Spiny Water Flea Means Changes for Bait Dealers
By Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.
Mar. 18–Licensed bait dealers can continue trapping emerald shiners on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River, but private trappers will have to stop, now that spiny water fleas have been detected in the Rainy River basin.
But it won’t be business as usual, officials say. Bait dealers will have to go through training to learn about preventing the spread of spiny water fleas or their eggs.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday designated Lake of the Woods and Rainy River as “infested waters” for spiny water fleas. The aquatic invasive species was documented in Rainy Lake last summer and eventually will work its way down the Rainy River into Lake of the Woods, if it hasn’t already, officials say.
State law prohibits trapping bait from infested waters. The exception, in this case, will be trained bait dealers on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River.
Native to northern and eastern Europe, spiny water fleas are tiny invertebrates that measure about one-fourth to one-half inch in length. They interrupt the natural food chain by competing with zooplankton that young game fish rely on for food.
Spiny water fleas also collect on fishing lines and other equipment, making them a nuisance to anglers.
The invasive fleas first showed up in the Great Lakes in the 1980s in the ballast water of ships and since have spread to a handful of waters in Minnesota and along the Ontario border, most recently in the Rainy River basin.
According to Mike Larson, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Baudette, Minn., representatives from the agency met with the bait dealers last week to discuss the impact of spiny water fleas on shiner trapping efforts.
Larson said about 15 licensed bait dealers between Greenbush and International Falls, Minn., trap shiners on the Rainy River. Only those who go through the required training will receive permits to continue trapping, Larson said.
Larson says he’s not sure when training for the dealers will begin, but it will be sometime before the fall shiner run, when trappers collect most of their minnows. He says DNR staffers want to learn more about measures to kill spiny water flea eggs from the Minnesota Sea Grant, a Duluth-based research group that has extensive experience with the species.
That information is crucial because spiny water flea eggs are highly resilient and even can pass through the digestive systems of fish and birds intact.
“We haven’t thought that through yet,” Larson said. “We want to have the best information before we have the training.”
Meanwhile, Larson said, the ban means local anglers who trap their own shiners have to stop.
“They’ll have to go through a dealer, which is very inconvenient and costly, but that’s the way the law is right now,” Larson said.
Monday’s designation of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River as infested waters also paves the way for stepped-up education efforts to teach anglers about preventing the spread of spiny water fleas. Larson says DNR staff will erect billboards along highways and hire inspection crews to be on hand at boat landings.
Boaters on infested waters must drain their livewells, Larson said; transporting water — even in bait buckets — is illegal.
It’s not just anglers and boaters who have to change their habits, Larson said; there’s also a learning curve for the DNR. All of the different DNR divisions that work on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River will have to learn how to disinfect boats and equipment so they don’t inadvertently transport the fleas or their eggs to uninfested waters.
Larson said he soon will be writing a management plan to address those prevention measures.
“We don’t want to be the culprit that moves them around,” Larson said. “We’re going to have to do some training on ourselves.”
Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2007, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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