More than 60 people attended the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association's fourth annual aquatic invasive species roundtable event Saturday, April 28, where seven speakers shared the latest information on many water quality and AIS related issues and opportunities relevant to this area.

Jake Frie, Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor, shared the county's 2018 AIS prevention plan and provided details on how the $450,000 state appropriations would be used to detect and prevent the spread of AIS.

He explained that most of the county resources would be focused on inspection of the 51 watercraft public accesses, operation of decontamination stations and education and enforcement. Area lake associations, like WAPOA and others, will augment the county inspectors' efforts by providing more than 16,000 hours of paid and volunteer inspection hours.

WAPOA President Tom Watson said 7 percent of Minnesota lakes are infested with AIS, up from 5 percent last year. Thirty-two lakes in Crow Wing County are infested with zebra mussels, and 15 have Eurasian watermilfoil. AIS infestations can adversely affect water quality, recreational use and fishing activities, and negatively affect property values.

Watson shared an overview of the Wright County mandatory watercraft inspection strategy that was approved again for 2018. Speakers from Wright County have been invited to present their challenges and successes with this program at a seminar sponsored by WAPOA in June. Watch the local newspapers and WAPOA emails for the date and location details.

Nick Phelps, director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC), updated the group on ongoing AIS research at the University of Minnesota and across the state. MAISRC uses interdisciplinary techniques to find research-based solutions to reduce the impact of AIS, prevent its spread, control existing populations, manage ecosystems, advance knowledge about AIS and inspire action.

Much effort is going into studying Eurasian watermilfoil, starry stonewort, spiny waterflea, zebra mussels, common and Asian carp, and pathogens that can infect fish. One study involves determining the effect of antifreeze and the time required to kill zebra mussels during boat winterization.

DNA analysis by MAISRC of the zebra mussels found across the state and in the Brainerd lakes area shows they have spread from lake to lake within the local area but have not come from other areas such as Lake Minnetonka, Leech Lake and Twin Cities lakes. This DNA information helped define how they were spread by people and watercrafts, and it may also lead to the discovery of a vulnerability of zebra mussels that could herald an effective biologic treatment.

In addition to the science-based findings that could be used in the fight against AIS, MAISRC is performing social science studies to learn how AIS is spread by people and to develop prevention techniques. They ask the questions "Can it get there?" and "If it does, can it survive?"

The answers can help decide where to place decontamination stations and where to post watercraft inspectors for the best education and prevention impact. MAISRC is involved in many interesting AIS research studies and will host a research and management showcase at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul on Sept. 12. For information on the event, visit www.MAISRC.umn.edu.

Bethany Bethke, DNR Fisheries research biologist from the French River-Duluth office, who also collaborates with MAISRC, talked about the effect of zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas on sport fish. It is known that zebra mussels filter out the phytoplankton, and spiny waterfleas filter out and deplete zooplankton in the lakes. Plankton are eaten by small walleye and other small fish.

Bethke and her team are studying nine major walleye lakes in Minnesota, some of which are infested with zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas and/or starry stonewort, and some that have no AIS. They are collecting data on these lakes, including walleye numbers, zooplankton levels, and growth of small walleye and yellow perch to see if there is a correlation between fish size and AIS levels.

They collect samples throughout the season and use isotope analysis of fish tissue to determine what they have eaten the past three months. This study will determine the nutrient levels in the tissue (nitrogen and carbon) and identify where the fish are eating and what they are eating. They can then compare the tissue data of fish from infested lakes with fish in uninfested lakes to assess the impact of AIS on sport fish populations. The data and conclusions from this research project will be published in mid-2019.

A presentation and discussion of how to engage high school and middle school students in AIS control was led by Pequot Lakes High School Principal Aaron Nelson; Jessica Malady, PLHS STEM and biology teacher; Mike O'Neil, Pequot Lakes Middle School principal; and Todd Lyscio, Crosslake Community School director.

Students at these and other schools could tap into existing, successful AIS educational projects and programs sponsored by area lake associations and others in the fight against AIS. Students would learn data collection skills and how to apply their findings to the existing problem. WAPOA, MAISRC and the school administrators all agreed that getting young people involved would be an effective tool. WAPOA will work with these schools to get students involved in protecting water quality.

Joe Brodil, AIS director for WAPOA, presented information on the AIS Detector Program. The program is looking for volunteers to be "certified" as ASI detectors by learning how to identify AIS through both online and in-person classes. Detectors would help citizens identify potential AIS on their lake or other local lake property.

The next AIS detector class will be Friday, May 18. For more information, email Brodil at jmbrodil@live.com.

Nick Phelps, of MAISRC said: "None of us is as smart as all of us."

It will take concerted effort and collaboration by many government and community groups, lake associations, scientists and individual citizens to prevent the spread of AIS, control existing populations and educate and inspire everyone who enjoys the lakes to do all they can to protect this valuable natural resource.