Lake George battling invasive clams
Asian Clams are one of six aquatic invasive species in Lake George that are proving hard to kill.
Like most non-indigenous infestations, preventing them from entering the ecosystem would have been much easier than eradicating them from the 32-mile long “Queen of American Lakes.”
Asian clams are an aquatic bivalve native to Southeast Asia, but also indigenous to parts of Central Africa and Australia. According to the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, they have been in the United States since 1938 and made their way all the way into the Mississippi River Basin by the 1970s. They hitch rides on anchors, boat hulls and pipes, and they are also carried from place to place by water currents.
They live in fresh waters, preferably in shallow sandy, silty or
gravel bottoms, and they are capable of self-fertilization, laying up to 70,000 eggs per year. Because of their fecundity, they compete with other species for food and space, and they can foul water systems, causing algae blooms and imbal- ances in the water, not to mention the discomfort to swimmers walking on shells in shallow bottoms, like Sandy Bay, where smooth sand has always been one of the attractions to the Bay.
They were first discovered and identified in Lake George at the Lake Avenue Beach in August 2010 by Dr. Jeremy Farrell, who is a resident of Lake George currently working for RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute. According to the Lake George Park Commission’s Executive Director David Wick, once Dr.Farrell identified the species and the potential problems it can cause, they immediately began to research the species, which has also spread aggressively in Lake Tahoe.
Eight years – and a lot of money and research later – the species is now found in 23 different locations in the Lake, from Sandy Bay to as far north as Rogers Rock. Wick said that the Lake George team of researchers followed the same protocols being implemented by teams in Lake Tahoe, which included using benthic mats – heavy, dark- colored rubberized or plastic material that is held down using rebar or other heavy weights.
The goal is to smother the clams and prevent them from reproducing. Wick said that the mats do not pose much of a threat to other eco- systems in the lake, with the exception of indigenous mussels. But he said he does not see a lot of overlap of the species.
The Pilot treatment program commenced in the fall of 2010 and, initially at least, it appeared to be successful. In the Spring, the team could not find any living Asian Clams. However, the following year, when teams returned to the test sites, they discovered the clams had returned.
Wick said that, overall, they had a high success rate; however, he compared the infestation to a cancer. “You can get 99 percent of the cancer, but that one percent will rebound.”
Late this summer, the Lake George Park Commission announced that it had no plans to use the benthic mat method of eradication
and, instead, would rely on Mother Nature and, hopefully, a cold winter, to kill the clams. Asian clams do not thrive in excessively cold water temperatures or in polluted waters.
Wick said that they have spent more than $2 million in trying to eliminate the clams, with funding from Warren County, the Park Commission’s own budget, and other resources. But, he said that it would be like throwing good money after bad, given the lack of real and definitive results.
“If we can’t control a two-acre site in the Hague, howare we expected to control a 50 or 80-acre site like Sandy Bay?’ asked Wick. He added that the amount of money necessary to do that would be upwards of $5 million – money the region does not have to commit to this project.
Small community groups, such as the Lake Stewardship of Cleverdale, would like to see more aggressive action taken. Steve Seaboyer, who has a home with his wife, Debbie, on Rockhurst overlooking Sandy Bay, said that they are part of a lo-
cal group of concerned citizens doing whatever they can to help keep the lake as clean and pristine as possible. They have been involved in several initiatives to manually clear the Sandy Bay area of the nuisance shells. Some members of the group would like to see more aggressive action taken.
Seaboyer said that small groups have taken as many as 40,000 clams from the Bay during one of their clam “digs.” He agreed with Wick’s assessment that it is hard to determine the exact threat to the lake the clams pose.
One of the summer residents, Kim Garry, whose family owns a home on
Rockhurst in Sandy Bay, spent much of her time this past summer with her two young boys, ages six and four years old, “clamming” in the bay with sieves and basins to collect the pests. Some of them measure no more in diameter than a dime. She said that her sons have become very invested in the project, and other people who have seen them in the Bay have stopped to ask about what she was doing.
“It’s a good way to educate others and spread the word about the Asian clams,” said Garry.
Pat Dowd, Director of Communications for the Lake George Association, said that the best way to
manage invasive species is to prevent them from entering the lake in the first place. Pre-launch boat inspections, which began as trials in 2008, have since become part of the protocol before allowing boats to launch into the lake, and the project has been successful in preventing the introduction of new invasive species into the lake for the last four years, according to a report made public by the Times Union
in January 2018.
The Lake George Park Commission also recently reported that scientists at the Darrin Freshwater Institute were doing promising research on a clam-killing parasite, the Chaetogaster worm; however, Dr. Farrell was not available to comment. In the meantime, members of the Lake George Park Commission, the Stewardship, and others are all hoping for a cold winter.
Some Asian Clams are shown