Aid Sought for State to Combat 'Rock Snot'

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
19 June 2012
By Don Hopey

Sen. Bob Casey has asked the Department of the Interior to aid state officials in combating an invasive alga that threatens the state's $1.6 billion sport fishing industry.

Pennsylvania's Democratic senator on Monday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calling on him to quickly assist state agencies' efforts to stop the spread of didymo, a cold water alga also commonly known as "rock snot," which was recently found in the Youghiogheny River in southwestern Pennsylvania and has spread through 100 miles of the Delaware River since its discovery there in 2007.

Didymo is a brownish-yellow to cream-colored alga that thrives in cold, fast-moving, rocky rivers. It can carpet a river bottom in mats up to 8 inches thick and crowd out native plant and animal species in an aquatic food chain needed to support a thriving fishery.

"An invasive species like this could have a devastating impact on the state's economy," Mr. Casey said. "Pennsylvania's fishing industry is a driver of economic growth and a proven job creator for our state, which makes this new invasive species threat all the more urgent."

Fishing and boating together have economic impacts valued at more than $2 billion per year in Pennsylvania, according to statistics cited by John Rizzo, the senator's press secretary.

Didymo is not considered a human health hazard but causes significant environmental damage and is a nuisance to recreation where it has been accidentally introduced.

The invasive alga is transported from one river or creek to another by people when it attaches itself to kayaks, canoes, fishing boats, fishing equipment and wading shoes.

Officials say public education is key to controlling the spread of didymo. In the last week, the state Fish and Boat Commission posted advisories at boat launches and takeout areas along the Youghiogheny River advising boaters and fishermen of the problem and urging them to clean and disinfect their equipment to remove and kill the alga.

"Swift and effective action is critical to preventing didymo from overtaking Pennsylvania's waterways," Mr. Casey said. "The Interior Department must strengthen its efforts to address the threat of invasive species."

Mr. Rizzo said the senator reached out to the Interior Department because it has more resources and has more experience dealing with invasive species. He said he expects a response from Interior officials in the next two weeks.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.