Local anglers asked to help protect Sound from invasive species

With stickers, key chains, posters and face-to-face conversations, Connecticut Sea Grant hopes to convince boaters and fishermen that their everyday actions on the water can make a big difference when it comes to invasive species in Long Island Sound.

This summer, Sea Grant, based at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton, has begun a campaign to prevent the spread of invasive species from boat hulls and leftover bait. The message will be conveyed in signs at boat launches, materials given out at marinas, and through in-person interviews and surveys at boat launches, said Nancy Balcom, associate director, program leader and extension educator at Connecticut Sea Grant.

The neck wallets, key chains and rulers for measuring fish being given out bear the slogans "Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers - Keep Boat Hulls Clean," and "Protect Our Waters - Don't Dump Bait."

Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who do vessel inspections will also talk to boaters and anglers about the importance of washing hulls before transporting vessels from one waterway to another.

Equally important is disposing of leftover bait and the seaweed it's packed in - which, if not from a local source, can carry invasive algae and other organisms - in the trash rather than throwing it overboard.

"It's going to be just a real basic message," Balcom said. "The fact is that things can be introduced."

The new project is funded with a $33,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, said Balcom, who's been working on invasive species outreach programs for the past 18 years.

"We hope to talk to hundreds of people and to get some sense of whether the message is getting out there," she said.

Safe-boating courses offered by the state Department of Environmental Protection include a section on preventing the introduction of invasive species. That message is also mentioned in DEP boaters' and anglers' guides, available at marinas and bait shops.

But there's still a need to make sure everyone on the water regularly is getting the message, Balcom said. About 30 marinas around the state were chosen to receive the printed materials, including Noank Village Boatyard, Thamesport Marina in New London and Three Belles Marina in Niantic.

"We selected marinas that cater to transient boaters," she said.

While the printed materials left at marinas are an important part of the campaign, Balcom said, the most effective means may end up being face-to-face conversations, both during surveys Sea Grant plans to begin conducting in July at the boat launches and during inspections.

"We all get numb to that stuff," she said. "But when someone hands you materials and then asks you questions, you can have that conversation."

The Connecticut Sea Grant project is part of a larger collaborative effort involving Sea Grant programs in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to prevent the introduction of invasive species into the region's waterways. Invasive species can severely impact ecosystems, threaten human health and cause economic damage, according to the Northeast Marine Introduced Species project website.

Common examples of invasive marine species are shipworms that damage piers and non-native crabs "that feed on shellfish native species and cost the aquaculture industry tens of millions of dollars each year," according to the website.

Among species of concern for northeast waters are red and green algae native to Asia; sea squirt from Europe and Asia; green crabs and shore crabs from Europe and Asia; and wood borers from the Pacific.

Diane Womack, general manager of Hannah Mac's Bait, Tackle & Charters on Pequot Avenue in New London, said she tells anglers when they come to buy bait to make sure they don't throw unused bait and seaweed overboard. She is well aware of the damage invasive species can do to native fish and shellfish, she said.

"As a new business, I want to make sure everybody does the right thing," Womack said. "I want my grandchildren to be able to fish in these waters."

j.benson@theday.com

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