What can we do to address the issues effectively ensuring public access to Minnesota's lakes and rivers, providing excellent recreational fishing and stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS)?

Minnesota lakes and rivers are one of its most valued resources. It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect and preserve it now and into the future. The AIS present and on the horizon must be of notable concern for anglers, lake property owners or anyone who enjoys recreation on Minnesota’s waters.

At the 2017 and 2018 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Roundtable events, it was apparent a divide exists between angling groups and lake property owners.

The DNR, recognizing a need for all to come together, is hosting three meetings across the state. Jeff Mosner, a Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations member and veteran access inspector, joined me at the first of these sessions, held in Alexandria last Thursday. Those in attendance included lake association officers and members, fisherman, angler organizations, industry and marketing personal from Brunswick- Lund Corporation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Participants set the agenda, asking to bring up 12 topics for discussion in the breakout sessions. An engaging list of topic ideas emerged for discussion.

The Koronis Lake Association shared efforts and costs to curb starry stonewort and curly-leaf pondweed. Other topics included “how is public access to public water?,” “What do we want our society to look like?,” “What do we want our natural resources to look like?” and “How to resolve conflicts between anglers, lake property owners, and recreational boater?”

Marine manufacturers are doing their part to stop the spread of AIS.

Mosner offered his unique perspective by volunteering to facilitate one of the sessions. In his own words, he said, “I guess you could say that I brought a topic to the table encouraging the DNR to consider again, as they had during 2012-15, the possibility of delivering directly to boaters the education needed to clean/drain/dry their watercraft and equipment. This could be handled most efficiently through a short online, internet-based course or by classroom instruction. Completion of the course could be required every three years, as a prerequisite for renewing boat registrations, and a certificate (sticker) could be mailed to be affixed to the boater's trailer. I think this would yield a consistent message and be more effective and efficient than the current hit-and-miss method of watercraft inspectors, whose primary goal is to educate anyway.

“Out-of-state boaters could be handled through the requirement of a non-resident stamp. Several states require this, and completion of the same course could be mandatory. This could allow for a concentration of a smaller number of inspectors at accesses where lakes are known to be infested.

“The group I convened also discussed the ‘regional inspection model’ piloted by Wright County, which many felt was punitive and inconvenient to boaters. Some in my session felt that boaters need to be more aware of the risks to our lakes and consider doing more than the minimum, like drying their boats for more than the recommended five days, limit evening outings and avoid lakes that are infested.

“Better signage on our highways, like we do with hospitals, could inform boaters where decontamination stations are located.

All agreed that this message should be brought to our elementary school children. Finally, in addition to education, many felt that an attitudinal change is necessary to change behavior.”

As the result of the first of three open meeting anglers, recreational boaters and lake property owners realized the need to come together, check emotions at the door and rely upon on biological data to make decisions for the future of our water resources.

Open access carries with it the responsibility of all of us to move about in a fashion without spreading aquatic invasive species.

Two opportunities to listen and be heard: Saturday, Aug. 10, Central Lakes College, Brainerd and Thursday, Aug. 15, Monticello High School, Monticello. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m., and the events will begin at 10 a.m. The events will end no later than 4 p.m. Lunches will be provided at no cost. Pre-register at www.dnr.state.mn.us help with planning logistics and lunch.