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By Brian Gehring, Bismarck Tribune, Published April 15 2013

North Dakota aquatic nuisances not just biological problem

BISMARCK – It won’t be long before another season for open-water fishing and boating returns to North Dakota, and that means another season of monitoring for aquatic nuisance species, or ANS.

North Dakota has had ANS laws and regulations on its books since April 1, 2008. In reality, though, regulations on such things as bait are aimed at keeping ANS out of North Dakota waters, said Fred Ryckman, ANS coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Every five years, the Game and Fish Department conducts an angler survey asking for responses on such things as demographics and favorite species. Another component of the survey in recent years has been polling anglers on the awareness and severity of ANS in North Dakota waters.

In 2008, 71 percent of those surveyed said they were aware of ANS. In the most recent survey released earlier this month, 90 percent of those responding said they were aware of ANS.

Of those with an opinion on whether ANS is a serious threat, 29 percent said yes in the 2008 survey, while 43 percent said yes in the 2013 survey.

Ryckman said ANS is not a new thing to North Dakota. Species like the common carp have been in state waters for 100 years and are the most predominant problem.

Aquatic nuisance species are defined as animals, plants and diseases that are not native to North Dakota and have the likelihood of becoming well-established if introduced.

They can displace native plants and animals and cause serious economic and ecological damage.

Ryckman said zebra mussels seem to get the lion’s share of the publicity when it comes to ANS problems around the country because of the potential for economic damage.

Zebra mussels have been a problem in the Great Lakes for years, clogging water intake structures for municipal and industrial uses.

“The Great Lakes are probably the poster child for zebra mussels,” Ryckman said. “They have caused literally billions of dollars in economic losses.”

Zebra mussels have been found in their larval stage in the Red River watershed in Minnesota and with no natural barriers, Ryckman said it’s likely a matter of time before they move into other waterways.

Another species, the Asian, or silver carp, moved upstream into the James River during the high water period during the 2011 flooding.

Ryckman said only a handful of adults are known to have survived. Asian carp are the fish notorious for jumping several feet into the air and have been known to cause physical injury to anglers and boaters.

Plant species like Eurasian water millfoil and curly leaf pond weed have also been in North Dakota lakes and rivers, but have not seemed to spread.

Ryckman said the back bays on the Missouri River in the Bismarck-Mandan area are the worst areas for infestations of curly leaf pond weed, but it hasn’t seemed to have spread to Lake Oahe.

With the state’s growing population, monitoring for ANS brings a new set of challenges.

With the popularity of Devils Lake and its proximity to Minnesota and Canada, Ryckman said, it’s one area of concern.

Another area is Lake Sakakawea, especially on the western reaches in oil country.

Ryckman said most North Dakotans understand that ANS monitoring at boat ramps and other sites is now a part of life in the North Dakota outdoors.

Some states have mandatory boat wash stations at lakes but with about 400 managed lakes in the state – and multiple ramps on them – that is not an option.

Ryckman said a lot of equipment used in the Oil Patch is brought into North Dakota from out of state and it gets inspected before it gets near water.

But with so many new people moving to the area, it’s impossible to monitor every way ANS can potentially move from place to place.

Ryckman said up until a couple of years ago, the new worker base coming to western North Dakota worked shifts and went home.

That’s changing, he said.

“Now they are finding places to live and bringing their families and their toys,” he said.

Ryckman said the million-dollar question is whether it’s a matter of time before ANS becomes a real threat, or if through monitoring and education it can be headed off at the pass in the near future.

There is a lot at stake, he said, not just for fishing but for industries such as power plants, irrigation for agriculture and water supplies for cities.

“This is not just a biological issue,” Ryckman said.