With another fishing season off and running, it’s a good time to focus on the threats that our lakes face – specifically, aquatic invasive species.

A new resource, the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota, provides insight through an online dashboard called AIS Explorer. It predicts the introduction risk of aquatic invasive species and identifies the optimal placement of watercraft inspection locations for lakes across Minnesota.

In the latest installment of “Talking with the U of M,” Amy Kinsley, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the university, answered questions about the latest research into AIS and what boaters and anglers alike can do to stop the spread of AIS.

Here are some highlights:

Q: Are there any new aquatic invasive species of great concern?

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Dr. Kinsley: “Decorative moss balls infested with zebra mussels are a new concern in Minnesota. These small two-to-5-inch balls of green algae are sold at pet stores for aquarium decorations. This means that some aquarium owners may be inadvertently harboring zebra mussels in their tanks at home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking people who have recently purchased them to dispose of them by freezing them or putting them in hot water, salt or bleach, then placing them in a bag and in the trash. They also recommend disinfecting the tank and accessories after disposing of the moss balls.

“Although not necessarily a new AIS, one worth mentioning is spiny water flea, a small freshwater zooplankton. Spiny water fleas are important because they can impact populations of native zooplankton, leading to lower food availability for fish. Spiny water fleas can spread to uninfested lakes through fishing and boating equipment.

“One last point worth highlighting this year is the importance of properly disposing of baitfish. Since baitfish can harbor pathogens that can cause disease in native fish, it is important to never release unused bait and bait water into the waterways, but instead dispose of bait in a trash can on land and dump your bait water on land far from the shore."

Q: What does your latest work show on AIS?

Dr. Kinsley: “My recent efforts have focused on outlining a statewide surveillance and early detection system for AIS in Minnesota in response to a request by the state legislature. The program was described in detail in a report which outlined critical components of an effective program along with any necessary policy and funding changes. The report was submitted to the legislature in January 2021.

“Within the report, we discussed the challenges of surveillance and early detection. We also discussed the history and benefits of decision support tools and we introduced our new decision-support tool called AIS Explorer. This user-friendly, online platform helps AIS managers make efficient decisions about surveillance activities and watercraft inspections.”

Q: Why is the AIS Explorer dashboard necessary?

Dr. Kinsley: “Although many AIS currently inhabit our lakes and waterways, only about 8% of water bodies are currently infested, which is an important point because we have the opportunity to protect the remaining 92%. AIS Explorer is a free, publicly-accessible online tool that can support us in those efforts considering that there is a limited amount of money, people, and time available to do so. The AIS Explorer dashboard has two main functions: it helps 1) AIS managers visualize risk of new infestations to plan where to conduct surveillance activities, and 2) AIS managers plan their watercraft inspection programs by identifying the optimal locations for inspection stations. The tool is a result of the collaborative efforts of researchers from a variety of backgrounds and I urge anyone interested in AIS to check it out.”

Q: What is the No. 1 thing people can do to help in the fight against AIS, especially this year?

Dr. Kinsley: “One of the most important things that people can do is to clean, drain, and dry. By being familiar with and following state laws that help prevent the spread of AIS, including cleaning aquatic plants and any debris from boats, draining all water from your boat, removing drain plugs, wiping out residual water in live wells and bait buckets, and properly disposing of baitfish, we can all play a role in protecting our waterways from AIS.”