Invasive species fines soon will double

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2012 - 9:22 PM

Scott Fitzgerald, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, spent a morning talking with boaters and inspecting boats at the Liberty Beach boat ramp on Lake Mille Lacs. Recently the DNR has installed signs warning boaters of invasive species, among them the zebra mussel. All boaters must by law drain their live wells in an effort to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Photo: Anthony Souffle, Special To The Star Tribune file

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The crackdown begins.

Minnesota boaters and anglers who violate laws intended to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species will see stiffer fines this summer.

Beginning July 1, a bill signed into law last week by Gov. Mark Dayton doubles the fines for those caught violating the invasive species laws. The fine for failing to remove a drain plug from a boat, or transporting a boat or trailer with aquatic invasive plants attached, now $50, will jump to $100.

Those caught putting equipment with invasive plants attached into waters will face a $200 fine. Those possessing or transporting prohibited invasive animals, such as zebra mussels, could be fined $500.

People who have one or more prior convictions for those offenses face double those fines.

Also, boat lifts, docks, swim rafts and other water-related equipment (except watercraft) that are removed from the water may not be placed in another body of water for at least 21 days. The drying-out period is to kill invasive species that might be attached. Last year, zebra mussels were introduced into two lakes from the movement of such equipment from one water body to another.

Boaters also can expect to see more boat inspections this season. The DNR is hiring 150 boat inspectors, and about 100 will be out opening weekend. They will be checking boats, primarily at zebra mussel-infested waters, including Mille Lacs, Minnetonka and Prior lakes. And boaters could encounter random mandatory DNR inspection stations, as well as 23 new boat- decontamination stations.

"Expect to get checked, and expect to get cited if you're violating the law,'' said Rod Smith, Department of Natural Resources assistant enforcement director.

Sticker confusion?

That same bill repeals a law requiring boaters to put those silver and black aquatic invasive species stickers that are being distributed by the DNR on their boats.

About 400,000 stickers (costing about $65,000) have been handed out to boaters or retailers for distribution. They describe the invasive species laws for boaters.

That sticker requirement is being replaced by a different one requiring boat owners to pass an online course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they can trailer their boats. Those hauling docks or boat lifts also will have to pass the course. Those completing the course will get a trailer decal -- different from the ones being issued now -- that allows them to legally transport their boat.

The course and new sticker requirement go into effect July 1, 2015. The penalty for not displaying the decals will be a warning, not a citation.

So what about all those old stickers?

"The sticker has a lot of educational value,'' said the DNR's Luke Skinner. "We'll continue to hand them out until we run out.''

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