels that “they are our most enlightened contacts at the launch.” Over the two years of the SDRA Boat Inspection program, many of the tournament members have come to recognize the SDRA volunteers and share stories of their catches and experiences on other lakes.

“I didn’t expect the boat inspections to be so much fun,” Carolyn Fortuna reveals.  “It’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future for our lake.  And it’s great to connect in such an easy-going way with my neighbors. I get excited right along with the fishing tournament members as the bass are weighed and the winning catch is announced.”

Are only bass fishing boats inspected? If not, what other boats are inspected?

The SDRA Boat Inspection team inspects all boats, as long as the owner is willing. It is important to remember that it is not only bass fishing boats that can bring in weeds:  even kayaks and canoes can spread invasive species. Mary recalls that “we even had one individual who wore waders and a floatation device (more like an inner tube than a boat) who allowed us to look over his equipment.”

“The least indoctrinated are they who are not club members, the ‘transients,’” Ron has determined.  He feels that “the launch should be monitored on weekends and holidays for contact” with this population who have not been educated about the transmission of invasive species by boat. While SDRA has made progress on educating boaters about the transmission of invasive species, more work remains to be done.

What kinds of responses does the Boat Inspection team get from the boaters who are greeted?

The SDRA Boat Inspection team has found that most boaters are friendly and willing to let the volunteers perform the inspections.

“The fact that we have t-shirts with DEM and Save the Lake logos makes us appear more legitimate, and thus boaters are more cooperative,” Mary acknowledges. “Sometimes boaters would say that they practice good boater hygiene, but we’d still find plant material upon inspection.” In fact, one boater mentioned how he had traveled across the Rhode Island border to fish at a lake in Massachusetts and had been fined $50 for having a small plant fragment on his trailer.

Do members of the Boat Inspection team advocate for other lakes to create such a program?  If so, what does that community-building look like?

All members of the Boat inspection team strongly endorse such programs for other lakes. In particular, as president of Save the Lakes, the Rhode Island-wide initiative to promote education and understanding about lake quality, Judy Colaluca has spent a great deal of time advocating for other Rhode Island lakes to initiate a Boat Inspection program. Christine Dudley of DEM will be invited in the future to be part of ongoing discussions about increasing Boat Inspection programs statewide. Additionally, Judy and Mary will also try to collaborate with 2015 tournament organizers to help encourage more boaters to assume responsibility for promoting proper boater hygiene.

Judy and Mary plan to hold an “on-site” boat launch inspection training for the Keech Pond Lake Association early during the 2015 season to try to motivate them to create their own voluntary inspection program. Such a program on Keech Pond would have multiple positive consequences.  Keech Pond members would have a better understanding of the types of invasives currently in their body of water and the degree of their infestation.  They would have the tools to educate their members about ways to reduce the spread of invasives.  And, as a major water source feeder for SSR, Keech Pond has the capacity to both introduce more invasive species into SSR or to stymie their infusion into SSR. A voluntary Boat Inspection program on Keech Pond like that of SDRA would have a tremendous impact on the future health of both bodies of water.

If you’d like to learn more about being part of SDRA’s Boat Inspection program, please contact any member of the team.  New greeters are always welcomed. You’d be contributing to your lake water quality, your community, and to the health of Rhode Island lakes.

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