Vermont Fish and Wildlife recently announced a policy change that will allow anglers to once again wear felt-soled waders after a five-year ban. It marks a change in the state's approach to dealing with one damaging aquatic algae: didymo, also known by the much more colorful name of "rock snot."
Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, joined Vermont Edition to talk about why the policy change is happening and more broadly about how we deal with aquatic invasive species.
Why the felt-soled wader ban is being repealed
"Didymo still is here in Vermont, and actually that's why the ban has been reversed,” Good explains. “New research in the last five years has actually brought to light the fact that didymo has always been here. It's actually a native species. When the ban was first put in place, we were reacting to new occurrences in blooms at the nuisance level of this algae that we thought had been recently introduced."
Didymo is not only native to Vermont, but actually to many waters in North America, Good says, and it's changing environmental conditions that are responsible for the blooms occurring.
"So having a ban in place against the waders, to prevent [didymo] from being spread to new waters on the boots of the waders, was kind of an ineffective policy to have in place now that we realize it's actually here and is everywhere," Good says.
While didymo can cause "nuisance conditions," Good says that studies have been conducted to see if it may cause harmful effects on other organisms, and "there's really been nothing that has been observed in terms of a decrease in other organisms in the water when didymo blooms."
Problematic aquatic invasive species in Vermont
"One of the things we were concerned about with reversing this ban is that it may appear to the public that we're not as concerned about invasive species as we used to be – and that's not really the case," Good states. "Invasive species are one of the greatest threats that we face here in Vermont, and everywhere else, in terms of reducing the health of our native aquatic communities."
Good notes a few invasive species here in Vermont that have been known for some time, including zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnut. He also mentions the spiny water flea as a more recent one to be found in Lake Champlain.
"There's a lot of invasive species that we have in Vermont that we have to deal with every day in terms of preventing them from spreading to new waters,” Good says. “We really want to hold them at bay where they are right now. We don't want them to appear anywhere new in the state."
Preventing the spread
"It's really just being educated and aware and taking the necessary steps, even though they may cause a little bit of personal inconvenience," Good says. "It's really dependent upon every individual who spends time on or in or around the water to take a few basic precautions."
Good shares an oft-repeated rule of thumb to follow for addressing the spread of aquatic invasive species, which is “clean, drain, dry.”
"Because they're aquatic species, they need moisture to survive. So anytime you put your canoe, your kayak, your stand-up paddleboard, your fishing boat into the water, when you remove it and take it home, before you go anywhere else, it should be washed. And it should be dried and it should be cleaned."
"So any visible plants or mud stuck to the sides of your craft or your equipment should be cleaned and washed off," Good continues. "You should take a towel and mop up any standing water, dry it out as best you can and then let it dry in the sun or for a period of a few days before putting it back in another water body. And that will reduce 99.9 percent of the risk of spreading these invasive species to new waters. It's really simple."