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DNR wants boaters and anglers to help in fight against invasive species, diseases

Boaters can be the first line of defense in stopping the spread of invasive water species say wildlife officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

"We all love our lakes. Help us protect them - practice good boating hygiene," said Rand Stark, chief conservation warden of the DNR.

The call for action went out after the discovery of hydrilla, a new invasive aquatic plant in Wisconsin waters.

This was on top of the discovery of a new fish disease called viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus last year that is known to be deadly to a wide-range of game fish including panfish and bait fish.

To help stem the spread, DNR officials are enlisting the help of Wisconsin's boaters and anglers.

According to Jeff Bode, who heads up the DNR's aquatic invasive species efforts, the main way that invasive species and diseases spread to new waters is aboard boating and fishing equipment,

"While most boaters take pride in cleaning their rig, we need everyone to take the steps to assure they're not part of the problem," said Bode.

DNR say there are several steps that can be taken to prevent the introduction of VHS, zebra mussels, or Eurasian water-milfoil to a favorite lake or river.

First, buy bait fish only from a Wisconsin bait dealer.

Next drain lake or river water from boat, live wells and bait containers before leaving a landing.

Also, don't move live fish away from any water, except for live minnows purchased from a Wisconsin bait dealer and kept under certain conditions.

Finally, inspect the boat and trailer, and remove all fish, mud and plant matter.

Water left in boat bilges, live wells and bait buckets can harbor young zebra mussels and the virus that causes VHS fish disease, as well as other invasive species.

Eurasian water milfoil, an invasive plant that forms thick mats at the water's surface, is easily snagged and carried on boat motors and trailers and a single fragment can colonize a new water.

Infected bait fish are the prime way that VHS fish disease can be moved inland to new lakes and rivers.

State rules prohibit the movement of water, plants and live fish, with limited exceptions for purchased minnows kept under certain conditions.

The VHS rules are in effect statewide to prevent the spread of VHS, and a 2001 law prevents people from launching a boat with any plants attached.

Conservation wardens and watercraft inspectors will be out on the water during the fishing opener.

Wardens will be working with the public to create a climate of compliance with rules through enforcement, education and local partnerships.

Violations can be called in to the hotline 800-TIP-WDNR.