North Dakota set to test invasive species prevention waters

Zebra mussels can compete with native species for food and habitat, cut the feet of swimmers, reduce the performance of boat motors, and cause expensive damage to water intake pipes. (Photo by Brian Peterson)

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department could soon administer a new program to prevent the spread of invasive species in the state’s lakes and waterways after a proposal to fund the project gained approval from the Legislature.

The bill to authorize $1.5 million for an aquatic nuisance species prevention program is awaiting final approval from Gov. Doug Burgum, the Minot Daily News reported.

Aquatic nuisance species include a variety of plant and animal species, such as zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil.

Invasive zebra mussels are known to spread by clinging to boats and being transported from one body of water to another. They’ve been found in many lakes in neighboring Minnesota and in the Red River by North Dakota’s eastern border.

A single zebra mussel can produce up to half a million eggs per year. They’re capable of altering an underwater ecosystem, which can adversely affect fisheries.

“We view passage of the bill as a positive thing,” said Scott Peterson, the department’s 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.”

Since 2014, neighboring Minnesota has spent millions of dollars annually to battle invasive species. But the number of lakes in the state that are infested with invasive species continues to increase.

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

Minnesota has placed boat wash stations at various lakes each year to rinse off watercraft with hot water to kill young zebra mussels.

North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department plans to purchase two mobile hot water washing stations, which will be placed at certain locations during boating season. The bill also provides money for additional employees.

Legislators hiked several license fees to help pay for the aquatic nuisance species program.

Should Burgum sign the bill into law, motorboats licensed in the state will face an increased fee of $15, starting Jan. 1, 2020. Resident fishing and combination license costs will be raised by $2, beginning April 1, 2020. There will also be an additional $3 fee for non-resident fishing and waterfowl licenses.

Residents age 25 or older, as well as individuals with disabilities, will be exempt from the extra fees.

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