BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A new invasive species is headed for Lake Champlain through the Champlain Canal system and scientists fear that a worst-case scenario the presence of the spiny water flea could displace native animal plankton that is the source of food for many fish, scientists say.
A lesser threat from the spiny water flea could be that it will create a nuisance for anglers because its barbs entangle fishing lines.
"It is not like the zebra mussel that changed the entire dynamics of the natural system — it is not that devastating, but it will have an effect on the plankton community," said University of Vermont Fisheries Biologist Ellen Marsden.
Five spiny water fleas were found last month by New York state biologists in the Champlain Canal, which connects Lake Champlain to the Hudson River.
Spiny water fleas are zooplankton native to Europe and Asia that were introduced to the Great Lakes in ballast from ocean-going freighters. Adults are about ½-inch long. They were first discovered in Lake Ontario in 1982 and they have since spread.
"Unless we do something to close the canal, it is inevitable" that they will reach Lake Champlain, Marsden told the Burlington Free Press.
But Dave Winchell, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said scientists are continuing to search the canal for the species.
"The fact that we have found them while the numbers are very low gives us some hope" of stopping their spread, said Winchell.