ANS - Questions and Answers
Ben Holen, North Dakota Game and Fish Department aquatic nuisance species coordinator, provides an update on aquatic nuisance species and the continued effort to stop the introduction and spread of invasive species in North Dakota. Like chronic wasting disease in the state’s deer herd, aquatic nuisance species remains one of the Game and Fish Department’s top challenges in 2020.
Q: Under the new legislation, there are now added fees for most watercraft that use North Dakota waters. Who is affected by these new fees?
A: 2020 marks the beginning of a new watercraft registration cycle. There is now an ANS fee of $15 for each motorized watercraft registered in North Dakota to run concurrently with the three-year watercraft registration period. The ANS fee for watercraft registered in the state is prorated. For motorized watercraft registered in North Dakota, there is no additional sticker required.
However, all watercraft not licensed in this state and that operate on North Dakota waters, must obtain a valid, nonrefundable aquatic nuisance species sticker. The sticker is $15 per calendar year and needs to be placed on the starboard side of the watercraft within 6 inches of the registration number and decal. Stickers take about 5 business days to receive. A receipt from when the sticker was purchased is valid documentation until the sticker arrives in the mail.
Q: Tell us about the ANS inspection program. What are we learning?
A: Every summer the Game and Fish Department hires and trains seasonal watercraft inspectors. The goal of every inspection is to educate boat owners on the importance of cleaning, draining and drying watercraft, and recreational water equipment. Inspectors survey boat owners and are trained to look for vegetation, mud, animals and residual water that may be left on watercraft after recreation. The information collected from these surveys helps the Department to identify potential ANS risks and aids staff in making important science-based management and prevention decisions.
The good news is that of the 1,063 watercraft inspections in 2019 surveys, 97% of boaters were familiar with North Dakota’s laws and regulations. Only 3% of boaters surveyed had attached vegetation on their watercraft or trailer, and only 1% had residual standing water. Most boaters (74%) took steps to clean their boats after every launch. While these numbers sound great, in many cases it only takes one incident for an aquatic nuisance species to become established in a new waterbody. Approximately 8% of all boaters surveyed had previously recreated in a waterbody with ANS before being surveyed at a waterbody with no known aquatic nuisance species. The risk is out there, so everyone must be diligent in cleaning, draining, and drying all watercraft and equipment.
On a similar note, law enforcement will have additional presence in the area to ensure ANS regulations are followed. The Game and Fish Department monitors zebra mussels in a variety of ways. Plankton tow nets are used monthly to collect zebra mussel veligers from infested waterbodies. The data collected from these surveys allows the Department to determine the relative timing of spawning events, identify newly colonized areas, and helps with determining risk assessments associated with residual water. Settlement samplers will be placed this coming season to monitor the timing of settlement and growth. Zooplankton, water quality data, and benthic macroinvertebrate data will be collected to track possible changes in the ecosystem.
Zebra mussels are new to North Dakota, so the data collected from these initial waters, will help the Department better understand zebra mussel biology and ecological implications in state waters. Unfortunately, once zebra mussels are established in a waterbody, they are very costly and nearly impossible to eradicate. In a large reservoir like Lake Ashtabula, eradication is currently not possible. The best way to combat these species is to stop their spread through education and prevention practices.
Q: What can water recreationists do to eliminate the spread and introduction of ANS in North Dakota?
A: All water recreationists, whether you are an angler, hunter, water sports enthusiast, or a pleasure boater, play a part in preventing the spread of aquatic nuisance species. It is important to clean, drain and dry all watercraft and water recreational equipment. Many boat owners practice these steps between every launch. However, other common items such as anchors, watersports equipment, decoys, canoes and kayaks are all possible vectors that can also spread aquatic nuisance species. Large equipment, such as boat lifts, docks and barges can be high risks for spreading ANS, especially if they are moved from one lake to another. It is important to remove any vegetation, mud, or residual water left on equipment, because it may harbor an aquatic nuisance species. Cleaning gear with hot water, (140-degree F) for 10 seconds, between recreational trips, can eliminate the risk of spreading ANS.
Before recreating on any water, everyone should take a few minutes to become familiar with North Dakota’s aquatic nuisance species regulations, so we all can enjoy North Dakota’s recreation opportunities for many years to come.