Boat ramp stewards to protect Keuka

John Christensen

The Keuka Lake Association is planning to operate a boat ramp steward program at the Penn Yan Boat Launch similar to the one that was operated by the Finger Lakes Institute in 2012 and 2013.

Bill Laffin, President of the KLA, who has been working with the Village’s Parks and Recreation committee since last fall, says two NYS laws passed in 2014 relating to Aquatic Invasive Species or AIS, and are meant to inform boaters about the threat of AIS and to lessen the inadvertent transportation by boaters of AIS from one body of water to another.

Laffin says the laws “will require boaters to take reasonable precautions to ensure that AIS are not introduced when launching a boat into public waters. Boaters will be required to remove visible plant and animal material, and drain live wells and bilges prior to launching at and departing from waterway access sites in NYS.”

The New York Department of Environmental Conservations ’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Comprehensive Management Plan was enacted in 1994, but a new action-based, strategic plan updates the DEC’s efforts with more than 50 actions designed to address prevention, detection, and response to Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). According to Philip Hulbert, NYSDEC Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources, priority actions identified in the plan include:

• Expanding the boat launch steward program and ensure consistency of these programs statewide.

• Developing an AIS response framework to guide decision making when AIS are detected, and communicate the reasoning for the response selected.

• Implementing an AIS public awareness campaign and evaluate its effectiveness in reaching target audiences.

• Expand the use of AIS disposal stations at waterway access sites.

• Creating regional “first responder” AIS teams to incorporate local expertise in planning and implementing appropriate responses to AIS.

• Identifying and evaluating risks associated with pathways for AIS introduction and movement within New York.

(Read the draft plan

Hulbert writes, “Historically, AIS of particular concern included zebra and quagga mussels, sea lamprey, Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, and hydrilla. More recently, extensive efforts are underway to prevent the spread of one or more species of Asian carp from the Mississippi River watershed to the Great Lakes Basin.”

The law also required the DEC to create a sign, and for all public boat launches to post the sign before September 23, 2015. Because the summer months are popular for boating, the DEC is encouraging boat launch owners to post these signs in advance of the September deadline, to help further protect these waterways during peak use season.

The KLA plans to organize and operate the Boat Ramp Steward program staffed with volunteers during the highest traffic periods at Keuka’s two primary launch points – the State Park in Branchport and the Public Launch in Penn Yan.

Laffin says there are 30 different commercial fishing tournaments already scheduled on Keuka for 2015. “These events generally charge admission fees and award cash prizes – some very substantial,” says Laffin. “Also of note is that 60 percent of the tournaments are from clubs in Pennsylvania. It is our intent to cover as many of these events as possible as the largest threat for the introduction of AIS into Keuka is not the boat that is domiciled on Keuka but the boat that travels from lake to lake over a very short period of time.”

Some volunteers will be receiving State training on how to operate a Boat Steward program that is uniform on a state-wide basis, and will then train the other volunteer Ramp Stewards. Laffin says more volunteers are still needed, and asks those interested to contact him at the KLA.

“From a water quality perspective Keuka Lake is an AA rated lake suitable for trout spawning,” says Laffin. “This is one of the best ratings that the DEC assigns. Keuka Lake is also vital to local economy via property taxes and its tourism draw. Anything that damages the lake damages the regional economy.”

The KLA, in conjunction with the AIS Educator at Cooperative Extension, is funding an AIS training program for the Steuben and Yates County Marine Patrols. Laffin says the program would benefit land-based law enforcement officers, and they are welcome to attend.