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How Can you Catch a Dead Fish in a Charter Boat?

(This is the second of a two part interview with Captain Tom Marks, a charter fishing boat captain and member of the Great Lakes United coalition. To see the first part of the interview, click here.)
Tom Marks has talked to thousands of people over the years about the real threats of aquatic invasive species. In addition to being a charter boat captain, Tom has been a part of more than half a dozen fishing and advocacy groups. All of the different positions he has held has allowed Tom the opportunity to talk to many groups and clubs as well as meet with countless elected officials. As Tom described how devastating zebra mussel induced botulism can be, he asked listeners to take the next step. By the end of presentation, Tom would be on the verge of begging anglers to send letters to their representatives. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, Tom believes, but he was having trouble getting anglers to make any noise.
Loons and gulls dieing of botulism, zebra mussels clogging water intakes, and sea lampreys sucking native fish to death never seemed to hit home for Tom’s listeners. To make that impact, Tom often describes the death of over 10,000 people in Peru in 1991. It wasn’t a result of political unrest or a dominating dictator. It was a result of a cholera outbreak that came the ballast tank of an international ocean going vessel. Cholera outbreaks have since temporarily shut down commercial fishing industries along the Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay. What would happen if one of the numerous ocean going ships in our lakes released such a disease into the waters we swim in and drink?
Think viruses and diseases are impossible to transport in the ballast tank of ships? VHS, or viral hemorrhagic septicemia, is a disease that has caused thousands of fish to die in the Great Lakes in the past few years, and many point to ballast as the reason it arrived here. VHS causes affected fish to bleed from the eyes and gills as well as causing other internal and external wounds. Beyond the bleeding, VHS disorients fish and degrades their nervous system. Anglers wondered why they saw bloody, weak fish swimming in circles near the surface of the water. VHS. Now that the virus has arrived, the challenge is to try to control.
The VHS challenge differs from other invasive crises. Anglers throughout the Great Lakes have caught small minnows to use as bait for years. If these minnows have contracted VHS, they can act as carriers if they are moved to other areas in a single lake or to a new body of water. This can cause breakouts to spread from small concentrated areas to widespread outbreaks. Try explaining this to fishermen who has always caught their baitfish. Now these anglers can’t move their bait. Not an easy thing to ask an angler to do.
Anglers and non-anglers alike struggle to understand the complexity of the effects of invasive species. But every time Tom talks to a group or takes out a fishing charter, he does his best to spread the word that there should be zero tolerance for new invasive species and water diversions. For Tom and other anglers, fishing is a resource that our communities cannot afford to let fall apart. Beyond the economic impacts, fishing can change lives. For Tom, every time he feels that bite on the end of his line he is filled with the same exhilaration and anticipation as he did the first time he caught a fish. That is Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. Rejuvenating lives and communities, charter fishing can play a vital role in the revival of our city. If we take care of our lakes.

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