By John Nobile Bellipanni
Three years ago, fishing in Leflore County’s Blue Lake was a lot more simple.
You could easily put your boat in the water and motor right up to the tree line and fish to your heart’s content.
My dad, Domino Bellipanni, and I used to pull all manner of bass, crappie, bream, catfish and other species out of the lake.
All that has changed, since the lake has become inundated with what I call the Green Menace.
The plant in the pictures is called Eichhornia Crassipes, or more commonly known as water hyacinth, and nowadays, you’d be lucky to get to the tree line at Blue Lake with a high-powered boat motor.
This invasive plant is native to Brazil and is believed to have been introduced to North America around 1884 during the Cotton States Exposition in New Orleans.
Since then, this plant has spread across North America like wildfire.
To understand the plant’s impact on our environment, I got in touch with both Alex Deason, Sunflower County Extension agent, and Dennis Riecke, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks’ Fisheries and Environmental coordinator.
So, how has this plant affected our waterways.
For starters, this plant can clump together on the water to form thick mats that can make boats stop in its wake, along with making fishing very difficult.
But how has it affected the aquatic life?
Riecke said that, in large masses, this plant can block sunlight from reaching native aquatic plants and phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton consists of microscopic plants that require sunlight to live.
Baitfish eat the plankton, so if there isn’t plankton in the water for the baitfish to eat, the baitfish population will drop, leaving little food for the large predator fish to eat.
However, the plant does offer shading to the fish life, cover for small fish, and attachment sites for insects.
But the cons outweigh the pros.
So how can this plant be controlled?
Deason said there are three main methods of control.
The first method is biological control.
That requires a natural event or predator that will control the water hyacinth.
But since this is an invasive plant, there is little to no natural predators or events that will stunt its growth.
The second method is mechanical control, which requires machinery that will physically move the plant out of the water.
The most common things used are John boats with a contraption built on it to rake or push the plant to the bank to be picked up by larger machines.
This method is mostly effective in small ponds. This method being practiced in a large lake is almost like mowing the grass.
It is almost impossible to get every piece of the water hyacinth out of large lakes, and the plant is believed to be capable of doubling in size within two weeks.
So the mechanical method can clear small ponds of the plant. But when it comes to large lakes, the mechanical method is a waste of time.
The third method is chemical control, which requires chemicals to be sprayed on the plant directly.
This is the most extreme course of action. Many precautions must be taken when using chemicals on water plants.
If too little chemicals are used then the plant will not be killed.
If too much chemical is used then it could kill native plants, animals, and possibly get into the water supply.
If a large mass of the plant is sprayed and killed at once then the decomposing plants can harm the environment as well.
When the dead plant sinks to the bottom of the lake little organisms start to break the plant down, which requires oxygen.
So if a large mass of plants is decomposing at once in the lake then the oxygen level in the lake will drop, killing fish.
The plant should only be sprayed in sections over an appropriate period of time.
And even that is a temporary solution to this green menace.
But do not lose hope.
The public can help in controlling this plant.
Riecke said that when you are leaving a lake that has the plant in it, check your trailers, boats and fishing gear for the plant and remove it.
Doing this will prevent the plant from spreading to other lakes.
But if you’re looking to rid your lake of this menace, the solution is not going to be an easy one, according to Deason and Riecke.
For the time being, water hyacinth might be here to stay.
That means a little more work cleaning the boat and fishing a little more at the center of the lake.