Battling Aquatic Nuisance Species

February 4, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

There are some obvious signs that lakes and rivers have too many rough fish

There are some obvious signs that lakes and rivers have too many "rough fish"

A few months ago I wrote about the expanding concern regarding aquatic nuisance species and their current and potential impact in North Dakota waters.

While North Dakota doesn’t yet have ANS as significant as, say, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, unwanted plants and animals continue to steal time and money away from state Game and Fish Department fisheries managers, and choke out habitat and fishing opportunities. It’s a trend that no one wants to see expand.

Over the past half-decade, the Game and Fish Department has tried to increase ANS awareness among anglers, recreational boaters and citizens. The agency has also provided guidelines and recommendations on what concerned citizens can do voluntarily to help prevent introduction or spread of ANS species.

The next step is rules and regulations designed and intended to help protect North Dakota’s waterways.

Years ago and still today, illegal dumping of bait buckets and “cream can” stocking – purposeful movement of fish by private citizens from one lake to another – are responsible for inadvertent introductions of carp, bullheads and other undesirable species into lakes and ponds. Maybe the intent was to add pike or perch, but it only takes two stray bullhead or carp to begin the process of ruining a lake.

Eradication is just part of the process to eliminate the problem

Eradication is just part of the process to eliminate the problem

While those threats remain, the spread of zebra mussels that can clog municipal water intake pipes, or Eurasian water milfoil that can choke out native wetland vegetation, has reached that same level of concern. Game and Fish Department administrators feel the risk to state resources is now great enough to warrant new laws that address ANS concerns.

Even with new laws, eliminating the spread of ANS is probably more dream than reality, but at this point, doing nothing is not an option.

Starting Jan. 1, 2008, the Department is planning to implement rules designed to help limit possible transportation and introduction of aquatic nuisance species. Following is the proposed wording that will guide Game and Fish in better addressing this complex issue.

Possession. No person, shall possess any aquatic nuisance species, as delineated in the state’s aquatic nuisance species list without a special director’s permit.

Transportation equipment. All watercrafts, watercraft motors, watercraft trailers, and recreational equipment used in fishing, hunting and watercrafting or construction equipment shall be free of aquatic nuisance species, as delineated in the state’s aquatic nuisance species list.

Aquatic vegetation. No aquatic vegetation or parts thereof shall be found on watercrafts, watercraft motors, watercraft trailers, and recreational or construction equipment when out of water.

Draining of livewells. All water must be drained from watercrafts (including built-in structures such as bilges and livewells), watercraft motors, watercraft trailers, and recreational or construction equipment when out of water.

Inspections. Operators and haulers of all watercraft and recreational or construction equipment must inspect their equipment for aquatic vegetation when removed from the state’s waters or upon entering the state. 

The exact wording and eventual implementation continues to be refined by Department staff . Undoubtedly this issue will be scrutinized by anglers, game wardens, fisheries biologists and recreational boaters as to the loop holes and obstacles such regulations would create. The reality is that North Dakota is not sitting back and waiting for waters to become infested with ANS before responding.

The best case scenario is that each user would personally take precautions to make sure they don’t intentionally or unintentionally introduce any foreign aquatic species. Prevention is cheaper and much more effective than attempting to limit the spread or rid a waterway of aquatic invaders once they are established.


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