Summer officially began with last weekend’s solstice, but area residents already have been ramping up summer activities, spurred on by warm weather and the need to relieve the effects of being cooped up during the pandemic.

The sale of fishing licenses has soared this spring, up more than 40% over last year, and area lakes have been extra busy as anglers and pleasure boaters have taken to the water.

Whatever your reason for heading onto the water, boaters need to ensure they’re not bringing unwanted hitchhikers along with them.

Nonindigenous plants and animals — including zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, flowering rush and macroalgae such as starry stonewort — have increasingly found their way into our lakes. Most get spread by boats that carry them from an infested lake into another lake.

A simple, quick cleaning regimen before entering a lake and after pulling your boat out of a lake can stop the spread. Some argue there is no way to stop the spread of invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, but states that have implemented good education and boat inspection programs have greatly slowed or even stopped the spread.

The Department of Natural Resources says that before entering and leaving a waterway boaters need to: check, clean, drain, dry and, when available, disinfect.

That means cleaning all visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited invasive species from watercraft, trailers and water-related equipment before leaving any water access or shoreland.

Water must be drained from the boat, bait containers, livewell and ballast tanks and the drain plug removed before leaving a public access. Drain plugs need to be kept out while transporting boats.

Never release any bait into a waterbody but instead throw unwanted bait in the trash. If you want to keep your bait, you must refill the bait container with bottled or tap water.

The rules aren’t just common sense steps to protect our lakes but are the law in Minnesota.

Boaters might also see courtesy decontamination units at some boat landings. The portable units use high-pressure, high-heat wash units that allow DNR personnel to decontaminate boats without allowing any of the wash water to run off.

And inspectors hired by the DNR are stationed at many public accesses to inspect boats coming in and ensure proper steps are taken before boats leave.

It’s great to see more people getting outdoors and enjoying the natural beauty of our lakes and rivers. It’s the responsibility of everyone who uses those waters to help ensure they stay clean, beautiful and as invasive free as possible.

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