It’s a small creature about the width of your pinky, averaging 1/4 to 5/8 of an inch long. But it has the potential to wreak havoc in the region’s lakes. The spiny waterflea began spreading into Adirondack lakes in 2008 and was confirmed in Lake Champlain in 2014. This month, an angler found the invasive zooplankton while fishing in what was considered to be the largest invasive-free lake in the Adirondacks.
On August 8th an Adirondack Watershed Institute boat launch steward received a report from an angler on Indian Lake that spiny waterflea was on his fishing line. The steward reported the discovery to the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, which monitors for all invasives. Aquatic Invasive Species Project Coordinator Erin Vennie-Vollrath says they went out on August 17th to verify the report. “We did go out. What we use is a zooplankton net and it's a large net that we can lower into the water and kind of filter through the water looking for the spiny waterflea. And we were able to use that net to catch additional spiny waterflea in Indian Lake. That net allows us to get an idea of whether or not spiny waterflea are present, but not so much what the population density is.”
Town of Indian Lake Supervisor Brian Wells is very disappointed to hear about the invasive infestation. “Maybe we took it for granted that Indian Lake was clean and we didn't have to be as vigilant. But you know now we're going to pay the price.” (And what do you think that price will be?) “Probably to start with it won't have that big an impact until the fishing really starts to drop off and then it could impact the renters. One thing is you know we only have one boat launch on there but we have a lot of private boaters too, people that own property on the lake. I was hoping we could get a wash station in with the last grant cycle. I think now we really need to push for a wash station. We have to have one.”
The spiny water flea is notorious for attaching to fishing lines.
Captain Bob Lewis owns Fins and Grins, a charter fishing service in Westport and Catskill, NY. He remembers encountering the creature while fishing on Lake Ontario. “It's like a wet Q-tip. Once you get it on your fishing line it’s a nightmare. This would attach itself to the line and as you reeled in it would fill up the eyes of the fish pole. So you had two choices. You could either lose it or try and bring the fish in hand over hand. Well that's a nightmare in itself. I had heard it’s now in Lake Champlain. And now that it's gone to Indian Lake, oh dear gosh, I just hope DEC gets a handle on it because fishing is supposed to be relaxing. It’s not supposed to be a chore. So I sincerely hope they do whatever has to be done to get rid of it.”
But there are no known management controls or natural predators once the spiny waterflea establishes itself in a regional waterbody. Vennie-Vollrath says there are 300 lakes in the Adirondacks, and currently about 70 percent are invasive-free, so prevention is crucial. “For spiny waterflea prevention is the key and that is to make sure that it doesn't spread to any other lakes beyond the lakes that it’s currently in such as Indian Lake. And so it's very important that people take the steps to clean drain and dry their boat. And if they aren't able to dry their boat there are high pressure hot water boat wash stations located around the Park that they can use which will kill and remove any aquatic invasive species such as spiny waterflea on their boat or trailer or other gear.”
Response teams are monitoring nearby lakes, looking for the presence of spiny waterflea. The zooplankton is known to be in lakes to the south of Indian Lake including Sacandaga Lake, Lake Pleasant and Piseco Lake.