MADISON -- As fishing activity ramps up in waters with early season opportunities and anticipation builds for the general inland season fishing opener on May 6, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers that a few extra minutes spent emptying live wells and cleaning plant debris from anchors and trailers plays a critical role in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.
DNR research covering 1,000 state lakes released in October 2016 shows the spread of aquatic invasive species has not increased, as would be predicted, but rather has remained stable - an indicator that prevention efforts may be playing a role. Given the recent identification of a few highly undesirable species such as starry stonewort and round gobies in a limited number of inland waters, continued prevention efforts are more important than ever, said Bob Wakeman, DNR's aquatic invasive species coordinator.
"Our research shows that many of the most concerning invaders are being successfully kept out of the majority of lakes," Wakeman said. "For example, 90 percent of our lakes remain free of zebra mussels and 75 percent of our lakes remain free of Eurasian water milfoil. With continued vigilance, we hope to prevent the spread of these and other invasives, which will allow for greater focus on eradication of some species where possible."
Key tips for anglers include never using aquatic invasive species as bait and never dumping unused live bait into the water. Wisconsin's bait laws are designed to prevent the spread of both obvious hitchhikers and other, less visible invaders capable of harming waterways and healthy aquatic communities.
"You may take leftover minnows purchased from a Wisconsin bait dealer away from any state water and use them again on that same water," Wakeman said. "You may use leftover minnows on other waters only if no lake or river water, or other fish were added to the container."
When deciding to use minnows, anglers must remember minnow harvest is prohibited on all viral hemorrhagic septicemia known and suspect waters. VHS is a deadly fish virus threatening Wisconsin muskies, walleye, lake whitefish, yellow perch and more. The prohibited area includes Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Winnebago system, the Mississippi River, the Wisconsin River up to the Prairie de Sac Dam and all waters connected to these waters up to the first barrier impassable to fish.
Anglers fishing the lower Fox River and Lake Winnebago system are again being asked for special help to guard against further spread of the round goby. Round gobies can survive even in poor quality water, spawn multiple times per season and displace native fish by eating their eggs and young, taking over optimal habitat.
Gobies have become common in some areas of the state such as Lake Michigan and Green Bay but remain on the Chapter NR 40 list as a restricted invasive species. It is illegal to possess, transport, transfer or introduce live gobies, including using them as bait.
While there is no evidence that gobies have reached Lake Winnebago, DNR continues to encourage Winnebago area anglers to report any goby catches through an online survey tool to help determine the extent of gobies in the region and develop a management strategy. The online tool also allows anglers to upload photos of suspected gobies for positive identification.
Anglers who catch gobies on Lake Winnebago, other parts of the Winnebago System or the lower Fox River below the Neenah and Menasha dams during the 2017 fishing season are encouraged to kill the fish by putting them on ice and bringing them to the DNR Oshkosh office, 625 E. County Road Y, Suite 700, Oshkosh, Wis., 54901-9731. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Anglers also may call 920-424-7880 to report gobies.
Other tips to prevent the spread of AIS include bringing your day's catch home on ice rather than transporting live fish in water. And, it's important to check, clean and/or drain trailers, live wells and anchors to avoid giving other types of unwanted aquatic hitchhikers a lift.
"We're grateful for continued efforts by anglers to 'Inspect, Remove, Drain and Never Move live fish' to help stop aquatic hitchhikers." Wakeman said. "If every boater and angler took a few minutes to perform these actions before leaving a lake or river, new discoveries of AIS could be even lower."
To learn more, visit the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, and search "aquatic invasive species." The general Wisconsin fishing season runs from May 6, 2017 to March 4, 2018. To learn more about statewide fishing regulations and rules that apply on specific lakes, search "fishing regulations." For a complete calendar, search "fishing season dates."