By Nick Simonson
As rivers open with a swell of meltwater, bringing the first openwater fishing action of the season, anglers are hooking up their boats and heading out. With that spring rush of angling excitement comes watercraft traveling across the North Dakota prairie between those first open rivers and then the lakes as the ice gives way and fish like pike, walleyes, crappies and bass provide the fix for an extended bout of cabin fever this winter brought.
But with that travel and the draw of so many incredible fisheries across the map comes a heightened level of responsibility in the age of aquatic nuisance species (ANS). Headline-grabbing invasives like zebra mussels, silver carp, and curly leaf pondweed are in and around the Roughrider State, and the chance of them being transported into one of the over 400 waters they have not impacted is a real possibility that the state’s Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) is working hard to combat. In 2022, the agency staff celebrated a big win, with no new detections of ANS in waters where they weren’t already present. This according to NDG&F ANS Coordinator Ben Holen, came about through a fortunate alignment of a number of elements.
“It’s likely a combination of factors out there. A part of it might be luck, and I’ll take luck any day of the week. Another factor is that we have a very educated water user base out there and we’re getting more and more educated about the stuff we need to do at boat ramps,” Holen says of the previous year’s success, adding, “we’ll be actively looking for species this year like last year. 2022 was our biggest early detection effort to date, and we look to hopefully improving on those efforts here in 2023.”
As anglers set out with their boats in tow, the oft-repeated and now well known mantra of “Clean. Drain. Dry.” can be found at most boat ramps, on billboards, and even in the advertisements generated on their smartphone and social media. It’s all a part of the continuing effort by the NDG&F to continue educating watercraft users in the state, and reinforcing those behaviors well established among the angling public with a simple plan each time a boat goes into the water and comes out.
“It’s about being clean going into waters and being clean coming out of waters. When you’re exiting water bodies, you want to be draining all water storage devices, pulling all plugs, and lowering your motor making sure all water is drained out. You can be your own self-inspector. Walk around the outside of your hull. Wipe away any mud, plants or animals that might be attached to your watercraft,” Holen explains, concluding, “the message has always been and still will be the ‘Clean. Drain. Dry.’ message in between every launch and use.”
The push for mindfulness of the impact these invasives can have in the state culminates in North Dakota’s ANS Awareness Week, beginning on May 14. Ahead of summer’s unofficial start and the noted increase of boat traffic beginning with the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of the month, Holen hopes a barrage of media across multiple platforms and through various partners will help spread the word that ANS are worth stopping in their tracks through conscientious boat usage and the removal of water, debris and plant materials when trailering boats at every launch.
“ANS Awareness Week will be May 14th through the 20th. It’s our third annual ANS Awareness Week. What will happen that week is we’ll get a bunch of different press releases from state agencies talking about ANS, how to prevent their spread, and raise overall ANS awareness here in North Dakota. We have many different partners – state, private and federal – that are putting out materials, holding events and just trying to raise ANS awareness in North Dakota and beyond.
For more information on ANS and waters in North Dakota they affect, visit: gf.nd.gov/ans
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: 2022 saw no new detections of aquatic nuisance species in North Dakota, including the nefarious zebra mussel, which is now found in four popular angling lakes and three rivers. Simonson Photo