I t’s hard to imagine that one knucklehead could change the face of what is arguably the most storied bass lake in all of America in a matter of seconds, but that’s exactly what happened at Lake Fork in northeast Texas late last summer.
Not to say the lake is going to crap or anything of the sort. Fork is still Fork. But you can bet things are going to be different around the 27,000-acre reservoir now that giant salvinia has finally found its way into the bass-rich waters that have produced Texas’s last two state records and 257 Toyota ShareLunkers.
Giant salvinia is an invasive plant from Brazil that was first discovered in Texas on Toledo Bend in 1998. It has since been confirmed in more than 20 Texas lakes and has cost the controlling authorities a fortune in herbicides and man hours to control it.
Also known as Salvinia molesta, the plant was discovered just before Thanksgiving in Chaney Branch and another small pocket west of the Lake Fork dam. The finding resulted in the closure of the Chaney Point and Secret Haven boat ramps as experts with TPWD’s aquatic enhancement branch and the Sabine River Authority worked to contain the plant by physical removal and spraying with herbicides. Additionally, a 1,100-foot boom barrier was installed across the creek in hope of preventing it from spreading to other areas of the fabled East Texas bass lake.
The total coverage area was estimated to be about 3.25 acres. Based on plant’s ability to spread quickly, experts believe it was probably introduced to the lake sometime in early September.
While nobody knows for certain how giant salvinia found its way to Fork, scientists have a good hunch that it hitch-hiked there on a boat trailer. That’s usually how a new infestation take place—a careless boater backs a boat trailer into infested water, drives away with plants clinging to the bunks and then backs the rig into a different body of water a few days later. The plant fragments drift away and another lake is infected.
“We suspect that is what happened at Fork,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Kevin Storey of Tyler. “Plant fragments can survive for weeks on boat trailer bunks if they are kept moist. We knew it was only a matter of time until it showed up at Fork. What surprises me is that it didn’t happen sooner.”
Also surprising is the fact that nobody reported the infestation sooner they did. Storey says TPWD signs and posters depicting pictures and descriptions of the invasive plant have been posted near the ramps for years. Furthermore, the biologist said he was told that maintenance workers at one of the facilities had actually pulled clumps of the plants onto shore to clear the ramp on more than one occasion, yet nobody chose to report it.
“It sure would have been nice if we could have gotten on it a few weeks earlier, before the weather turned off cold,” Storey said. “I think it will take a while to get it under control. Once this stuff gets into a lake it can be really hard to stamp out, unless you get to it very soon after it is introduced. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but the reality of it is that you often times wind up having a long term with giant salvinia once it shows up in a lake.”
One thing that makes the fern-like plant so hard to deal with is the fact it doesn’t root to the bottom; it forms thick rafts and free-floats, so it goes where the wind takes it.
Shifting winds can cause plants to go adrift, thus resulting in new infestations in different areas of a lake. The plant also fragments easily and can be tough to spot amid flooded bushes and other terrestrial vegetation.
Even the smallest fragments can grow into the big problem in short order. Left unchecked during the summer growing season giant salvinia can double in mass in two weeks. It also can form a surface canopy so dense that sunlight cannot penetrate it. The lack of sunlight sparks a chain reaction of negatives which can eventually turn a fertile body of water into a sterile one. It’s not a wonder some scientists have labeled it the world’s worst aquatic plant.
“This is a painful way to find out some people have not got the message to ‘Clean, drain, and dry’ their boats,” said Storey. “I hope this experience will serve as a reminder to boaters of just how important it is to be vigilant for the presence of invasive species.”
The threat of spreading giant salvinia and other invasive plants on boat trailers is so pronounced that the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2005 requiring that any invasive plants be removed from boats and trailers before transport. Failure to comply is a Class C misdemeanor. Fines can go as high as $500.
That is a ridiculously low punishment considering the amount of damage the plant can do in a short time. Not to mention the resources it takes to control it.
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Email Matt Williams at [email protected]