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Pioneer Editorial: Missing the boat on AIS battle

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. . .”

That oft-quoted line was the tag for the movie “Jaws 2,” the sequel to the 1975 blockbuster film.

But it also is becoming an apt description for Minnesota officials tasked with stopping the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS).

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported some distressing numbers in regard to AIS. Turns out, inspectors at public accesses have found more than 1,300 boaters with aquatic plants, animals or waters from other lakes in or on their boats. AIS can drastically harm a lake or river’s ecosystem, which, in turn, can decimate the local boating and fishing environment.

In addition, the DNR said there have been 169 citations and 375 warning tickets to boaters for AIS violations this summer, with fines ranging from $100 to $500.

“Far too many people are still not following the law,” Greg Salo, DNR central region enforcement manager, said in a news release. “Some of these laws have been on the books for more than 15 years and yet we’re still seeing a 26 percent violation rate at enforcement check stations. That’s unacceptable. Violators should know better by now.”

In would appear by the number of AIS stories we see and hear in the media that the DNR and many local agencies have done a stellar job of getting the word out. But it doesn’t appear if people are listening.

This year, Beltrami County hired an AIS inspector to conduct voluntary inspections at local access points every weekend this summer. Several area watershed associations are doing their part to warn people of the negative impacts AIS can have on area lakes and rivers.  

In a May article in the Pioneer about the new inspector, Beltrami County Environmental Services Director Bill Patnaude summed it up best when he said keeping AIS out of lakes in and around Bemidji would require a “Herculean effort” from all involved.

“We’ve got to be realistic,” Patnaude told reporter Zach Kayser. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to have inspectors at every public access. Twenty-four/seven, ain’t gonna happen. That’s why we need everybody that is a recreational boater, canoeist, fisherman… committed in this.”

We all need to remember that in August of 2013, an inspector found zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil on a boat trailer that was coming out of Lake Bemidji, although they appeared dead and did not originate in the lake. Other area lakes have been hit by AIS, including Lake Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake, and Becker County just recently announced two of its lakes had been hit with zebra mussels.

As a reminder, in Minnesota it is illegal to:

 Transport watercraft without the drain plug removed.

 * Arrive at a lake access with drain plug in place.

 * Transport aquatic plants, zebra mussels, or other prohibited species, whether dead or alive.

 * Launch watercraft with prohibited species attached.

 *Transport water from Minnesota lakes or rivers.

 * Release live bait into the water.

Fighting AIS is a problem for all of is. The DNR and local officials are on board; it seems the rest of us are missing the boat.