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Kandiyohi County seeks legislative action to protect lakes from zebra mussel

Fishing tournaments could ruin area lakes by spreading invasive species like zebra mussels, said Terry Frazee, from the Green Lake Property Owners Association, during a presentation Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners. Celeste Beam/Forum Communications Co.,file

WILLMAR -- Popular fishing tournaments that draw competitive anglers to Minnesota could spread aquatic invasive species -- like zebra mussels -- to area lakes, according to a local lake organization.

"Fishing tournaments are going to ruin the lakes," said Terry Frazee, from the Green Lake Property Owners Association, during a presentation Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

Of the 29 tournaments this year permitted by the state Department of Natural Resources, seven of them are being held on Green Lake, with additional tournaments on Norway Lake and Lake Florida in northern Kandiyohi County.

Originally, one tournament series -- the Big Bass Bonanza -- was scheduled to be held on Green Lake shortly after a tournament on Douglas County's Lake Le Homme Dieu, which is known to be infested with zebra mussels.

The association appealed to the DNR and expressed concern that tournament participants could bring the destructive zebra mussels to county lakes as they traveled from infested to non-infested waters.

After being contacted by the DNR, the tournament organizers voluntarily agreed to rearrange the schedule so that the tournament is held on Green Lake first before moving to lakes that already have zebra mussels.

Frazee said the Green Lake Property Owners Association is not against fishing tournaments, but the association wants to do what it can to eliminate the chance of zebra mussels being transported here.

"We can't put our head in the sand," he said. "We need to do something."

Because zebra mussel larvae are microscopic, a visual exam isn't foolproof to determine if a boat is clean.

Frazee said the association has offered to provide high-pressure and high-heat decontamination of boats participating in fishing tournaments on Green Lake, but that has not been received favorably by participants.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said even if boats are washed as part of the tournament, the "pre-fishing" that involves contestants arriving a week or two before the event to get a feel for the water could bring in invasive species.

The association has hired a lobbyist to encourage legislators to support strong language in a bill that would require decontamination of boats and trailers after they left infested waters.

So far, bills have included additional funding to fight invasive species but the decontamination language has not been included.

The commissioners agreed to write a letter of support to the DNR commissioner encouraging stronger action to require decontamination of boats. "We need to get that into the bill," said Peterson, who's been an advocate for increasing awareness of zebra mussels and increasing penalties for those who violate existing laws on transporting aquatic invasive species.

Peterson said increased education about zebra mussels has made him "more optimistic than a year ago" that positive legislation will be approved this year.

Meanwhile, the county agreed to allocate $1,500 to help pay for additional overtime wages for deputies patrolling boat accesses on county lakes, and Sheriff Dan Hartog said the county received a federal boating supplemental grant of $5,125 for law enforcement on county lakes.

The commissioners said they would likely contribute additional funds if money is available.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said legislative cuts to county program aid could make it difficult to fund these types of preventative programs.