Zebra Mussels in the Red River

Aquatic Nuisance Species FAQs


Why are ANS such a big deal?

Aquatic nuisance species (ANS) can greatly degrade or ruin habitats and compete with native and/or desirable species for food and space. Not only can recreational fisheries suffer, but so can industries and communities that rely on lakes or rivers for their water supply. Once established, the cost of controlling ANS would far exceed the minimal costs required to keep from spreading it into or within North Dakota. See our current list of ANS infested waters. If precautions are taken and everyone is in compliance with regulations, the spread can be controlled.

What is North Dakota Game and Fish doing about ANS?

Prevention is the best approach to ANS, because they are difficult or nearly impossible to remove once established. However, prevention requires that everyone take appropriate steps to ensure full compliance. So, we focus a lot of our resources on teaching ANS prevention methods to boaters, anglers, construction workers, power plants, and anyone using our waters. To reinforce these educational efforts, we have carefully designed regulations that further minimize the likelihood of transporting ANS and water into and within the state. We sample waters annually to detect the presence of new ANS, and to monitor our existing populations, and coordinate within North Dakota and our region to identify new and existing threats.

Why is water transport a problem?

ANS can include small plant fragments or seeds, microscopic animals and life stages, and viruses or diseases that can be transported in water. If ANS exist in a water body, whether known or not (many are unseen with the naked eye), and water is pumped into a livewell or exchanged in a bait bucket, these problem species are then potentially present in the water. If an angler fishes another body of water on the same trip (which happens in North Dakota), the ANS could be released into the new lake as water is pumped in and out of the boat or exchanged with bait water. While most individuals typically go straight home and do not fish another lake or river, ANS can still be transported. For example, if infested water is drained into the local storm sewer, it will run into a river or holding pond, which could become a problem in a new water body. To reduce this risk of unknowingly transporting ANS in water, we require that all water be drained from equipment, and we limit the amount of water for live aquatic bait transport.

Why doesn’t North Dakota have mandatory boat inspections?

Although other states may require mandatory boat inspections, setting up a similar program in North Dakota is not feasible at this time. North Dakota’s prairie waters are numerous, generally undeveloped, and utilized infrequently in some cases. An enforceable program with mandatory inspections would require that every boat be inspected before every launch, since it would be impossible to know where every boat had been launched the last time it was used. This would require a very large number of inspection stations across the state and would still impact how North Dakotans use their watercraft. In addition, some states, such as Minnesota, that have large inspection programs still have new waters infested every year. At this time, we feel that North Dakota’s resources are better spent on educating water users and enforcing our current regulations.

How do I make sure I'm doing the right thing?

Good habits go a long way in ANS prevention. Clean, Drain, and Dry all equipment, every time you use it. This includes all recreational and commercial equipment (water pumps, boats, trailers, fishing gear, waders, duck decoys, etc.) that is placed in a waterbody. It takes a while to detect new ANS populations, so treat every lake, wetland, and stream as if it could contain ANS. In addition, report new ANS findings and violations of regulations and talk to other boaters and anglers about ANS prevention. A full list of ANS regulations can be found on our website.

Clean - Inspect and remove any plants or animals that may be present prior to leaving the immediate access area. If possible, also remove excessive mud that may harbor seeds or organisms. It is illegal to have ANS or vegetation on your equipment when leaving a waterbody or when entering North Dakota. Removed weeds can be discarded along the shore, and/or in trash receptacles (if available in parking lot).

Drain - Remove all water from all equipment prior to leaving the immediate access area. Not only is this a regulation, but water can hold microscopic organisms that may grow and damage your equipment over time. Leave drain plugs out and draining devices open during transport into or within North Dakota to avoid a ticket.

Dry - Although not required by North Dakota law, it’s a good idea to allow equipment to dry completely, freeze for 48 hours, or decontaminate before using again. In North Dakota, typical drying times average around 7 days in the summer, but can be longer or shorter based on temperature and humidity (the cooler and more humid, the longer the drying time).

Why aren’t these ANS regulations effective when you enter a water body versus when you leave?

Leaving any drained water, all vegetation, and potential ANS at the waterbody from which it originated reduces the risk of accidentally moving those plants or animals to a new waterbody. If weed and water removal didn’t occur until immediately before entering a new water body, then the potential ANS would be present at the ramp or along the shore and thus could easily find itself washed into a “clean” water body. Further, the transportation of weeds and water could infest other water bodies as the vehicle and boat/trailer travel across the state’s roads where ANS weeds, etc. could blow into uninfected water bodies. Likewise, ANS-infested water could be intentionally or unintentionally introduced into a new water body. Angler’s intentions and plans are always subject to change, thus addressing the problem at its source has the highest likelihood of success.

What are options for decontaminating equipment?

Decontamination of equipment is not required by North Dakota law, but it is a highly recommended step to further reduce the likelihood of spreading ANS. Drying is easier than decontamination since most equipment is only used for a few hours at a time. However, if you cannot allow equipment to dry completely (usually a minimum of 5 days in the summer or up to 30 days in early spring or late fall) or freeze for 48 hours, you can decontaminate using one of several methods.

The most environmentally-friendly option is to use hot water. Hot kitchen tap water (~120 F) left on a surface for 5 minutes or very hot water (140 F) for 10 seconds of contact time are effective at killing most ANS. Adding pressure to hot water, such as at a commercial car wash, further removes mud and scum which may harbor ANS.

Chemical options require 20 minutes of contact time and include a household chlorine bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 20 parts water or using 100 percent vinegar. For these, it is recommended to run recirculation pumps and use a brush (a toilet brush works well) to scrub under the lid and in the corners. Rinsing with clean (tap or well) water is also recommended to prevent corrosion. Drain the solution in an appropriate location, not into the lake.

What does “when out of water” mean in ANS regulations?

Legally, the acts of pulling plugs, draining, and removing vegetation must occur right on the boat ramp itself or in the immediate parking lot area. Fish cleaning stations located immediately adjacent to parking lots are also acceptable IF not signed as prohibited (some nonpaved areas do not allow draining to prevent excessive mud creation). Please be considerate to other boaters and traffic by using parking lot areas to perform these actions at high-traffic locations.

How do I properly drain to comply with regulations?

Drain all water (pull all plugs, pull stand pipes, etc.) back into the waterbody (immediate area) from which it originated. This must be done at the ramp or parking lot before you leave. You don’t have to run your motor dry, but lower the motor to let gravity drain the lower unit, then raise to transport. The intake screen should also be inspected and free of aquatic vegetation.

Some special ANS rules were implemented specifically for the Red River. What are the specific rules and why did this occur?

Adult zebra mussels were discovered in the Red River in 2015, and today they are widespread throughout the river in North Dakota. Because of this, additional restrictions were put in place.

In addition to other statewide ANS rules, along the Red River or any of its tributaries upstream to the first vehicular bridge or crossing, all water must be completely drained from bait containers, including bait buckets, before leaving the river. Dumping unused bait into a lake, river, or on shore is illegal everywhere in North Dakota; unwanted bait should be disposed of properly by placing in the garbage.

These additional restrictions are in place because zebra mussel larvae are microscopic, and the risks of unknowingly spreading them in water are dramatically increased with a known, reproducing population. These same rules will go into place for any future Class I ANS infested waters.

How can I transport game fish I caught?

The best option is to bring ice in a cooler to transport your fish to a fish cleaning station or home. You can also keep your fish in your livewell as long as all water is drained. Water used in livewells may contain microscopic ANS larvae or seeds, so the regulations to drain apply to livewells the same as any other areas such as bilges that may hold water.

Similarly, game fish cannot be transported in a bucket of water. Only live legal aquatic bait may be transported in containers of water 5 gallons or less (except from the Red River, where no water may be transported).

These same rules apply to tournaments. If a tournament has an approved live-release format, weigh-ins and fish released will need to occur at the boat ramp site where boats launch and exit. Fish will not be allowed to be transported in water in livewells to off-site weigh-in stations

Why do I have to purchase live aquatic bait in North Dakota?

There are several reasons why no live aquatic bait may be imported into the state without a permit, including concerns about the movement of ANS, water, illegal species, and fish diseases. Legal live aquatic bait includes fathead minnows, creek chubs, sticklebacks, leeches, native frog, salamander and crayfish species (Note: white sucker are also legal live baitfish, but only for use in the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers). These species were selected because they are native species, tend not to overproduce in North Dakota lakes, and are desired by anglers. Many species used in other states as live bait are not native to North Dakota, or could disrupt the ecosystem if they are illegally dumped and establish a population. In addition, fish diseases and ANS may be transported on bait, as bait, or in water associated with live aquatic baits.

How can I transport legal live aquatic bait such as minnows?

Legal live aquatic bait may be transported in water in containers that are 5 gallons or less in volume, with the exception of the Red River where it is legal to transport legal live aquatic bait in water to the Red River, but not away from it. The container size applies to every container, no matter how many anglers are using it. However, each angler can have their own bait container, even when party fishing.

Larger containers with 5 or less gallons of water are not allowed, as they are not commonly used, pose a greater risk of spreading ANS, and make enforcement difficult. This includes livewells/baitwells in watercraft. All water must be drained from equipment before leaving the water access site, including livewells/baitwells.

These regulations apply to bait transport only, not to keeping bait alive at home. The goal is to reduce the risk of transporting microscopic ANS, larvae, or seeds in bait water while allowing for the use of legal live aquatic bait. By limiting the amount of water transported, the risk of transporting ANS is reduced, hence the elimination of transporting in livewells that typically hold about 30 gallons of water instead of the 1-2 gallons typical of a bait bucket.

What should I do if I see or catch an ANS?

Report any ANS you see by calling Game and Fish (701-328-6300) or filing an online report. If possible, take pictures and note the area and situation in which the ANS was observed. If you observe ANS or vegetation on equipment leaving a waterbody or in transport, ask the owner/operator to clean the equipment. If this is not possible, call the Report All Poachers line (701-328-9921) with detailed information.

There are three different classifications of ANS in North Dakota that range from prohibited (Class I) to listed (Class III). See the ANS list for classifications by species.

Prohibited (Class I) – ANS that are highly invasive but are limited or nonexistent in North Dakota. It is illegal to possess these species alive or dead. Example includes zebra mussels. Anglers should immediately return these to the water in which they were caught.

Regulated (Class II) – ANS that are established in North Dakota, may have limited commercial use, and management options are difficult or nonexistent. Permits are required to import or utilize these species, and generally only research permits are granted. Example includes curlyleaf pondweed. Anglers should return these to the water in which they were caught.

Listed (Class III) – ANS that are established in North Dakota, may be widespread, or have viable management options. Permits are required to import and rear these species for commercial use. Examples include common carp and silver carp. Anglers may keep these fish, but transport rules for game fish apply and it is recommended that you immediately kill these species upon catching.