Aquatic Plant Management Program Enhancements
The FWC is committed to implementing a variety of enhancements to the Agency’s Aquatic Plant Management Program. Some of these improvements include exploring ways to better integrate and increase the strategic use of mechanical aquatic plant harvesting and creating habitat management plans to guide efforts for individual lakes.
The FWC created a Statewide Technical Assistance Group, or TAG, to address the many challenges and issues associated with aquatic plant management in Florida. The Aquatic Plant Management TAG will provide a forum for discussion on all aspects of the aquatic plant management program. The goal of the TAG is to establish areas of common ground, identify problems, concerns, and areas of disagreement, evaluate scientific information, develop potential solutions to identified problems and provide a useful forum for sharing information and ideas.
Nearly 30 individuals representing both recreational and professional anglers, waterfowl hunters, water-related businesses including restaurants and marinas, recreational groups, conservation organizations, local governments and partner agencies have joined the TAG.
The first TAG meeting was held in September of 2019. The group is currently planning to meet 4 times a year.
The FWC is working to explore new methods and technologies to oversee and increase accountability of aquatic plant control contractors, including a real-time tracking system that monitors contractors and records precise locations of herbicide applications. This fleet tracker technology, similar to systems used by shipping and trucking companies is being tested on Lake Okeechobee with the goal of having this type of technology a requirement of the new contracts for aquatic plant control contractors. Once installed the trackers will show precise routes of all equipped vessels including the locations where herbicides were applied.
The FWC uses mechanical harvesters all over the state. Currently we are investigating ways to increase our use of mechanical harvesting.
Mechanical harvesting refers to the use of machinery to remove, convey and transport aquatic plants and associated organic material to in-lake or upland disposal sites. Mechanical shredding involves machinery designed to cut and shred aquatic plants into much smaller pieces allowing them to sink to the bottom of the waterbody. Mechanical controls range from small cutting boats to 90-foot long harvesters, and from track hoes and draglines stationed on shore or mounted on barges that lift plants and debris out of the water.
Mechanical harvesters are one method of controlling nuisance and invasive vegetation. One advantage of mechanical removal is there are no restrictions on water use following a treatment as there sometimes are with chemical treatment methods. Mechanical harvesters do increase water turbidity, but that is a temporary impact. While some small fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates are removed as unintended by-catch, there is no evidence this will significantly affect over-all populations. Removal of the plant biomass prevents its eventual decay and settling to the bottom, helping to reduce sedimentation in the lake. Also, there is some level of nutrient removal with harvesting too, because the nitrogen and phosphorous that is bound up in the plant is removed from the water body.
However, mechanical harvesters alone cannot keep pace with the exponential growth of invasive aquatic plants in Florida waters. Resource managers in Florida and throughout the U.S. rely on an integrated approach to control invasive plants including herbicides, biological agents such as grass carp and sometimes even manual removal such as hand pulling.
The FWC is seeking new ideas for managing aquatic plants without the use of herbicides in Florida waterbodies. Last December, the agency posted a Request for Information soliciting innovative ideas from those in the plant management industry, scientific experts and the general public. The FWC is in the process of working with outside partners to review these submissions. Check back for updates.
The FWC has been working to improve the timing of herbicide-based management activities so as not to interfere with important recreational opportunities such as waterfowl seasons and fishing tournaments. Staff work to ensure that herbicide treatments on lakes heavily used for duck hunting is minimal, or not done at all during hunting season. Staff also plan around fishing tournaments so as not to interfere with the event.