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Doug Leier, Published April 13 2011

Leier: Dealing with zebra mussels no easy task

It feels like just yesterday, when in fact it’s been over a year and a half, since the first official discovery of zebra mussels in the Red River watershed.

First, this aquatic invasive species was found established in a Minnesota lake upstream of the Red River. Then, to no one’s surprise, they were discovered in the headwaters of the Red near Wahpeton, N.D.

And that discovery prompted the State Game and Fish Department to fine-tune its rules designed to stop, or at least slow, the spread of all aquatic nuisance species in North Dakota.

Just like leafy spurge that can take over a hillside without annual spraying or some other management effort, once established, ANS can dominate a lake or river. Vegetation like curly leaf pondweed can clog waterways and change the fish community. Zebra mussels in the Red River could attach themselves to municipal water intake pipes and other structures.

Dealing with these situations can require substantial money and manpower, and because of that, the Game and Fish Department has put considerable effort into information and education designed to help reduce the spread or introduction of ANS. Quite simply, it’s easier to deal with a few dandelions on the edge of your yard than wait until the entire yard is yellow.

That’s why Game and Fish biologists are monitoring lakes, rivers and reservoirs and giving extra attention to waterways connected to infested locations, such as the case of zebra mussels in the Red River downstream from Wahpeton.

To those unfamiliar with aquatic nuisance species, they are animals, plants and even diseases that are not native to North Dakota, but are likely to become well established if introduced. They can displace native plants and animals, and cause serious economic and ecological damage.

North Dakota has adopted a number of rules designed to minimize the threat of ANS:

All aquatic vegetation must be removed from boats, personal watercraft, trailers, and fishing and hunting equipment such as fishing poles, lures, duck decoys, and waders before leaving a body of water. That means “vegetation free” when transporting watercraft and/or equipment away from a boat ramp, landing area or shoreline.

All aquatic vegetation must be removed from bait buckets when leaving the water.

All water must be drained from boats and other watercraft, including bilges and livewells before leaving a water body (Note: prior to October 1, 2010, anglers could transport fish in livewells containing water. That exception is no longer in place and all livewells and baitwells must be drained).

Live aquatic bait or aquatic vegetation may not be transported into North Dakota.

All water must be drained from watercraft prior to entering the state.

Live baitfish may be transported in containers having a volume of no more than 5 gallons.

More information on North Dakota’s ANS laws is available on the Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com