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Steve Karnowski, Associated Press, Published May 09 2012

Minnesota to crack down on spread of invasive species this summer

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota authorities will be cracking down this fishing season on boaters who carelessly or unwittingly spread unwanted hitchhikers such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny water fleas across the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

As the season opens Saturday, the fight to prevent the advance of aquatic invasive species will include roadside inspections and decontamination of infested boats. Checks last summer indicated nearly one in five boaters failed to comply with the rules. Violators are more likely to be ticketed than ever before, and fines are about to double.

“We’ve been educating the people for quite a few years now, and we decided the time has come – we need to take it one step further,” said Maj. Phil Meier, enforcement operations manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Meier said the DNR is stressing the need for boaters to develop a routine to ensure they aren’t carrying invasive species when they enter or leave a lake.

“Enforcement alone can’t do it. We need everybody to do their part to be successful in this endeavor,” Meier said.

The DNR is hiring 150 new inspectors for the season who will be checking to see whether boaters have cleaned off all the aquatic vegetation and other prohibited species before moving their boats. Inspectors can send infested watercraft to decontamination stations for pressure-washing if necessary.

Inspectors also will enforce a law that says drain plugs must be removed before a boat is moved from any waters. Bilges, livewells, ballast tanks and even minnow buckets must be emptied before leaving the water access.

“This is going to be one of our bigger years,” said Luke Skinner, the DNR’s invasive species program supervisor. The campaign began several years ago, but the effort picked up speed when the Legislature decided last year to provide more money because of concerns about zebra mussels, he said.

The focus is on boats because they’re the main way invasive species spread. Spot check locations won’t be announced in advance but will be concentrated near infested waters, Meier said.

The DNR also is going to double the number of billboards used to spread its message, and is stepping up radio, television and print advertising. The department also plans to soon release a documentary about invasive species that will be posted on the department’s website. DVDs will be sent to lake associations and other groups.

“This by far will be the greatest and most thorough effort the DNR has put into publicizing what people need to do to be compliant,” DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said.

Eurasian watermilfoil forms dense mats that can get tangled in propellers, turn swimming areas weedy and crowd out native plants. The plant has spread to more than 200 lakes, ponds and streams, particularly in the Twin Cities area. Zebra mussels, which now infest about 100 water bodies in the state, filter so much plankton they can disrupt the aquatic food chain, and their sharp shells can be hazardous to swimmers. Spiny water fleas have been found in around 50 lakes and streams, mostly in northern Minnesota. They eat plankton and form jelly-like blobs that can collect on anchor ropes and fishing lines, even clogging rod eyelets enough to make it difficult to land a fish.

Minnesota’s invasive species rules will become even stricter when new laws take effect July 1.

Fines for invasive species violations will double. Failing to remove a drain plug before moving a boat will result in a $100 fine instead of $50. A ticket for unlawfully possessing and transporting a prohibited species will jump from $250 to $500. Boat lifts, docks, swim rafts and similar equipment removed from one lake or stream body will have to dry off for at least 21 days before they can be put in another water body.

The same legislation also drops a requirement that all watercraft display a sticker showing the rules for preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. To replace that rule, starting in 2015, anyone who uses a trailer to move watercraft or water-related equipment will have to complete an online education course, and they’ll receive a decal they must display on their trailer that certifies they’ve completed the course. Violators can get warnings, but not citations, for failing to display the decal.

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