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Monday, April 29, 2002

Spiny invader hits cottage country

Tiny water flea big trouble for Ontario lakes

By Canadian Press

 A tiny water flea could cause major headaches for anglers and cottagers in central Canada this summer as the latest invasive species makes inroads into inland lakes.

The spiny water flea, native to waters around Great Britain and the Caspian Sea, was first spotted in the Great Lakes in the 1980s, likely brought here in the ballast water of ships.

"They're certainly spreading year by year quite rapidly and from lake to lake," said Norman Yan, a York University biologist studying the species in Dorset, Ont.

"They were in all of the Great Lakes by the end of the 1980s and first spotted in other lakes in 1989. Then they spread to 50 other lakes that we're aware of."

The spiny water flea with its barbed tail is just the latest of 160 species introduced to the Great Lakes basin over the past 500 years.

It has already caused sports anglers to cancel fishing trips that feed the northern tourist economy and might precipitate a drop in lakefront property prices.

"We do know that in Canada and the U.S., when a lake gets a bloom of these things and word gets out, people will cancel a fishing trip," said Hugh MacIsaac, a professor at University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.

As fishers troll for fish, their lines drag behind the boat. In a lake full of spiny water fleas, the lines cut through clumps of fleas, MacIsaac said, creating a "major problem."

"Animals in the water get snagged by the (fleas') tails on fishing line ... What you end up getting is a whole mass of animals accumulating on these spots on the fishing line.

"When you retrieve the fishing line you can't do it -- the ball won't fit through the eyelet on your fishing rod."

Biologists such as MacIsaac and Yan are tracking the fleas, asking the public to report sightings to the ministry of natural resources' invading-species hotline, so they can predict where the creature will thrive next.

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