Agencies, Boaters Test Weapons against Great Lakes Invaders

More than 30 representatives of local, state, and federal government agencies and community groups will test their readiness to respond to aquatic invaders in the Great Lakes in a three-day exercise in Presque Isle Bay, Pa., that began July 29.

Participants were scheduled to exercise on the water July 30. During the exercise, participants will trawl for fish and practice using fish electroshocking equipment to prepare for a real-life situation where these techniques could be used to confirm the presence of an invasive species. By working together, agencies will learn ways they can combine assets and overcome jurisdictional barriers to respond quickly to the introduction of harmful aquatic species

This is the first time that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office has brought together a variety of groups in such an exercise. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is hosting the pilot exercise, which may be repeated elsewhere.

"The Great Lakes ecosystem is a priceless natural resource, and this exercise is helping ensure that we are ready to protect it," said Gary Gulezian, director of the Great Lakes National Program Office. "Pennsylvania is demonstrating how all levels of government can work together to pool their resources and prevent new invaders from becoming established."

Invasive species can cause great ecological and economic harm to the Great Lakes basin. More than 180 nonnative aquatic species, such as the zebra mussel and round goby, have been documented in the Great Lakes. They are introduced and spread through a variety of means, including by boaters and anglers visiting infested waterways. Recreational boaters and anglers play a critical role in preventing the spread of invasives by cleaning, draining, and drying their boats each time they leave a body of water.

"These organisms prey upon or directly compete with our native species for the same limited resources, threatening the biological heritage that we share as Pennsylvanians," said Lori Boughton, DEP chief of the Office of the Great Lakes. "While preventing new introductions is the single most important thing that can be done to combat aquatic invasive species, it also is important to quickly detect and respond to new infestations. This week we are improving our preparedness -- testing the abilities of multiple jurisdictions to communicate and respond in a coordinated fashion."

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