AIS violations drop by half since 2012

St. Paul — The boater who hasn’t heard about aquatic invasive species either hasn’t been paying attention, or has lived under a rock the past few years.

The Legislature on multiple occasions has dealt with aquatic invasives, ranging from increasing fines and penalties for breaking AIS laws, to giving the DNR more money and more authority to deal with them.

And the agency, for its part, has been involved ad nauseum in AIS this and AIS that.

The good news: All that attention could be accomplishing something. As of earlier this week, conservation officers had written 130 AIS-related citations and issued another 239 warnings. That amounts to a 10-percent violation rate.

At about the same time last year, the violation rate was about 20 percent.

The bad news: Enforcement officials aren’t sure if the decline in the violation rate is real, or a result of a start to the boating season marred by poor weather and low temperatures.

Could it be, they wonder, that the people who’ve been out so far – the die-hard anglers and boaters, who hit the water regardless of the weather – are more likely to be in tune with AIS laws? And that, in coming days and weeks, assuming nicer weather, the violation rate will increase as more people go out on the state’s lakes and rivers?

As far as Capt. Greg Salo, DNR central regional Enforcement manager, is concerned, the violation rate for the rest of the summer will be far more telling.

“The one thing that’s affecting everything this year is people just aren’t out on the water,” he said. “We’ve really only had good boating weather here the past couple of weeks. June was kind of nonexistent.”

In Salo’s region, there seem to be fewer AIS-related violations on the larger, more popular bodies of water – places such as lakes Minnetonka and Prior, and the St. Croix River.

Officers have devoted a lot of time to working those waters, he said. On the other hand, they’re beginning to see more violations on some of the smaller, less popular lakes.

The primary violations officers see are similar to previous years – boaters not pulling their drain plugs; not checking their boats and trailers for attached aquatic vegetation; and failing to drain all of the water from their boats.

“We’re pleased by the improvements being made, but 10 percent is still way too high,” said Maj. Phil Meier, operations manager for the DNR Division of Enforcement. “We’ve expected to see improvement (in the violation rate) with all the work we have done the past couple of years – the department and our local counterparts in terms of education and enforcement.”

The violation rate also could rise as officers begin conducting roadside checks. Several scheduled checks were cancelled in June due to the poor weather. Officers also will form work crews to target busy bodies of water.

“We’ll have a few roadside checks in July, as well as a few more work crews,” Salo said. “The public can expect to see some ramped-up AIS enforcement here now that the weather is nice.”

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