Anglers can help halt invasives like gobies

A few days ago a guy who fishes the Susquehanna River far more than I do asked me if I heard the report of a round goby being found in the river near Binghamton. I told him I was vaguely aware of the discovery and it was alarming news. Gobies, of course, are yet another invasive species that can play havoc on what’s become a rather fragile river ecosystem. Fishermen from both New York and Pennsylvania are concerned about the status of the river’s smallmouth bass population and the discovery of a round goby raises that concern even further. Admittedly, I didn’t know a lot about them and how they might impact our river system so I looked them up on the web.

It seems like other invaders, including lamprey eels, gobies were most likely brought to this country in the ballast water of larger ocean-going tankers. What makes them so dangerous to native fish species is the fact they are extremely aggressive and can devour a nest of fish eggs in far less time than it took me to write this. Even though many game fish feed on gobies, a female goby can lay a nest of eggs up to a half dozen times in a single spawning season that spans April to September, allowing it to survive by sheer numbers.

Reports I’ve received indicate the goby found near Binghamton was most likely used as bait and while it isn’t known for sure, DEC officials don’t think there is a reproducing goby population in the river system. At least not yet.

As fishermen, we all have a responsibility to ensure this dangerous fish doesn’t spread any further than it has, and we can do this in several ways.

First, learn how to identify a round goby and buy live bait from a reputable bait dealer. Second, be sure to check every minnow before impaling it on a hook and, if you catch your own bait, don’t just dump the minnows into a bucket before inspecting each one to be certain it isn’t a goby.

When fishing from a boat, take the precaution of draining the livewell and bilge after leaving any body of water, and dispose of any remaining bait in the trash or compost pile. Most importantly, to prevent the spread of these exotics, do not transfer live fish from one body of water to another.

Finally, if you do discover a round goby in the area you are fishing, notify the DEC immediately. To enable biologists to track the spread of round gobies, up-to-date information on new sightings is needed and the input from fishermen is extremely important. If you think you may have caught a round goby from the Susquehanna or other river system preserve the fish either in alcohol or freeze it and then be prepared to describe when and where you caught the fish. Be aware any new sightings can be confirmed only by identification of a captured fish. Verbal reports cannot be used because sculpins can be easily mistaken for gobies.  

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