North Dakota Game and Fish to establish aquatic nuisance species program following legislative action

Attacking aquatic nuisance species

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Boaters will share the cost of a new aquatic nuisance species program approved by the North Dakota legislature.

A bill that would create an aquatic nuisance species fund has passed both houses of the N.D. Legislature and will be forwarded to the desk of Gov. Doug Burgum for final approval. Senate Bill 2293 authorizes $1.5 million for an ANS program to be administered by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

ANS includes a variety of plant and animal species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels. There are many ways ANS can be spread. One way is by attaching to watercraft and being transported from one body of water to another.

An example is the zebra mussel, which arrived in the Great Lakes in 1988 in ballast water of a cargo ship. Zebra mussels are native to Eastern Europe and Western Russia. They have been identified in numerous lakes in neighboring Minnesota and in the Red River that forms North Dakota’s eastern border.

Zebra mussels attach to virtually anything in the water, sometimes in such numbers that they choke off water intakes. A single female zebra mussel can produce up to a half million eggs per year. Each tiny mussel can filter a quart of water per day and greatly alter an underwater ecosystem which, in turn, results in adverse effects on fisheries.

“We view passage of the bill as a positive thing,” said Scott Peterson, NDG&F deputy director. “Both for monitoring and an enforcement program. It’s not necessarily a magic wand but we feel it is a step in the right direction.”

Minnesota has battled ANS for several years, spending millions of dollars in doing so, yet the number of lakes infested with ANS in that state continues to increase.

“They spend way more money than we do and yet they find ANS in more lakes every year,” said Peterson. “For us it’s more of managing the risk than anything else.”

Boat wash stations are positioned at various lakes in Minnesota each year. All watercraft entering or leaving those lakes are required to be rinsed with water hot enough to kill young zebra mussels. Trailers and other equipment are checked for unwanted vegetation that could be transported from one body of water to another.

According to NDG&F, the department plans on purchasing two mobile hot water washing stations and place them at selected locations throughout the boating season. The bill provides salary for additional employees. In addition, Game and Fish is directed to use the funding for “ANS education, inspection and monitoring programs.”

To help pay for the cost of the ANS program legislators increased several license fees. Every motorboat licensed in the state will see an increased fee of $15. In North Dakota watercraft are licensed for three-year periods. The fees increase goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Boats licensed in states other than North Dakota will be assessed $15 annually and be required to display an ANS sticker issued by Game and Fish.

In addition to increased fees for watercraft licenses, $2 will be added to the cost of resident fishing and combination licenses effective April 1, 2020. There will also be an additional $3 fee for each non-resident fishing and waterfowl license.

Residents age 65 or older, permanently or totally disabled and disabled veterans would be exempt from the additional fees. All indications are the that governor will sign the bill into law.

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