Minnesota upping its efforts against invasives

FAIRMONT — While people enjoy the many lakes that southern Minnesota has to offer, such recreation comes with responsibilities.

If they are not careful, boaters can bring problems to their favorite lakes and cause issues with drinking water.

To that end, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently announced a measure to enhance aquatic invasive species prevention and management in the state.

The measure implements an increase in surcharges on three-year watercraft registration, from $5 to $10.60. The increase is the first since 1993, and watercraft owners will pay the fee when registering new watercraft or when the registration on existing watercraft comes up for renewal.

The fee will provide an increase of $880,000 per year for the DNR’s invasive species program for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

As usual, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dustin Benes of the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District offered some insight on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. He was happy to note there are no local problems as of yet.

“Currently, our efforts have been focused on prevention, just getting the word out and educating people,” he said. “Currently, Martin County is clear. We do have some curly-leaf pondweed and that is considered invasive but our lakes are not infested enough to be considered an issue.”

Benes noted that a majority of lakes in Minnesota do contain curly-leaf pondweed, but it is not a concern as it doesn’t form big mats and plug up everything.

“If we got some eurasian watermilfoil or starry stonewort, then we’re in trouble,” he said. “Those would plug water intakes for the [Fairmont drinking] water plant. I’m afraid if zebra mussels get here they’re going to plug the water intake and cause more problems with the city’s drinking water.”

When asked if such things are an issue anywhere nearby, Benes noted that both zebra mussels and eurasian watermilfoil, along with Asian carp, have been found in Spirit Lake and Okoboji lakes in Okoboji, Iowa.

Asian carp can cause serious damage to native fish populations simply by out-competing other fish for food and space. The fish lay thousands of eggs at a time and can spread into a new habitat quickly and with ease.

Fortunately, the carp problem is not currently a big threat.

“They think they have those under control,” Benes said. “They put in an electric barrier to stop them and haven’t found more since then.”

Benes said boats and trailers are the primary method by which such species spread, which is where prevention plays such a crucial role.

“Aquatic plants are especially tough. With eurasian watermilfoil, just fragments of them can repopulate and it doesn’t take much.

“With zebra mussels, the veligers (larvae) are so small that you can’t see them in the water and they’re free-swimming for the first couple weeks of their life. So once they hatch they’re floating in the water and if you got live-wells, ballast tanks or even bait containers, you can transfer them and not even know it.

“So that’s why they say you have to have your drain plug out when you leave an access or when you arrive at a lake. If you have live bait when you go to a site, you either have to change the water out with tap water or dispose of bait in the trash. When you’re transporting water, you can’t see everything in that water and even with the Asian carp, you can think you have bait but have a fingerling in there.”

Along with newly painted stencils at boat launches reminding boaters to clean up and clean out, Benes noted the Soil and Water Conservation District takes other active measures to keep the public aware, as well as keeping a direct eye on local lakes.

“We periodically check six of the main lakes in Martin County for aquatic invasive species. We check the vegetation and mussels,” he said.

“We currently have two interns working with us this summer, paid for by the Minnesota Valley Action Council and Martin County. Myself and the two interns attended and passed the ambassador training through the DNR. Ambassadors are able to educate boaters about aquatic invasive species and assist them with inspecting their boats.”

The DNR reminds boaters and anglers to follow Minnesota laws to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species:

o Clean aquatic plants and animals from water craft.

o Drain all water by removing drain plugs, and keep drain plugs out while transporting watercraft.

o Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.

o Spray watercraft with high-pressure water and rinse with hot water (140 degrees).

o Dry for at least five days.


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