Triple and quadruple layered with a morning high of -9, Brooke from Yellow Medicine SWCD and myself headed onto the ice at about 8:30 am Saturday. We’d be setting up an aquatic invasive species (AIS) educational trailer for the Ice Castle Classic Fishing tournament on Lac qui Parle Lake.
For five years the tournament has taken place, rain, snow, wind or sun. This year, we were lucky enough to have full sun, and minimal wind with numbers of participants near 2,000.
Going in to the event we were not sure how many folks would be interested talking to us about AIS. I’m happy to say that the turnout was very comforting. Anglers are invested in AIS issues. AIS disrupts the food chain, competition with native species and fish that are commonly sought after at these events can be negatively impacted by the presence of invasives.
What was interesting was the number of people who came to fish from counties far from Lac qui Parle. We talked with anglers from South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa even. There was rarely an individual who wasn't aware of AIS related issues, or who couldn't give species specific accounts of infestations in their area. This in itself is a critical point. We have people recreating on our waters from all different areas
The bottom line was undeniable- aquatic invasives create HUGE problems once they infest a water body.
What can we do?
We often believe that AIS is not an issue in an area with such a small quantity of water bodies compared to other parts of Minnesota- but that is a very common, somewhat dangerous misconception.
Think of it this way: if there are not swimmable/boatable waters to recreate on in our county where do we go? We go to neighboring counties, we go to Alexandria, maybe some folks have cabins up north, or near the city, whichever the case we are using our boats/fishing equipment in lakes that may be infested with aquatic invasive species, and then returning home to our county with that same equipment. Just as many came to participate in the ice fishing tournament here, Lac qui Parle citizens move outside county lines to recreate as well.
This is where a basic knowledge of AIS biology and preventative measures become increasingly important.
We have all heard about Clean-Drain-Dispose-Dry methods, but what does that really mean?
Any time you enter or exit a lake you should be doing a check for aquatic vegetation and animals that could have entered your live wells, attached themselves onto your boat or fishing/hunting equipment. Sometimes, as in the case of zebra mussel larvae, known as veligers, the invaders are too small to see. Aquatic vegetation such as Eurasian Milfoil can reproduce from just a segment of stem and form a new population. Spraying down your boat at a decontamination unit can kill these small inconspicuous hitchhikers who are ready to use your vessel as a means to transport to new water bodies.
Pulling your drain plug and keeping it out during transfer is a very easy step to take to prevent huge damages down the road. Also, be sure to properly dispose of any unused bait.
To learn more about properly cleaning your boat and equipment or to brush up on the drain plug law
Clean In Clean Out
The biggest problem we face currently: taking this issue seriously.
This weekend at the tournament we had some very powerful conversations regarding how to get people more involved in stopping the spread. Unfortunately as with many issues, it doesn't seem to become a priority concern until our waters are already infested and the damage is tangible. I highly urge you to at least look up photos or articles pertaining to infested waters in our state. Do a search for Eurasian Milfoil, Curly Leaf Pondweed or Spiny Waterflea. Even better stop and look at an infested lake outside our county next time you are near one. It is very impactful to see a once beautiful lake with a mat of vegetation making it inaccessible to swim, boat or fish on or a shoreline covered in thousands of sharp zebra mussel shells.
It is much easier, and cheaper, to prevent the spread than it is to deal with the spread. One of the questions we heard multiple times this weekend “so how do we get rid of them now?” The short answer is-we dont. We spend countless resources, staff, hours and A LOT of money to manage them, but completely eradicating an aquatic invasive species is a huge, nearly impossible task. Advances in technology and management practices are always improving but at this point preventing further spread and minimizing impact is the only viable option.
In 2016, Lac qui Parle County made it onto the infested waters list:
“Invasive species specialists also confirmed zebra mussels in Lac qui Parle Lake, a reservoir on the Minnesota River in western Minnesota. The reservoir flows through portions of Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties. DNR staff are conducting searches on waters downstream of the reservoir.”
Zebra mussels confirmed
Clean, Drain, Dispose may seem like a pain at times, but it is a minuscule inconvenience compared to the environmental, aesthetic and financial cost we pay to deal with infested waters.
Resources of interest
Guide to Aquatic Invasives
MN Infested Waters List
MN invasive species laws