Minnesota's 800,000 boat owners would have to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

"We're envisioning it would be an online training course,'' said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species specialist. "This would be required training so boaters know the laws and what they need to do to prevent the spread of invasive species.''

Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have the pass the course.

Also, fines for those caught violating invasive species laws would be doubled -- all part of increased efforts by the DNR to slow the spread of invading critters to Minnesota's waters. Some measures will be implemented this season, including random roadside boat checks and a requirement that boat owners place free DNR stickers on their boats spelling out invasive species requirements.

But the training requirement proposal wouldn't kick in until 2015, under the proposed bill.

"It would take a while for us to establish it,'' Skinner said.

Those successfully completing the training class would get a trailer decal valid for three years, and only trailers with the decals could legally haul boats.

The fine for failing to remove a drain plug from a boat while transporting it, now $50, would be boosted to $100. And the fine for transporting a boat or trailer with aquatic plants such as Eurasian water milfoil, now $50, would double to $100. The fine for transporting invasive animals, such as zebra mussels or spiny water fleas, now $250, would jump to $500.

The proposal also would require a 21-day waiting period when moving a dock, boat lift or swim raft from one body of water to another.

Help for ice anglers

The proposal also would exempt winter anglers from being forced to drain the water in their minnow buckets whenever they leave a lake, as is required now to prevent the spread of invasive species. Anglers must either exchange the water -- difficult to do in the winter -- or jettison the bait in the garbage.

"Anglers have been telling us they have to throw their bait away when they leave a lake,'' Skinner said.

He said invasive species, such as spiny water fleas or zebra mussels, aren't active in the winter, meaning they shouldn't be in water anglers use in their bait buckets.

"We think the risk is very, very low, so it seems like common sense to allow winter anglers to be able to do that,'' Skinner said.

Waterfowl symposium

Gov. Mark Dayton's appointment of Tom Landwehr as DNR commissioner was officially confirmed by the full Senate last week.

Meanwhile, Landwehr told about 60 people at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association's annual symposium in Bloomington on Saturday that loss of hunters and wildlife habitat are two of the biggest threats to hunting.

He urged the state's 88,000 waterfowl hunters to take a youth or friend hunting next fall to try to boost duck hunter numbers, which have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years. The state sold 88,000 waterfowl stamps last season, 2 percent more than 2010, but still among the lowest ever.

Landwehr also said the continued loss of grasslands from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, unless abated, will have dire consequences for ducks. Minnesota will lose 250,000 acres of CRP this year, he said.

DNR officials told the group they are considering adding a third duck zone to the state next fall in southern Minnesota, to provide late-season hunting opportunities.

Did you know?

• The Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza is set for Saturday on Gull Lake. See www.icefishing.org.

• Two reported cougar sightings near Hutchinson are being investigated. Anyone with information is asked to call conservation officer Brett Oberg at 320-234-3741.

•The deadline for youths to apply for mentored turkey hunts is Feb. 13. The hunts are April 21-22. For information, see startribune.com/a1016.