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War against AIS has new tools in arsenal

Under new guildines signed into bill June 3 by Governor Mark Dayton, boaters will face a stringent set of rules regarding the illegal transport of water, bait and aquatic invasive species. Pulling the boat drain plug and draining ALL water from livewells is now required while hauling a watercraft over Minnesota roads. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

A press release issued June 3 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources highlights the increased concern over aquatic invasive species, an increasing worry for local lakes.

Anglers statewide and those visiting the Land of 10,000 Lakes have had questions regarding the new legislation.

Q: What do the new requirements entail?

In part, the DNR press document states, "Legislation aimed at strengthening Minnesota's ability to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species was signed into law May 27 by Gov. Mark Dayton. Among the results will be more thorough watercraft inspections and stronger regulations to prohibit the transportation of invasive species.

The new law is the product of a year-long effort by the DNR to gather input from stakeholders, including lake associations, angler groups, conservation organizations, businesses, counties and local units of government. That input was the key to developing legislative support, according to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Q: Who can inspect my boat and trailer?

The DNR will add authorized inspectors to ensure compliance with invasive species laws. Currently the DNR employs 100 seasonal watercraft inspectors. The DNR will hire new authorized inspectors, who along with conservation officers will visually and tactilely inspect water-related equipment.

Those inspectors may require the removal, drainage, decontamination or treatment of water-related equipment to prevent the transportation of aquatic invasive species.

And those laws now cover more than just watercraft and trailers. Docks, lifts, rafts, trailers, livewells, bait containers and other water-hauling equipment capable of transporting AIS are addressed in the new regulations.

All such water-related equipment, including portable bait containers, must be drained before leaving any water access. Anglers who want to keep leftover bait alive should bring fresh water to replace existing water in bait containers.

To help ensure that watercraft owners are familiar with the new regulations, free DNR decals will be distributed later this summer at boat and bait dealers, DNR license sellers, stores, at DNR offices, and by DNR conservation officers and watercraft inspectors. Failure to display the decals on watercraft will be a petty misdemeanor after Aug. 1, 2014.

Authorized inspectors can prohibit the launching or operation of water-related equipment if a person refuses to allow an inspection, or doesn't remove water or aquatic invasive species. A civil citation and a one-year watercraft license suspension can be the result.

Luke Skinner, DNR Invasive Species Unit supervisor. "Boat owners, recreationists and lake service providers must remove all aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species, drain all water from water-related equipment including portable bait containers, remove drain plugs and take other precautions or incur penalties."

Boat drain plugs must be left out while transporting, and replaced before launching.

Zebra mussels, which are of particular concern, have been discovered in more than 20 Minnesota lakes and several major rivers. They can affect water quality and navigation, destroy fish habitat, drive out important native species, impede beach access, and ultimately damage the state's water-based recreation and tourism economy.

The DNR will need increased funding for this work, which is included in Gov. Dayton's budget.

Editor's Note: Enhanced patrols are being conducted by Hubbard County authorities on the region's lakes. Officers have so far issued warning tickets, but they are reaching many boaters angered by the enhanced focus on AIS. It is the new law and they are charged with enforcing it.