Livewell Maintenance

July 20, 2010 by  

By Doug Leier

For the better part of 10 years I’ve written a weekly column, none of which have explored the topic of livewells. The recent discovery of a zebra mussel veliger in the Red River, however, is changing that.

livewell maintenanceLivewells and veligers link together because veligers are the tiny larvae of zebra mussels. They float suspended in lake or river water for a couple of weeks before they eventually attach to something solid and can begin the process of growing into an adult that produces more veligers.

While in this larval stage the veligers can be randomly pumped into a boat livewell, and if the livewell is not drained before leaving that body of water, the potential exists to move the unseen veligers elsewhere.

The identified veliger in this case was likely not the result of a boater unknowingly transporting it from somewhere else. The most plausible scenario is that it (and probably many others like that were not discovered in sampling) drifted downstream from verified colonies of adult zebra mussels within the Otter Tail River watershed in Minnesota. The Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux rivers join at Wahpeton, N.D. and Breckenridge, Minn., to form the Red River of the North.

Once zebra mussels – or most other aquatic nuisance species – get in a body of water, there is really no practical or economically feasible way to get them out. The next challenge is containing them.

The discovery emphasizes the importance of recent law changes designed to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species in North Dakota. Established in 2008, current law requires boaters, anglers, hunters and others to remove aquatic vegetation from watercraft, motors, trailers and recreational equipment.

In addition, all water must also be removed from boats and other watercraft, with one notable exception: Game and Fish allowed anglers to transport fish from water to home in livewells that still held water if they contain fish or bait.

Currently, the Game and Fish Department is going through the administrative rule process to remove that exception. If this proposal is approved, the new regulation will mean that fish may no longer be transported in a livewell containing water. Transportation of fish in or on ice will still be allowed.

What it boils down to is the Game and Fish Department following the lead and philosophy much of the nation has taken, understanding it’s more efficient and economical to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species rather than having to deal with an established problem.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the cost of controlling zebra mussels in the Great Lakes region alone may soon reach $5 billion annually, and the same source estimates the control is costing power companies millions of dollars each year.

No one really knows how zebra mussels will establish themselves in the Red River, but the worst case scenario is they’ll eventually colonize on municipal water intake structures, requiring periodic, expensive maintenance removal to keep the water flowing smoothly.

When municipal utilities need to spend resources on controlling zebra mussels, the cost is passed on to the consumer.

I can’t guarantee that if every boater, angler and hunter followed all the rules to the letter that we’d never have to worry about zebra mussels. But the other view of not doing anything and just accepting the inevitable is irresponsible.

I’ve had many discussions with anglers who are hesitant to support the next step, and I’ve talked with others who strongly support it. Here’s hoping the through information, education and the use of needed regulations, we can keep all aquatic nuisance species from spreading beyond where they already exist.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: [email protected]


One Comment on "Livewell Maintenance"

  1. Brian on Tue, 20th Jul 2010 1:12 pm 

    Everyone should support draining of the livewell in addition to the other steps to help slow the spread of ANS. Stop being so lazy!

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