BISMARCK – To prevent the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species, the state Game and Fish Department hopes to expand an emergency rule implemented in August that requires boaters to pull drain plugs when exiting the Red River or entering North Dakota.
Department Director Terry Steinwand said Thursday he will seek to expand the drain plug rule statewide, after receiving positive response to that part of the emergency action.
“With that kind of public support, we’d like to go statewide on that,” he said after briefing a legislative committee at the Capitol.
Game and Fish regulations already require draining water from bilges, livewells, baitwells and motors before leaving a water body. But boaters are allowed to keep plugs in while traveling, whereas Minnesota and South Dakota both require plugs to be out when boats are in transit.
Fisheries Division Chief Greg Power said he believes well over half of boaters in North Dakota already keep plugs out when traveling.
He said that while the change won’t do any more than existing rules to prevent water from being transferred between water bodies, “it does give enforcement a little more standing to pull somebody over” to check for aquatic nuisance species.
Steinwand said he expects some pushback to the proposal, noting that Power “got beat up pretty bad by some members of the public” when the livewell drainage rule was instituted in 2010 in response to discovery of the first zebra mussel in state waters, in the Red River near Wahpeton.
“Other than Devils Lake and now the Red River, there’s not a lot of hue and cry for ‘let’s do more to prevent zebra mussels.’ There’s just not that much out there. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something,” he said.
Adult zebra mussels pose problems for government, industry and sportsmen alike because they clog intakes of water supply systems and feed on food sources for newly hatched game fish.
A two-day survey in June found zebra mussel larvae at six sites along the Red River from Wahpeton to Pembina – the first time they were discovered downstream from Wahpeton, the department reported. More were found last month on the Sorlie Bridge between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn.
The emergency rules that took effect in August also prohibit transporting live bait in water away from the Red River.
The Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee is scheduled to consider confirming the emergency rules at its Dec. 7 meeting.
Power said a notice of rulemaking for expanding the drain plug rule statewide will be issued after that meeting, with public hearings likely in January or February.
He hopes the committee will approve the expanded rule in March so it can be included in the 2016-18 fishing regulations that are effective April 1 and printed in the department’s fishing guide.