- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. (AP) - By the time Pete and Kristi Remus of Becker pulled in for an afternoon of fishing and boating last Friday on Big Fish Lake, about 30 trucks and trailers already filled the lot, forcing overflow parking onto the shoulders of Big Fish Lake Road.

Those trucks and trailers belong to people who bring fishing boats, water-ski boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, kayaks and stand up paddleboards onto the 600-acre lake northeast of Cold Spring. Eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week from the fishing opener through September, inspectors are on duty to help ensure those watercraft don’t bring aquatic invasive species into a lake that - as far as anybody knows - remains clear of zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/1JJ12GO ) reported.

Remus’ boat was clean; Friday’s check took a couple of minutes. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources inspector started with a greeting and a brief explanation.

“Yeah, you guys are all over,” Remus said.

The inspector ran his hand along the underside of the boat as he asked where the boat had been, where it might go next. Live well? No, 5-gallon pail for fishing. Questions? No.

Big Fish Lake Association will spend about $26,000 on inspections this year.

It was awarded $15,100 of Stearns County’s $255,000 state allocation to combat aquatic invasive species, plus a $3,000 matching grant to cover 375 inspection hours by DNR employees. The balance comes from $7,500 in association dues and donations.

The money covers inspections eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Inspectors come from the DNR - which this year was authorized to hire 100 intern and 46 seasonal inspectors statewide - plus DNR-trained employees of the private company WaterGuards.

Association President Jim Sand said any leftover money would extend the inspection season into October.

“Now inspection is about the only real thing we can do and it’s the best practice right now,” Sand - one of about 200 Big Fish home and cabin owners - said Friday afternoon as he watched the boat traffic come and go. “It’s the best defense we have right now until science comes up with something better.”

As of March, the DNR listed 213 state waters as zebra-mussel infested. That number includes more than one segment of the same water body - including stretches of the Mississippi River - plus waterways connected to infested lakes.

Adam Doll, the DNR’s watercraft inspection coordinator, said the agency dedicates regular inspection hours to 85 zebra-mussel infested and high-use accesses. In the St. Cloud area, portable decontamination units were scheduled to be at both Green Lake accesses in Kandiyohi County, on the Mississippi River, and at Fish Trap Lake in Morrison County.

Eventually, Sand said he would like to see a portable decontamination unit at Big Fish Lake.

For now, boaters who arrive with drains plugged can dump and dry their watercraft in a lot off Stearns County Road 50, and then return to the launch.

Last year, Sand said inspectors stopped 11 boats from launching; at least eight boats came from infected lakes. The association spent $12,000 to keep inspectors on hand four days a week from the fishing opener to late September.

A delegation agreement with Stearns County gives WaterGuards inspectors authority to deny a launch. Neither DNR nor private inspectors have authority to issue citations; that’s handled by law enforcement.

As Remus returned from parking his truck and trailer, another newly inspected boat was entering the water and two more appeared as if they were waiting to come ashore. Remus, whose wife grew up near Big Fish Lake, accepted the inspection as a matter of course.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to,” Remus said.

___

Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com


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