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By Louie Stout
DNR Assistant Biologist Tyler Delauder is shown taken samples of plant life that impact boating in Center Lake in Warsaw.
If you want to get anglers riled up, bring up the topic of lake and river associations applying chemicals to kill aquatic plants.
That topic created a firestorm on social media this week when the Indiana DNR announced it issued $585,000 in grant money to lake groups to treat weeds in Hoosier lakes. The 42 projects involve lakes in 16 counties, most of which are in the northern part of the state.
The grants are issued through the Lake and River Enhancement Fund supported by boat owners’ fees paid annually when they register their boats.
The DNR pays for 80 percent of the approved treatments and the sponsoring lake group pays the other 20 percent.
The approved projects specify how much and what areas are to be treated and are designed to only kill “exotic, invasive species plants” that obstruct recreational boating.
In most fishermen’s minds, it’s always too much and affects fishing adversely. Most chemicals are applied during the spring spawning season, and have been known to eradicate fish habitat completely in treated areas.
In some lake residents’ minds, it’s never enough. As aquatic plants grow during the summer and thicken around shorelines and shallows, many believe it impedes their recreational enjoyment of the lake or river.
Indiana fisheries biologist Jed Pearson is often caught in the middle. He and other fish biologists spend 25 percent of their time attending meetings, filling out paperwork and assessing permits to make sure weed treatments are necessary and limited to trouble areas.
“Lake residents say we only care about fishermen and fishermen say we only care about lake residents,” said Pearson. “We have to factor in all users but never want to rule at the expense of a fishery.”
Pearson admits it has happened in the past, such as on Lake Webster, where the association was granted a permit to apply the herbicide Sonar several years ago, a lethal chemical that wiped out nearly all of the plant life in the lake. The water turned turbid and fishing suffered dearly. Plant life has since come back and fishing is improving.
Pearson said future weed treatments involving extreme chemicals like sonar will be scrutinized closely before approved, and used only in specific situations.
“We were told that some of these chemicals are selective in what they kill, but we’re finding out in the real world, not so much,” Pearson said.