State launches didymo control campaign

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(Host) Vermont has launched an aggressive campaign to control the spread of an invasive algae known as didymo.

The algae was discovered recently in the White and Connecticut Rivers. Since there’s no known way of getting rid of it once it infests a stream, officials hope to educate the public about how to control the outbreak.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) It was just a week ago that the Agency of Natural Resources confirmed that the invasive algae had taken hold in the upper Connecticut River. It’s since been spotted in two more locations, six miles apart, on the White River.

The algae is called didymo, but it’s also known as rock snot because of the thick white and yellowish mats it forms on the rocks and river bottom.

(Weber) “It’s like looking at wet strands of toilet paper coming down the river.”

(Dillon) Lawton Weber is a fishing guide who first saw the algae on the Connecticut River in late June.

Weber predicts that if didymo takes hold in Vermont, it will coat the rocks and smother the bug life that fish eat. If that happens, he says the state’s wild trout population could crash.

(Weber) “We’re going to lose tens of millions of dollars in the state’s economy if our trout fisheries fall apart.”

(Dillon) Weber was speaking from his cell phone
as he traveled to Waterbury to meet with fisheries biologists and other river experts from Vermont and New Hampshire.

There’s no way to get rid of didymo once it’s in a stream. So at the meeting, state officials decided to launch a public education campaign to help control its spread. Angela Shambaugh is with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

(Shambaugh) “We’re going to work aggressively to sign the areas both in the White River and the Connecticut River to let people know didymo is present and that they can transport it, and how we want to prevent that transport. So that’s a big priority right now.”

(Dillon) Shambaugh says the recent heavy rains have probably spread the algae downstream. And she says if it’s been found in both the Connecticut and White Rivers, it could be in other rivers as well.

(Shambaugh) “Certainly it’s been present in the White River since this spring, and that river receives a lot of activity. So there’s a very good chance that people have been carrying it around. If we’re lucky it hasn’t caught hold anywhere else. But we’ll be hoping that we’ll be getting reports, and we’ll be out ourselves trying to document where else it might be found.”

(Dillon) The best defense against didymo is to thoroughly clean and disinfect gear and equipment. Fishing waders – especially those with felt soles — should be soaked for at least 10 minutes in very hot water containing dishwashing detergent or a two percent bleach solution. The equipment should be completely dry before it’s used in another stream.

Shambaugh also says anglers need to change their behavior to protect their favorite fishing spots.

(Shambaugh) “Especially in places like the White River and the Connecticut we’re really telling people not to work your way upstream into some of the tributary branches. Because we know didymo is in the White River and if you work your way upstream and start working your way upstream into a tributary you are potentially carrying it further up into the watershed.”

(Dillon) Fishing guide Lawton Weber wanted the state to shut down the White River to all public uses to limit its spread. Shambaugh says that isn’t practical – and may not be possible legally — unless there is a serious threat to public health.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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