A recent release from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department again brought attention to the threat of Aquatic Nuisance Species taking hold in North Dakota waters.
State law requires that all watercraft be drained of all water and that all watercraft, trailers and tow vehicles be free of any aquatic vegetation. According to Game and Fish, the warning phase of the ANS program is coming to a close.
"Warnings are good during the information phase, but then you need to take direct action," said Bob Timian, NDG&F enforcement division chief. "Citations send a message that we are serious about the introduction and spread of Aquatic Nuisance Species in North Dakota."
State law says it is not legal to transport bait in a livewell. A container of not more than five-gallon capacity is required for the transportation of bait. Fish may not be transported in a livewell, which must be drained at the point of exit from a body of water.
The latest, and perhaps most immediate threat of invasive species to North Dakota, is the Asian or silver carp. Asian carp have been discovered in the James River. Asian milfoil and zebra mussels also rank at the top of feared ANS.
"It is a misnomer that we are protected by our northern climate," said Scott Elstad, NDG&F aquatic habitat supervisor. "Zebra mussels have proven to reproduce and cause problems in Minnesota."
Neighboring Minnesota has waged an aggressive ANS campaign, yet no less than 97 bodies of water in that state are confirmed to contain zebra mussels. It is a very dramatic increase which is not likely to be reversed.
"We implore people to pull the plug, drain the water, make sure their boat is clean," said Capt. Corey Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It's a lifestyle change. People are not accustomed to pulling the plug, but I think it is going good. The public realizes ownership of it."
In Minnesota, if a boat is being transported, the plug must be out. Failure to do so can result in a fine. Although the draining of all watercraft is law in North Dakota, a "no plug" rule is not in effect.
"You have to pull the plug and drain the watercraft, drain livewells too," explained Alan Howard, NDG&F district game warden.
In part, North Dakota's Administrative Code reads: "All water must be drained from all watercraft and recreational, commercial, and construction equipment bilges and confined spaces, to include livewells and baitwells, when out of water or upon entering the state."
Those found in violation of North Dakota's ANS regulations are subject to a $100 fine.
While operators of watercraft are doing their part to stop the transfer of ANS, it may not be enough. As has happened in Minnesota, it appears inevitable that ANS will enter more and more state waters. Preventive measures may only serve as a delay."
"We live in a highly mobile society. A boat can be in the Great Lakes one day and on the Missouri River the next," said Enlisted. "We've taken all the precautions but it only takes one livewell."
Another factor that may lead to ANS expansion was emphasized during lengthy high water events in North Dakota in 2011. Flooding was apparent in virtually every drainage in the state. Great amounts of water flowed overland, creating the possibility of numerous watersheds exchanging water and whatever was contained in it.
"There's more connectivity through ditching, draining, dreading," said Enlisted. "Some legal, some not. We have watersheds that are connected that weren't connected before. Water has multiple avenues to travel every year."