Hopes to keep a tiny invader out of Lake Champlain may be sunk.
Wednesday, scientists announced that the spiny water flea is in Lake George and expected to arrive in Vermont soon. The invasive species only grows to about half-an-inch long but the tiny pest could cause big problems for wildlife and outdoor enthusiast on Lake Champlain.
Down on the docks of the Shelburne Shipyard, veteran fishing guide Richard Greenough is wrapped up after another day on the water Wednesday. He says this summer business is booming.
However, an invasive species could prove to be a thorn - or rather a spine - in his side. "Seen a lot of things come, a lot of things go," he said of invasive species, "a lot of things came and stayed: such as sea lampreys, zebra mussels, and the Bythotrephes - spiny water flea - is on the horizon."
"They eat up the Daphnia which is a plankton that the little fish feed on, " he explained, "especially Walleyes and that's a big concern."
Originally from Europe and Asia, Wednesday scientists confirmed that a fisherman accidentally reeled in one of the rapidly reproducing crustaceans while out on Lake George. Samples taken on Lake Champlain have haven't found evidence of the species, but its presence in neighboring bodies of water means the spiny water flea's arrival is a near certainty.
"This clearly means the invasion is imminent," said Tim Mihuc, the director of SUNY Plattsburgh's Lake Champlain Research Institute. In June, he and his team of researchers found the Spiny Water Flea in a feeder canal that connects the Hudson River to the Champlain Canal.
That prompted calls from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to close the canal. However, researchers now say it won't be possible to stop the water flea from moving from Lake George into the La Chute River and eventually Lake Champlain.
"It's troubling in that now we kind of have a double whammy," said Mihuc, "the Spiny Water Flea is coming into Lake Champlain from two directions."
Greenough said at this point, left with more questions than answers as to how the new creature will affect Lake Champlain, he's more worried about the news cycle than the flea. "Bad media always hurts business," he said. He added that friends of his who have experience with the flea on Lake Ontario said the effects haven't been as bad as forecast.
Mihuc said the flea may already be in Lake Champlain even though they haven't found it in sampling. He expects they'll find proof by the fall though, or spring by the very latest.
In a release Wednesday, Sen. Leahy conceded that the practicality of stopping the fleas spread may have changed. He's still pushing for an invasive species barrier within the Champlain Canal though in order to keep the next possible intruder from entering the lake.