West Fargo

These days, most boaters exiting North Dakota waters are thinking about the risk of transporting aquatic nuisance species, like zebra mussels, to another body of water.

They are following rules for pulling plugs and draining water and that’s played a significant role in the fact that North Dakota doesn’t have a large presence of any ANS, except perhaps for common carp, which were here long before zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and silver carp.

Jessica Howell, the North Dakota State Game and Fish Department’s aquatic nuisance species coordinator, provided an interesting perspective on that in the May 2019 issue of “North Dakota OUTDOORS,” where she wrote: “It’s true that North Dakota waters receive a lot of fishing pressure, especially from anglers using boats. It’s estimated these anglers launch their boats more than 600,000 times in any given year. With many boaters traveling back and forth from infested waters in North Dakota and surrounding states, there is a risk of ANS hitchhiking on equipment or in water.”

The key word is “risk,” which means it’s not a given that ANS will spread into or within the state, if everyone keeps the rules and regulations in mind.

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Here’s a reminder of some of the rules established to help prevent the spread of ANS in North Dakota. Many of these regulations are also in place in surrounding states.

Plants and animals

  • All aquatic vegetation must be removed from all equipment before leaving a body of water.

  • Live aquatic vegetation may not be transported into North Dakota.

  • Stocking of any live fish, live fish eggs, live amphibians, or other live aquatic organism into any North Dakota water is illegal unless a license or permit is issued.

  • Dumping aquatic organisms in the water, on lake ice during the winter, or on shore is not permitted.


  • Water must be drained from boats and all other equipment when out of the water or upon entering the state.

  • All drain plugs that may hold back water must be removed, and water draining devices must be open on all equipment during any out-of-water transport. Transporting water that is still in livewells on fishing boats in one of the more common violations department game wardens still encounter. Instead, take a cooler with ice to transport catches home or to a fish cleaning station.


  • Live aquatic bait may not be imported into the state. Purchase from North Dakota bait vendors to ensure that the bait and water is not harboring ANS or fish diseases.

  • Live aquatic bait when in the state may be transported in water containers of five gallons or less in volume. The only exception is in Class I ANS waters (currently just the Red River), where all water must be drained from bait containers before leaving the shore, or as boats are removed from the water.

In the end, nobody wants to intentionally spread or introduce ANS, and game wardens would much rather see compliance with the laws than have to write tickets.