By SCOTT FELDMAN
Rapid City Journal
FORT PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The introduction of the mountain pine beetle to the Black Hills has demonstrated how a single foreign species can have a devastating effects on an area’s ecosystem - and the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department doesn’t want to see a similar disaster befall the state’s bodies of water.
That’s why, after foreign aquatic species were discovered in numerous fisheries across the state, the GF&P passed several new regulations to help prevent any of the new wildlife, which are called aquatic invasive species, or AIS for short, from spreading. Aquatic invasive species include animals and plants.
The regulations, which took effect May 11, require all boaters to pull the drain plug from their vessel whenever they’re not on the water, launching off the dock or being loaded onto the dock. Boaters also must clean all vegetation and aquatic invasive species from their watercraft.
The other main regulation prohibits anglers from storing fish or bait in any water that came from a lake, river or stream and taking it to another body of water unless it is en route to a fish cleaning station that is immediately adjacent to the lake, river or stream. The water must be drained prior to leaving the fish cleaning station. This regulation also applies to shore anglers.
Mike Smith, AIS coordinator and fisheries biologist for the GF&P, explained the purpose of the regulations to the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1JKRJag ).
“The goal of these new rules is to limit or eliminate the movement of water between lakes and rivers in South Dakota. Some species, like zebra and quagga mussels, have a stage in their life cycle where they are microscopic and can survive in damp boat compartments off of the water for days or even weeks and then be transported to a different water body,” Smith said. “Establishment of these species could potentially impact both the ecosystem of a water body and any infrastructure like irrigation water intakes or hydroelectric power generation.”
The easiest way to work around the bait regulations is to simply transport bait in a private container filled with water before going out to fish. The rules do allow fish and bait to be transported in tap water, bottled water, ice or other domestic water.
Some fishermen such as Dennis Cummings, an employee at The Rooster, a local sporting goods store, said the rules create unnecessary hassles for fisherman and should have been limited to the places where foreign species were found. Cummings said he only heard of one time that an AIS was found in the Black Hills.
“I think a lot of it is blown out of proportion, let’s put it that way,” he said.
AIS have been found in several bodies of water in the area, including Sheridan Lake, Stockade Lake, the Angostura Reservoir, Castle Creek and Pactola Lake, according to SDleastwanted.com, though most of the invasive species are plants, not fish.
Some species of fish that could cause problems are the quagga mussels, which were found in the Angostora Reservoir in September and the Asian carp, which were able to invade the James River in eastern South Dakota.
Cummings did say the rules will have some positive impact. For example, minnows won’t just be dumped in lakes if people follow the rules. However, he is unsure how the GF&P can enforce the new regulations.
“To my knowledge, they don’t have a way to test if the water in a container came from a lake or not,” he said.
Smith said officers have a handheld device that can test the specific conductivity of water for that very purpose.
“Water from different sources has differing concentrations of ions dissolved in the water,” he said. “The concentration of these ions affects the ability of the water to conduct electricity. The conductivity of water from lakes, rivers and streams is typically at least 1,000 times higher than that of domestic water.”
Smith and Cummings haven’t spoken to each other directly, but Smith said he has a general response he has given to anglers who have expressed unhappiness with the new regulations.
“To those anglers, I think it important that to reiterate that the mission of the GF&P is Serving People, Managing Wildlife,’” he said. “We want to continue to offer all recreational users the outstanding fishing, hunting and boating opportunities available in South Dakota. The establishment of these species seriously threatens our ability to do that, so we need to do what we can today to protect our resources for the future.”
Not all fishermen share Cummings’ viewpoint. Larry Talley, a member of South Dakota Walleye Unlimited, is happy that the GF&P instituted these new regulations. It’s about time the GF&P started taking the issue seriously, he said.
“I think it’s overdue, it should have been recognized before now,” Talley said. “It’s a serious problem and we have to try our best to keep it from spreading anymore.”
Talley said the rules will create a minor hassle for anglers and boaters, but it’s well worth it to protect the state’s fisheries.
“It does create a small burden, but we have to take some responsibility to control it,” he said. “Because if we don’t, it will get out of control.”
Smith thinks that after some time passes, people will be used to the regulations and it will become a routine for fishermen and boaters alike.