State proposes plan to stop invasive species

Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released a plan that outlines an aggressive program to prevent future introductions invasive species.

The department cites the growing danger posed by invasive creatures like northern pike and Chinese mitten crabs.

Under the proposed Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan, the department would hire a full-time coordinator, start monitoring programs and educational campaigns, and launch an ''action plan'' against northern pike in some lakes. The program would eventually expand to include an emergency strike force to respond to invasions with the urgency of an oil spill.

Under a key element of the plan, Alaskans would be informally recruited to watch tidepools, fishing nets and river systems for the first sign of trouble, said Ginny Fay, a biologist and economist who drafted the plan. Descriptions of potential nuisance species would be widely distributed.

''We have to make sure that everybody is pretty aware,'' Fay told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We all have a lot to lose and a lot to gain by this process. Fish and Game by itself can't deal with this problem. It's too big.

If implemented by fall, the plan would cost $430,000 over the rest of this fiscal year, funded almost entirely by federal grant money set aside for invasive species planning and salmon conservation, Fay said. The state is taking comments on the plan through July 22 and will submit a final version to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval under the National Aquatic Species Program.

In the 2004 fiscal year, an expanded program would cost about $713,000, but 75 percent could be covered by federal funding if the plan meets approval under the national program. The state would work with federal biologists already performing ballast water studies in Prince William Sound and surveying Alaska ports, said Gary Sonnevil, of the agency's Fisheries Resource Office in Kenai.

The threat posed by invasive species has become a devastating worldwide problem, costing billions of dollars in damage and extinctions. While less vulnerable than many temperate locales, Alaska has faced terrestrial problems from Norway rats, foxes, pigeons, weeds and a growing number of insect pests.

Aquatic invaders include northern pike in local lakes and Atlantic salmon along the southeastern and gulf coast. Since the early 1990s, Alaska fishermen have netted more than 600 Atlantics that escaped farms in British Columbia and Washington state. A few Atlantics have been caught in fresh water, raising concerns that the pen-raised fish from another ocean would spawn and reproduce in a Pacific salmon habitat.

Ballast water dumped in Alaska ports by oil tankers and other ships poses another dangerous threat, especially since it can carry the larval forms of invasive crabs. Since 1997, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to sample and analyze tanker ballast for the presence of larvae. ------

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