New law aimed at slowing spread of aquatic invasive species
Legislation aimed at strengthening Minnesota's ability to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species was signed into law May 27 by Gov. Mark Dayton. Among the results will be more thorough watercraft inspections and stronger regulations to prohibit the transportation of invasive species.
The new law, which received bipartisan support in the Legislature, is the product of a year-long effort by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to gather input from stakeholders, including lake associations, angler groups, conservation organizations, businesses, counties and local units of government. That input was the key to developing legislative support, according to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
"Aquatic invasive species threaten the lakes and rivers that are so valued by Minnesotans," Landwehr said. "With the support of Governor Dayton, legislators and water resource users, we are ramping up the battle to stop the spread of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and other aquatic invasive species."
As part of that effort, the DNR will add new authorized inspectors to ensure compliance with invasive species laws. And those laws now cover more than just watercraft and trailers. Docks, lifts, rafts, trailers, livewells, bait containers and other water-hauling equipment capable of transporting aquatic invasive species are addressed in the new regulations.
All such water-related equipment, including portable bait containers, must be drained before leaving any water access. Anglers who want to keep leftover bait alive should bring fresh water to replace existing water in bait containers.
To help ensure that watercraft owners are familiar with the new regulations, free DNR decals will be distributed later this summer at boat and bait dealers, DNR license sellers, stores, at DNR offices, and by DNR conservation officers and watercraft inspectors. Failure to display the decals on watercraft will be a petty misdemeanor after Aug. 1, 2014.
Accelerated inspections are a key element in the heightened efforts to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. Currently the DNR employs 100 seasonal watercraft inspectors who work at public accesses around the state. The DNR will hire new authorized inspectors, who along with conservation officers will visually and tactilely inspect water-related equipment. Those inspectors may require the removal, drainage, decontamination or treatment of water-related equipment to prevent the transportation of aquatic invasive species.
The new law puts some muscle behind the requirements. Authorized inspectors can prohibit the launching or operation of water-related equipment if a person refuses to allow an inspection, or doesn't remove water or aquatic invasive species. A civil citation and a one-year watercraft license suspension can be the result.
Businesses that install or remove water-related equipment or structures will also be held to higher standards. They must complete invasive species training and pass an examination in order to qualify for a required permit, which will be valid for three years. People who work for the service providers must also complete DNR training.
"Through training and education, our goal is to make people aware of their responsibilities in limiting the spread of invasive species," said Luke Skinner, DNR Invasive Species Unit supervisor. "Boat owners, recreationists and lake service providers must remove all aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species, drain all water from water-related equipment including portable bait containers, remove drain plugs and take other precautions or incur penalties."
Boat drain plugs must be left out while transporting, and replaced before launching.
Zebra mussels, which are of particular concern, have been discovered in more than 20 Minnesota lakes and several major rivers. They can affect water quality and navigation, destroy fish habitat, drive out important native species, impede beach access, and ultimately damage the state's water-based recreation and tourism economy.
The DNR will need increased funding for this work, which is included in Gov. Dayton's budget.