Boaters, beware: Fines for invasive species to double Sunday
The fine for forgetting to pull your drain plug at a boat landing, allowing a zebra mussel into your boat or leaving weeds hanging on your trailer will double starting Sunday across Minnesota to as much as $500.
The move was set by the Minnesota Legislature last year and Department of Natural Resources officials said Friday they are ready to enforce the change and slap violators with hefty fines.
The fine for transporting aquatic plants will go from $50 to $100; same for forgetting to pull that bilge plug. And the fine for possessing, or transporting a prohibited invasive species in your boat or on your trailer -- such as zebra mussels, ruffe or goby -- will jump to $500.
While the move had already been ordered by lawmakers it comes just a few weeks after DNR enforcement division officials announced that 1 in 5 Minnesotans checked by conservation officers while towing a boat early this summer was in violation of at least one provision of the state's myriad rules aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.
State officials have called that violation rate unacceptable if the state is going to be at all successful at slowing the spread of invasive species.
State law requires operators of all watercraft - motorboats, canoes, kayaks, Jetskis, sailboats, duckboats -- to remove all aquatic plants and animals from their watercraft, drain all water from inside the boat (bilge, bait buckets, livewells, etc.) and leave all their drain plugs and water draining devices open during transport.
Mike Scott, invasive species conservation officer for the DNR in the Duluth area, said officers will still have some leeway in writing tickets. But he said anglers need to police their actions for their own good - keeping invasive species out of new lakes can only help native fish populations.
Scott said bile plugs and bait buckets full of water are the most common violation in the Northland.
"Compliance has been better up here than in other area of the state. The locals here have known about this problem for some time,'' Scott said Friday at the McQuade safe harbor boat landing on the North Shore. "Our job is to enforce the laws. But, obviously, we'll be looking for the most egregious cases.... folks who know better and still didn't take action."
During the July 4th period and throughout much of the summer the DNR is ramping up its boat inspections, enforcement efforts and educational campaign to prevent the spread of invasive zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.
Nearly 140 watercraft inspectors will be stationed around the state, checking boats for invaders and advising water users of laws and practices that will keep invasive species from spreading.
The DNR also has deployed 23 high-pressure, hot water decontamination units at various water bodies around the state. The agency is targeting waterways already infested with invaders.
On Friday one of those units was at the McQuade Safe Harbor boat landing on the North Shore just outside Duluth. Boats will be inspected coming into uninfested lakes and when they leave infested waters like Lake Superior and the St. Lois River.
If inspectors find that the boat has been in infested waters for 72 hours or more, it will be disinfected, said Keri Hull of the DNR's watercraft inspection program. Boats on which any exotic species are found also will be scrubbed out.
"We can't stop every boat and disinfect them. But we can ask questions and target the boats that are most likely to be carrying'' an invasive species, Hull said.