Clean, drain and dry to protect Kentucky waters and wildlife

​​​​​FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 26, 2024) — As warm weather beckons outdoor enthusiasts to the state’s waterways, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is asking those recreating on the water to prioritize cleaning their watercraft, gear and footwear to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species and safeguard the state's aquatic ecosystems and wildlife.

More than 100 aquatic invasive species have been identified in Kentucky, comprising non-native species introduced to the state from other parts of the U.S. or globally. Key invasive species include various carp species, zebra mussels, several crayfish species and multiple aquatic plants like hydrilla, curly pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil.​​​

​​​“Aquatic invasive species pose a significant threat to Kentucky's aquatic biodiversity, public infrastructure, economy and recreational opportunities,” said Dave Dreves, Fisheries Division director with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Most aquatic invasive species in the state lack natural predators or competitors, so they can reproduce and spread rapidly.”

Aquatic invasive species can be spread various ways, including sand, mud, dirt and water, often hitchhiking on boats and gear. People further exacerbate the issue when they unknowingly introduce non-native species to Kentucky waters by dumping fish from aquariums, discarding unused bait in waterways or intentionally stocking fish illegally.​​​

​​​Water recreationists can play a crucial role in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species by following these simple actions after visiting a waterbody:

  • Clean - Remove any plants, mud or debris from boats, equipment and gear before you leave. Cleaning boats with high-pressure, hot (120-140 F) water is recommended, if available. Scrubbing with a stiff brush can help dislodge any clinging organisms.
  • Drain - Empty all water containing devices, such as motors, bilges and live wells, prior to leaving a water access area. Draining equipment helps to remove any aquatic hitchhikers.
  • Dry - Allow boats and equipment to dry completely in the sun for at least five days, or wipe with a towel before visiting another waterbody. Drying is crucial to ensure that any remaining aquatic invasive species are removed.

Upon invading new habitats, aquatic invasive species disrupt ecosystems by outcompeting native species for resources, altering habitat structures, degrading water quality and changing nutrient cycling.​​​

​​​Aquatic invasive species can also act as carriers of pathogens (bacteria, viruses or parasites) that can infect native wildlife. For example, the invasive hydrilla plant is linked to the transmission of a bacterium that produces a neurotoxin responsible for avian vacuolar myelinopathy, a fatal neurological disease that affects raptors and waterfowl. Invasive species may also introduce new pathogens or parasites to native populations, exposing them to diseases for which they have no natural defenses. This can lead to population declines or even extinctions among native species.

​​​Prevention is the best defense against aquatic invasive species,” said Jeff Herod, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species coordinator. “Once an aquatic invasive species infiltrates an aquatic ecosystem, controlling them becomes costly and complete eradication is nearly impossible. Our goal is to identify and address potential introduction pathways for aquatic invasive species, as any pathway could facilitate the spread of multiple invasive species.”

​​​Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is currently in the process of revising its State Aquatic Nuisance Species Plan, which outlines high-priority aquatic invasive species and the department’s strategic approach to preventing their spread.

Sightings of aquatic invasive species in Kentucky can be reported to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Information Center at info.center@ky.gov. Please include the location where the aquatic invasive species was found and a photograph of it along with your telephone number or email address.​​​

More information about aquatic invasive species can be found at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Aquatic Invasive Species website, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website and Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers​.​​​

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