Boaters and anglers say they’re doing more to prevent spread of aquatic invasives

Wisconsin boaters and anglers report complying more often with steps aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in 2013 than they did in 2009, according to a new statewide survey conducted by researchers at the UW-Madison and UW-Extension in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

More than 20 species of AIS threaten Wisconsin waterways. These non-native plants, animals, and viruses can cause economic damage, reduce lakefront property value and diminish recreational opportunities.

Boaters and anglers can spread AIS if they do not follow the AIS prevention steps, such as removing plants and animals from boats and draining water from motors and equipment. That means that informing boaters and anglers about the law, and achieving their cooperation, are necessary to protecting the state’s water resources.

“For almost all of the AIS prevention steps, people in the 2013 survey said they cooperate more often than respondents in 2009,” said Bret Shaw, environmental communication specialist for UW-Extension and associate professor at UW-Madison in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, who co-authored the report.

“For some laws in particular, such as removing plants and animals from a boat before leaving a landing, cooperation has increased quite a bit since 2009. There is still room for improvement, however, regarding some of the other prevention steps, such as leaving a boat landing with catch in water,” Shaw said.

Another finding of the 2013 survey is that boaters and anglers report becoming aware of AIS from signs at boat landings much more often than any other information source, including traditional media outlets such as TV, radio and newspapers.

Anglers and boaters report that the signs, which are posted at many boat landings in Wisconsin, are highly visible. The signs simply remind boaters and anglers of the steps required by law to prevent the spread of AIS, but they may be working on additional levels, Shaw said.

The survey revealed that receiving information about AIS from signs was associated with having stronger beliefs about being capable of completing the prevention steps and that taking the steps is a social norm. Both of these factors were positively associated with higher self-reported rates of compliance.

“The signs appear to help in at least two ways,” said Shaw. “The signs make people feel they have the ability to follow the law and foster a sense that completing the steps is a community norm,” he said.

While the AIS signage is successful, the survey indicated that other means of outreach could be explored and improved. For example, hearing more about AIS from fishing clubs was associated with anglers being less confident about their ability to follow the prevention steps. “We can’t say for sure why hearing about AIS from clubs is related to feeling less control over completing the steps, but it does signal an issue that outreach may help resolve,” said graduate student Laura Witzling, who co-authored the report. “It could be that strategies are needed to help anglers feel empowered to complete the prevention steps at crowded events,” she said.

“Another possibility is that people who hear more from clubs participate in fishing tournaments or events more often, and in turn see more people coming in and out of the landings. Because they see more traffic, they may also see more people not following the rules, which could lead to a reduced sense of control,” added Witzling.

Surveys were sent by mail to a random sample of 1,500 Wisconsin registered boaters in 2013, with 869 surveys returned. The survey was written as a partnership between UW-Extension, the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison and the DNR. Access the report.