The Fish and Boat Commission is Cracking Down on Round Gobies
Bait Shops and Anglers, Take Note
In a hearing before the Pennsylvania Senate Game and Fisheries committee held yesterday at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Chuck Murray, a fisheries biologist with the PA Fish and Boat Commission's Lake Erie Research Unit, told Senators Richard Alloway and Sean Wiley that the commission intends to petition the legislature to enact a $150 fine per fish for any round goby found in a bait shop's retail tank, in what they are calling a policy of "zero tolerance."
This request is just one part of a plan to tighten regulations after it was confirmed in August that round gobies – an aggressive, invasive fish species – were living and breeding in Lake LeBoeuf, in Waterford, a body of water that empties into French Creek.
French Creek, designated by the Nature Conservancy as "One of America's Last Great Places," is one of the most biologically diverse streams in the United States. The stream hosts 27 of the 65 freshwater mussel species, more than 80 fish species and harbors 19 threatened and endangered species, including four endangered mussels.
Round gobies love to eat mussels.
Besides the possibility of gobies gobbling up the last remaining freshwater mussels, another concern is French Creek's connection to the Mississippi River's watershed. Although round gobies have already raided that waterway through the Calumet and Chicago Rivers connected to Lake Michigan, they have only reached as far south as Bath, Illinois, approximately 200 miles down the Illinois River from Chicago. If round gobies were able to make their way through the Ohio River's watershed, it is feared that the two populations could hit the lower Mississippi with double the strength.
Round gobies, a native of the Black and Caspian Seas, were first discovered in 1990 in the St. Clair River between Lakes Huron and Erie, believed to be delivered here unknowingly in the ballast water of oceangoing vessels. The electric "fence" placed in the Chicago River that experts are hoping with keep Asian carp species from entering the Great Lakes was first developed in an attempt to keep round gobies out of the Mississippi River. They didn't get it working in time. Read more about the round goby and other non-native aquatic invasive species here. And check out the Nature Conservancy's map that shows the spread of the round goby from 1991 through 2013.
The PAFBC's new $150 fine is part of a larger initiative that includes education and outreach, assessment, research, management and enforcement of existing regulations. Currently, the PA Fish and Boat Code prohibits possession or transportation of an non-native species and anyone caught with a live round goby faces fines and penalties.
New educational outreach is planned, and will be conducted in concert with multiple partners statewide. It include media campaigns, signage, bait dealer education, school curriculums, public presentations, and the publication of fact sheets, watch cards, and more for distributions to anglers, particularly in this part of the state.
Right now, the only regional waters that contain the goby are Lake Erie, Lake LeBoeuf, and the Fairview Gravel Pit. If found there, anglers are to kill and dispose of the fish in a waste receptacle. If anglers find a goby in any other body of water, the PAFBC is asking them to kill it, freeze it, and call the PFBC at 814.474.1515. Reports can also be sent and photos uploaded to the PAFBC website.
Any angler who wishes to learn more about the protocols for preventing transport of any invasive species, both plants and animals should visit the PAFBC website to learn about the "Clean Your Gear" campaign.
In a nutshell, you should:
- Check for and remove plants, mud, and aquatic life from fishing gear and boats before leaving any body of water.
- Drain water from boat, live well, bilge, and bait bucket before transporting a boat.
- Clean boat and gear with hot water, or
- Dry everything for at least several days.
- Do not move any plants or animals from one waterway to another.
- Do not use round gobies as bait.
The PAFBC has much research, assessment, and management ahead. Official say that chemical applications to kill the gobies (and lots of other fish, too) are a last resort, but they will use them if they have to. With an appreciable number of round gobies already being found in LeBoeuf Creek which joins Lake LeBoeuf, with French Creek, right now is the time for anglers and bait vendor to step up and take responsibility.