Put it on the board

Aquatic Invasive Species regulation signs on Otter Tail Lake at the Riviera North Public Water Access. These signs warn boaters to follow AIS regulations.

As aquatic invasive species in area lakes have become more prevalent, so has the overall approach to enforcement. Otter Tail County’s approach this year involves many key components with a centerpiece revolving around continued education.

Otter Tail County aquatic invasive species specialist Spencer McGrew says it takes an entire crew of 23 total inspectors, who will be out in full force by June 7. Otter Tail County’s watercraft inspection program actually started on May 14 with more limited staff. 

Each inspector visits five public water accesses a day, so they often have 12 inspectors out seven days a week, with 60 public water accesses they visit every day. McGrew says a total of around 420 public accesses are visited each week in the county. They basically visit every ramp that exists in the county, as long as it’s not flooded, or inaccessible.   

While McGrew says there are no new laws, a few remain a big focus, such as transport of bait. McGrew says that people need to be aware that they cannot, under any circumstances, transport water from one lake to another lake. He said the best recommendation is to put your minnows in a bag with water from a bait shop, or if you are not going to fish in another lake, simply dispose of your live bait in a regular refuse container at your home. Containers must be drained of lakewater when you leave the lake. They don’t belong in the public water accesses, and they don’t belong in the lake. 

“We’re doing more education on this than enforcement, we’re not an enforcement group, we aim to educate the public. But there are enforcement folks out there, like conservation officers and sheriff’s deputies that are looking for this too, so that if we do have an issue we can refer to those folks, but if we can fix it right there and use that teachable moment, that’s what we want to do first.”

McGrew added that it’s also unlawful to transport aquatic plants of any kind, whether they are native, invasive, non-native, you simply cannot transport aquatic plants. 

“So, when you’re leaving a public water access, all those little pieces of plant material need to come off. You can pick it off with your fingers, scrape it off, if you have a little tool or a stick, or a grabber, pull those off, get them off the propeller, get them off the boat, aquatic plants have to stay at the lake.”

McGrew also advised people who are pulling boats out of storage for the first time this season need to make sure their boats, and pontoons are clean. There can’t be any zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species on them of any kind. Inspectors and other law enforcement will be examining whether all watercraft are clean before they are launched. 

As far as compliance, McGrew says it is excellent at this point. In fact, drain plug compliance is in the 95-96 percent range. In contrast, when the Minnesota drain plug law went into effect in 2012, with the random stops that the Minnesota DNR were conducting on highways, the outcomes were potentially quite different than now. The chances of having a drain plug in were 50/50, however today it’s a 98 percent chance that the drain plug is out, which McGrew says is a huge improvement. The issues that they see now are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

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