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New regulations hope to prevent the establishment of non-native wildlife species

North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials constantly review data in an effort to effectively evaluate current populations and risks to wildlife in the state.

As a result, they routinely change or update regulations each year in order to best serve wildlife and 2008 is no different.

The Game and Fish has instituted new guidelines to hopefully prevent non-native aquatic species from calling North Dakota's waterways home for the 2008 fishing season.

"In the past, anglers and boaters were encouraged to practice ANS (Aquatic Nuisance Species) guidelines," Fisheries Division Chief Greg Power said. "Now these guidelines are rules that must be followed. It is vital that water users understand these important requirements."

As of April 1, all individuals who utilize the state's water resources for recreational or fishing purposes must follow the new guidelines.

Aquatic Nuisance Species are any species of plants, animals or diseases that are not native to North Dakota and could possibly become well-established in the region.

North Dakota is affected by non-native species in a couple of areas. The curly leaf pondweed is active in the Missouri River system and the Eurasian water milfoil is in parts of the Sheyenne River drainage. Common carp is another species that has caused issues in the past.

"Potential ecological and environment impacts can be very serious," Power said. "There are a lot of things that can be pretty nasty."

Game and Fish ANS coordinator Lynn Schlueter said the department is actively trying to prevent the establishment of these non-native species so it can avoid a situation like that on the prairie.

"These are problems that, if you get them, you can't get rid of them. If the guy that had seen the first leafy spurge, purple loosestrife or salt cedar had pulled that out of the ground, this area would be a much better place," Schlueter said. "...We look at it as just a concern, but it really becomes a problem when it's in our backyard. So why don't we prevent it from getting here in the first place."

Schlueter added the spread of ANS is wholly preventable and the guidelines issued make the process of prevention extremely simple.

To be in full compliance with the new regulations, water enthusiasts are encouraged to inspect their watercraft, as well as trailers and other related equipment, after leaving the water to remove all aquatic vegetation.

Power said basically, if it grows in the body of water you are fishing in, then it should stay in the body of water you are fishing in.

"The threat every year is getting more and more serious, that the stuff is getting moved around," Power said.

Power said three steps are suggested to help follow the regulations -- inspection of the boat, removal of weeds and the pulling of plugs on the boats.

Along with these three steps, it is imperative that anglers do not bring in live bait from out of state, nor dump bait into North Dakota waters.

Schlueter said bait is a major concern and the Game and Fish Department is actively reviewing bait shop inventories to make sure shops are selling "clean" bait or bait that does not pose an ecological risk to the water habitat in the state.

"We take the precautions, we get the benefits," Schlueter said. "It's not that hard."

Power added although the new regulations are going to be enforced, there is most likely going to be a learning curve.

"We don't expect, come April be in full compliance," Power said. "The enforcement part of it will most likely be a lot of warnings and not many tickets in the first year."

Several other new regulations this year not pertaining to ANS include clarifications on "wanton waste" and the gifting of fish.

Wanton waste is all consumable parts of a fish that are otherwise disposed of. Power said the practice of destroying fish has become all too common and the Game and Fish hopes to change that.

"If you're going to catch and kill a fish they've got to serve some kind of purpose."

The Game and Fish hopes a new clarification regarding the gifting of fish helps to end the destruction of good, edible fish.

Individuals are permitted to gift a fish, or fishes, if they clearly mark the package containing their fish with their name, fishing license number, phone number, date, the species and number of fish contained in the package.

"What we're saying is 'Yes you can give them to someone to eat and that you shouldn't waste them,'" Power said.

Power and Schlueter both said they hope the new regulations help to clarify rules from the past, while also promoting an enjoyable fishing environment for everyone.

"A lot of this was just clarification," Power said. "Taking an area that was gray and making it black and white."

"The ANS regulations are actually designed to provide for the future of aquatic recreation in the state," Schlueter said. "Right now, North Dakota only has a few problem spots and we want to keep it that way."