'Landing Blitz' reminds boaters to help fight invasives

Cal Abbo
The Detroit News

Volunteers are gathering at events across the state this week to remind boaters how to keep their vessels clean and free of invasive species.

The "Landing Blitz" events are part of Michigan's Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week and are being held through July 5 in tandem with volunteer gatherings in other states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes.

A Landing Blitz volunteer at a previous year's event in Manistee stresses to a boater the importance of cleaning, draining and drying his vessel to avoid spreading invasive species from one body of water to another.

"The most important message from volunteers this year is for boaters and anglers to 'Clean, Drain and Dry' boats, trailers and all equipment and gear after each use on any lake, river or stream to prevent spreading invasive plants and other aquatic invasive species from one water body to another," the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said in a press release.

As of last year, state law requires boaters to make sure watercraft are free of aquatic life before transporting or launching; remove all water from bilges, ballast tanks, and live wells before moving watercraft; avoid releasing unused bait into the water, and releasing fish only into the same body of water where they were caught.

"Violations of the state law requiring boaters to clean boats and trailers and drain water can carry a fine of up to $100," the press release said. "DNR conservation officers will continue their efforts to educate everyone who uses the state’s waterways about their responsibilities through direct contacts and in partnership with interested groups."

Nick Assendelft, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said the Landing Blitz first took place in 2014. "They'll be raising awareness of why it's important to follow these rules so that you don't spread aquatic invasive species," he said.

This year, the weeklong blitz will include about 30 events in Michigan. If not for COVID-19, Assendelft said, there would be many more. In 2019, volunteers hosted 79 events.

Assendelft said boaters shouldn't expect to be fined if they're trying to follow state regulations. Officers want to help people use their watercraft without spreading invasive species, not hand out fines, he said.

He also said the procedures only take a few minutes to complete. "Everyone wants to do the right thing," he said.

Most of the week's efforts will focus on educating boaters at launch sites. Jennifer Lefferts, vice president of Maceday Lotus Lakes Association, said her organization has participated in the blitz for the past five years.

"We hand out information sheets about cleaning, drying, and draining your boat to stop the transfer of invasive species from lake to lake," she said. "We hand out informational pieces, towels, and key chains."

"Living on a lake, you definitely learn there's more to a lake than it just being beautiful," she added. "There are a lot of underlying issues. Especially invasive species have brought problems to our lakes."

Boaters or anyone else interested can find an event by visiting the Great Lakes Commission website.