Invasive Species and our Lakes

Filed in Maintenance by on May 22, 2014

Luke Skinner is the supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s Invasive Species Program. The program aims to prevent, detect and manage the impact of invasive species statewide, focusing mainly on aquatic species. The top invasives concerning his department right now are zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil, spiny water fleas, Asian carp and, to a lesser extent, curly-leaf poundweed. 

L&H: How are these invasive species moving?

Spiny waterfleas eat small animals (zooplankton), including Daphnia, which are an important food for native fishes. In some lakes, they caused the decline or elimination of some species of native zooplankton. They can clog eyelets of fishing rods and prevent fish from being landed. Photo Source: nps.gov

Spiny Waterfleas
Photo Source: nps.gov

Luke: Zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil and spiny water fleas all can be transported in water or on recreational equipment. Zebra mussels can also attach to any hard surface. So recreational gear (such as fishing equipment) and people moving recreational gear, whether it’s boat lifts, docks, swimming rafts or boast themselves, are probably the primary pathway of movement for most of these species.

L&H: What about Asian carp?

Luke: They’re moving around on their own right now. But they haven’t become established yet in Minnesota. And how do you stop them? You really have to have a barrier in the (Mississippi River) to physically stop them from moving up.

L&H: What is the DNR doing to get its message out to people?

Luke: One, it’s all about changing people’s behavior. If people are the main culprit in moving the invasive species, how do we change that mindset? How do we get them to do the right thing, take the right action? Education is a big component of it. but also laws. It’s not just telling people to do the right thing, we’re saying you have to do the right thing or there’s a punitive consequence. A law came out years ago that requires you to pull your drain plug and drain all of the water from your boat no matter what lake you’re leaving to help reduce the risk of spread to other lakes. Another key component is an inspection program where we hire 90 watercraft inspectors in the summer, and they work in most of the infested waters, educating people and showing them how to clean their boats prior to leaving or launching onto lakes.

Zebra Mussels Photo Source: nps.gov

Zebra Mussels
Photo Source: nps.gov

L&H: What is the consequence if you get caught transporting an invasive species?

Luke: It ranges from $50 up to $1,000. If you get aught on the road with water, if you get caught with aquatic plants on your boat, then it’s usually a $50 fine. … If you actually have zebra mussels attached to your boat and you’re backing it into a lake, the nit goes up from there.

L&H: If I’m an average boat owner and user, what specific thing should I do?

Luke: We have a pretty basic message for everybody, and that’s clean, drain and dry.

No matter where you go, make sure your boat is clean. That’s the No. 1 thing.

No. 2 is drain. Drain all water, including your bait bucket. The third one is dry. If you’re uncertain and you’ve been in zebra mussel-infested waters in particular, make sure you dry your boat. We recommend up to five days.

L&H: What are the consequences of having these invasive species in the water?

Luke: There’s a variety of impacts ecologically. Certain species (including Eurasian water milfoil and zebra mussels) can out-compete other native species so they could reduce or impact the native species population, and sometimes those can be habitat or food for other species.

Recreationally, if you get zebra mussels on your boat it can clog your motors and intakes, and it’s just a problem. … Big mats of milfoil make it difficult to boat or swim or fish.

And last, there’s the economy of it, too. Zebra mussels clog water intakes, not for just people but industry. People are concerned about property values.

Eurasian Water Milfoil Photo Source: nps.gov

Eurasian Water Milfoil
Photo Source: nps.gov

L&H: Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Luke: We hear the folks say, “Well they’re already here, they’re already spreading and you might just learn to live with them.” And that’s a tough one. Right now, zebra mussels, for example, are only in 30 lakes. We don’t think it’s inevitable that they get in every lake. That personal responsibility is really important, and that really helps go a long way to help prevent the spread.

L&H: What do you like to do on the lake when you’re not working?

Luke: I like to fish. I hunt a little, but I like to fish a lot. … We do, of course, swim and play on the water’s edge as well quite a bit, but No. 1 thing is fishing on the lakes. That’s what we like to do with our family.

by Emily King, a writer from St. Paul. 

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