The unexpected consequences of fighting Eurasian Watermilfoil, preventing fish from successfully reproducing? Response by Contour Innovations’ President Matt Johnson
Recently, freelance journalist and underwater photographer Eric Engbretson published an article entitled ‘The unexpected consequences of fighting Eurasian Watermilfoil, preventing fish from successfully reproducing?‘ on a news service blog sponsored by Fishiding. The article’s focus was Lake Ellwood Wisconsin where Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Biologist Greg Matzke presented evidence of declining Largemouth bass, Northern pike, and bluegill populations and evidence of recurrent reproduction/recruitment failures of these species. Much of what is presented can be found in a draft WI DNR Fisheries Report. Matzke speculates that declines in populations of these vegetation-dependent species may be due to a loss of aquatic vegetation over the last 10 years by repeated whole lake treatments. In the DNR Report Matzke presents spotty, often subjective estimates of aquatic plant abundance which makes it difficult to confidently associate aquatic plant declines due to treatments with declines in fish populations.
It’s often difficult to respond to topics like this because, as a non-biologist and an employee of private company that provides a product for this field, I’m always concerned that my comments would be misconstrued as commercial, driven by my interest to sell products or my failure to understand the biology behind the “whole picture.” I approach this topic as an outsider that gets to observe the industry and sometimes provide a unique perspective without a specific interest or deep understanding of a particular biological issue. It is this observation stance that allows me to recognize that this article is a wakeup call regardless of position.
Every opinion, no matter what side of a topic you land on, will go nowhere if we don’t have objective information to make an argument or defend a position. This is something both government biologists/regulators and aquatic service providers should agree on here. This report is an opportunity to finally connect all groups within the aquatics field to perform holistic investigations, recognize when there’s a lack of good data, and take steps to acquire critical data. It’s an opportunity to have the discussion the aquatics field deserves. Failing to at least put resources towards making the connection between data inadequacy and historical needs from this article is a failure in the structure of the aquatic industry and maybe even society. Compliance is one thing while a constant quest towards better data-intensive monitoring and management is quite another.
Sometimes this lack of “good data” is a result of a failure of technology to provide the tools required to gather and analyze the information we need, and sometimes it’s for other reasons like budget, human resources, access, and priorities. I struggle with the paradox that the some people who argue that we need to look at the data before we make decisions on Ellwood are some of the same people I’ve seen resist an objective method that can provide these results. It doesn’t add up. Without objective, repeatable aquatic plant assessment methods, the field never moves forward and everyone gets to pick a side and stay there. Consequently, circumstantial evidence and speculations are used to assign a cause and place blame. This puts the accused on the defensive using lawyer tactics to avoid any accountability. This gets us nowhere
A way forward . . .
Contour Innovations is already helping to facilitate collaboration between fish monitoring and invasive plant management with fantastic, even unexpected results. All involved hope the data sharing model grows into the future of monitoring and management. By using an objective, passively logged and repeatable system of plant abundance and characteristic monitoring, multiple interests are benefiting simultaneously. Fisheries managers are using quantitative measures of aquatic plant habitats to formulate fisheries management goals, Invasive aquatic plant managers are using these same data sets to evaluate invasive nuisances and are taking measures to address the nuisance while not compromising fish habitat. This is a different way of thinking proactively instead of reactively and we can’t miss opportunities to highlight the need. We can claim that the technology is the future, but technology is merely a catalyst for the necessary paradigm shift.
Our position has remained consistent since the Company’s founding, but is more relevant now than ever: That is, prudent management and regulation of lake ecosystems requires that decisions be based on objective, quantitative information about the status and trajectory of the system(s) of interest. Continued decisions in an information-poor or anecdotal-evidence environment risk situations and blame like those observed on Lake Ellwood.
We haven’t picked a side but the industry and field needs to embrace or seek a more standardized or objective way of measuring aquatic plant abundance data. I’ve heard a lot of requests for automated speciation data but here we are wishing we had objective abundance data. There are some “cool” parts of our systems but we started BioBase because it fills a need. Subjective methods of plant monitoring are already outdated. This has never been more apparent.