MINNEAPOLIS - A crackdown on the spread of aquatic invasive species isn't getting through to enough Minnesota boaters, the Department of Natural Resources said Monday.
The violation rate is 20 percent so far this year, the agency said, releasing some initial statistics from stepped-up patrol efforts.
"This rate is unacceptable," Maj. Phil Meier, the DNR's Enforcement Division operations manager, said in a statement. "The majority of violations could have been avoided if people had taken the time to change their routine when leaving lakes and rivers, and comply with AIS laws."
The DNR began extra patrols May 12 that will continue through the summer. The agency is trying to stop zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas, Eurasian watermilfoil and other nonnative species from infesting more of Minnesota's waters, because once the species are established, it's next to impossible to get rid of them. The DNR is operating check stations near infested waters and is ordering boats that are suspected to be contaminated to be power-washed.
As of June 6, conservation officers had issued 193 criminal citations for invasive species violations, 463 civil citations, 975 written warnings and 267 verbal warnings — a total of 1,898. That compares with 850 citations or warnings last year and 293 in 2010.
"We hope these citations, warnings and public contacts will continue to raise awareness that this state looks at invasive species very seriously," Meier said in the statement. "We will enforce the rules."
It is illegal in Minnesota to transport invasive aquatic plants and animals, as well as water, from infested bodies of water. Fines for doing so will double beginning July 1. Failing to remove a drain plug before moving a boat will mean a $100 fine instead of $50, while a ticket for unlawfully possessing and transporting a prohibited species will jump from $250 to $500.
Officials say the best way to get rid of unwanted hitchhikers is to clean, drain, and dry all boats and equipment.
State law requires boaters and anglers to drain their bait buckets, live wells and bilges before leaving any water access; remove all aquatic plants from their boats and trailers; pull the drain plugs on their boat and let all water drain out when leaving any water body; and leave drain plugs out while towing boats or other water equipment on the roads.
"It's a little bit of a shocker to see those numbers," said Capt. Cory Palmer, the DNR's regional enforcement manager in New Ulm. He said he wasn't sure if ignorance or carelessness was to blame, but hopes no one is deliberately disregarding the rules.
Palmer said the numbers are also disappointing because the DNR has worked hard over the past couple years to try to educate people about invasive species. Conservation officers now routinely raise the subject and offer tips and solutions when they have contact with boaters and anglers, he said.
"I would say we just need to continue to strive for getting people educated and getting people to want to take personal responsibility for our natural resources in this arena," he said.
Minnesota DNR AIS information: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/index_aquatic.html