Eel Grass

Terry Goldsby holds up a strand of tape grass, also known as eel grass, at a TVA plant seminar last summer. His company, Aqua Services, is now about to embark on a research project looking at better ways to control the aquatic plant. 

Guntersville’s Aqua Services, a major aquatic resource management company, is about to begin a research project aimed at better controlling tape grass, commonly known as eel grass to fishermen and hunters.

It’s a native species that has been in the lake for years, but its presence has exploded into many more areas in the last few years. It’s particularly aggravating to anglers as it is impossible to fish with a treble-hooked lure in areas it infests.

Aqua Services issued this statement:

“Aqua Services, Inc. has entered into a cooperative research agreement to investigate control techniques and products for the management of the problematic aquatic weed species known as tape grass. Tape grass (Vallisneria americana), which is also called val, wild celery and eelgrass, has aggressively taken over many of the shoreline areas in Lake Guntersville,” the statement said. “Relatively new as an aquatic weed problem in the lake, tape grass has surged in the last five or six years to become a dominant weed in waters shallower than four feet. Tape grass creates major problems for recreationists, fishermen, boaters, and lake property owners, and has become a major source of complaints in recent months.”

Aqua Services founder and senior botanist Terry Goldsby said the plant impacts several hundred acres of the lake from areas near Guntersville Dam all the way to above Scottsboro.

“Tape grass is mixed with hydrilla in many areas of the lake and is significantly more difficult to control using similar herbicides and application techniques,” he said. “Therefore, there is a real need to look long and hard at new compounds and processes for controlling it.”

Goldsby said that Aqua Services’ biologists are actively searching for test sites now so they might begin the test work as early as March of this year.

“Tape grass is a major headache for our boaters here at the docks,” said Russ Cranford, manager of Alred Marina. “It’s long, stringy and tough, and it fouls propellers and gets sucked into water intakes, creating major boat engine problems. We really need some help with it.”

Cranford has offered several near-shore areas at the marina to be considered as testing sites by Aqua Services for the new products and techniques.

Goldsby said they will be using both existing products and new products – called “new chemistry” by the companies that make them – to see what work best.

“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “Only 13 active ingredients are allowed for use to control plants in the water, while there are literally thousands of products used in the agricultural industry.”

He said they don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but they’d like to find something that is more effective on tape grass.

“Tape grass is a tough nut to crack,” Goldsby said. The plant tolerates cold weather well and has a root that is tough to kill.

In the 1970s, there was one small patch of tape grass near the B.B. Comer Bridge that Goldsby would take biology students to see when he worked for TVA.

“We told them, ‘Get a good look. You may never see it again,’” he said. “40 years later, it is about as widespread as any other plant in the lake.”

He said something has obviously changed in the environment or ecology of the lake that now allows the plant to flourish.

The test plots used in the research will be small, so don’t expect an immediate impact on the abundance of tape grass.

But the researchers just may come across something that helps control the plant in the future.

“We enjoy doing these things,” Goldsby said. “This is real science working with old treatments, new chemistry and trying to find what works the best.”

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