Five Maryland fishermen and two businessmen met with Baltimore's director of public works yesterday to discuss the closure of two city-operated reservoirs to boats and to offer their assistance with a potential zebra mussel problem.
Baltimore's Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs have been closed to boaters and anglers in boats since March 1, when the Department of Public Works decided to postpone issuing mandatory permits until it could find a way to delay or prevent zebra mussel infestation.
Loch Raven Reservoir is open to fishing from boats rented by its boat center, but its launch ramps are closed to public use.
The fishermen, the leadership of the Maryland Aquatic Resource Coalition, presented Director of Public Works George Balog a five-point plan it hopes will speed the city's decision on whether the reservoirs should be reopened.
The bad news from yesterday's meeting is that no decision has been reached regarding Prettyboy, Liberty and Loch Raven.
There are, however, two pieces of information that may be encouraging to reservoir boat fishermen: Balog welcomed input from MARC and indicated that a decision on the reservoirs probably will come in the next two weeks.
Recently, public works announced it has hired Acres International Corp. to assist it in dealing with zebra mussels, which have not been found in any of the three reservoirs. AIC has extensive experience in dealing with zebra mussels in the Great Lakes area.
"Their [AIC] first order of business is to make a determination whether we should have a ban on boats in the watershed," Balog said. "Our prime objective is to supply water to 1.5 or 1.6 million people.
"But there are two factors in that. One is the quality of the water, and the other is the cost of providing this water. Zebra mussels affect both."
Zebra mussels, which were accidentally introduced to the Great Lakes from eastern Europe in 1988, are small mollusks that colonize hard substrate, such as reservoir intake pipes, and reproduce at a rate of about 400 percent per year.
Colonies of the mussels reduce the diameters of intake pipes, for example, and reduce efficiency. Balog said that some water supply systems have raised their rates by 18 percent to offset zebra mussel impact.
"We would like to offer our services and manpower to help you solve this problem," said Duke Nohe, chairman of MARC, "so we can get our boating and fishing privileges back on the reservoirs."
The problem, as public works sees it, is ensuring that the boats used on the reservoirs are not used in other waters, which may be contaminated by the mussels. MARC argues that reservoir fishing boats are not suited to other waters. Public works wants a guarantee.
Toward that end, Brandt Hartley, watershed manager, looked into the possibility of providing Prettyboy and Liberty with large numbers of rental boats that would be dedicated to those waters. However, the cost would have been about $700,000, and the plan was scratched.
"If you [MARC] could devise an acceptable test that the boats could go through and determine the costs associated with it" the department would consider it, Balog said. "But it has to be reasonable. I mean, I have a job to supply water to more than a million people, and you are out there fishing. Which is more important?"
Fishing boats and gear are not the only way the mussels are transported among unconnected bodies of water. Birds and waterfowl also carry mussel larvae, but boats and fishing gear have been determined to be the No. 1 means of transport.
MARC has suggested all boats that obtain permits for Liberty and Prettyboy be inspected by state and watershed officials and declared free of infestation before a permit could be issued. The group also has suggested that a spraying of boats before they are launched would ensure the boats remain mussel free.
Public works says that it may be impractical, even with tightly controlled access, to ensure that all boat fishermen follow such procedures.
"There are different types of reservoir fishermen, and there is no sense denying it," said Jim Scarborough, an executive officer of MARC. "You [Balog] keep coming back to it. . . . But I use one boat on the reservoirs. I think this is self-enforceable."
MARC also suggested that a special reservoir sticker be affixed to boats that use the reservoirs. That way, said Clem Luberecki, a MARC officer, if a reservoir boat were spotted elsewhere, its permit for the reservoirs could be revoked.
Balog set up a meeting between MARC and AIC on Monday.