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When it comes to invasive species fight, 'unsuspecting boaters' don't cut it

A grouping of zebra mussels. (TRIBUNE FILE)

Maybe it could have saved Gull from this fate.

Or Mille Lacs.

Or any of the waterways in west central Minnesota that have been infested with aquatic invasive species and, in particular, zebra mussels in recent years.

Or maybe not.

When all it takes is one unsuspecting boater carrying just one hitchhiking zebra mussel from one lake to another, stopping the spread of AIS is all but impossible.

They heard that on Gull Lake back in 2010 or so, when the spread of zebra mussels was just hitting its stride in central Minnesota. But that could never happen at this pristine lake just north of Brainerd, could it?

Many didn’t think so.

And such was the mindset at other waterways in Minnesota’s lake country.

But now we know it was inevitable, what with the lake-jumping that typifies this mega-lakes region. And ramped-up AIS-control efforts by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources probably wouldn’t have changed that.

But, moving forward, further action in the fight against AIS could continue to at least change the mindset of boaters; when it comes to the spread of AIS, there can be no unsuspecting boaters.

So, starting this open-water season, anyone found guilty of violating AIS laws in Minnesota not only will have to pay the required fines, but also will have to complete mandatory training, the DNR announced recently.

It’s nothing heavy-duty — the online class only takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete (there’s also the traditional paper version; both are free) — but the “Clean In Clean Out” training session must be satisfactorily completed before boaters found guilty of violating Minnesota’s AIS laws can legally operate their watercraft on state waters.

Online training is available at www.mndnr.gov/CICOtraining. And, even if you don’t pass the “test” in that first go-around, you can retake it until you do.

So again, not a major ordeal. But every little bit helps in the fight against AIS. And since years and years of preaching to boat owners to comply with AIS laws still wasn’t getting through to some, maybe taking away boating privileges, at least temporarily, will help the cause.

“The few individuals who violate these laws are the highest risk factor for infesting a lake or river,” Maj. Todd Kanieski, DNR Enforcement operations manager, said in the DNR release announcing mandatory training for AIS violators. “We want to not only help people avoid a citation but, more importantly, keep 95 percent of Minnesota’s lakes off the infested waters list.”

According to the DNR, boaters and anglers can comply with Minnesota’s invasive species laws by remembering to clean aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species from watercraft, drain lake or river water from all equipment and keep drain plugs out during transport, and to dispose of unwanted bait in the trash, not in the water. And lake property owners are reminded that docks and lifts must be cleaned and allowed to dry for at least 21 days before moving them to another body of water.

Also recently, the DNR announced that it again will offer free invasive species decontamination training this summer for lake service providers such as businesses that rent boats and fishing equipment and manage marinas or other lakeside operations.

Pre-registration is required, and three training sessions are scheduled at various locations across the state (all from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.):

  • June 23, Northland Arboretum, Brainerd.
  • June 28, Tonka Bay Marina, Tonka Bay.
  • July 13, Beltrami Electric, Bemidji.

Registration deadlines are one week prior to each session, and classes will be cancelled if the registration minimum is not reached. To register, or for more information about decontamination training, contact April Rust, DNR invasive species training coordinator, at april.rust@state.mn.us or call 651-259-5706 or 888-646-6367.

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