Draining Boats and Livewells Can Stop Invasive Species in Their Tracks

June 04, 2015
Pete Jopke, Water Resources Planner(608) 224-3733 Erika Hotchkiss, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator (608) 224-3762
Land & Water Resources

You may know to inspect your boat for weeds before you leave the lake, but did you know some of Wisconsin’s worst aquatic invasive species (AIS) can spread through transported water? Invaders like zebra mussel larvae or spiny water fleas – too small to readily see – can survive to the next lake when water is left in your livewell, buckets, bilge, motor or equipment.


That’s why AIS staff in Dane County will be reminding anglers and boaters to drain their gear this summer before hitting the road.  This important message is part of the county’s ongoing work to prevent the spread of AIS to and from local waters.  Sue Jones, Dane County Watershed Management Coordinator, cites a recent study estimating the total annual expenditures of Dane County tourists who motorboat or fish in excess of $77 million per year. “We are working to keep our waters healthy so that they also continue to be popular destinations for recreational enjoyment and an economic boost to our community.”


Pete Jopke, Water Resources Planner with the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, explains that once your day’s catch is out of water, the fish aren’t considered live and can be safely transported home. Since fish need to be kept fresh on the road, Jopke suggests an alternative to livewells that is already preferred by many anglers: ice.

To help anglers out, Dane County AIS Staff will be handing out ice packs at boat landings on June 12-14 as part of a statewide effort to make sure anglers know the rules on fish and water transport. “We know some folks are used to taking their catch home in livewells,” says Jopke, “but ice is a legal and better way to get those fish home. It stops any bacterial growth, and then your catch isn’t ingesting the fish toxins that concentrate in fouled, low-oxygen water on the way home, which some say affects the taste.”


Jopke continues, “You also don’t want that water making it to a new lake. Fish diseases or very small invasive species can get around that way. ” In particular, the invasive spiny water fleas in the Yahara Chain of Lakes can negatively impact water quality. Earlier this spring on Lake Mendota, one type of algae-eating native zooplankton (tiny animals found near the lake surface) was so diminished by the spiny water fleas that they couldn’t keep algae from clouding the lake.  (On June 11, UW-Madison researchers will make a presentation about this to the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission at 5:30 p.m. in City-County Building Room 354).

Drying your boat for five days can help kill any AIS in residual water, but a simple disinfection process that the Department of Natural Resources uses can do the job for those who plan to change lakes sooner. Mix up 2.5 tablespoons bleach per one gallon of water, spray it on, and keep your boat and livewell wet with that for 10 minutes.

Jones thanks boaters and anglers for following all the AIS prevention steps, including draining. “No one wants to bring zebra mussels to a new lake just because they forgot to pull the plug.”


AIS Prevention Steps


It takes just a few minutes at the landing to keep our lakes beautiful and our fish healthy. Know the laws and follow the AIS prevention steps every time you leave the water.


INSPECT boats, trailers and equipment.

REMOVE all attached aquatic plants and animals.

DRAIN all water from boats, vehicles, equipment including livewells and buckets containing fish.

NEVER MOVE plants or live fish away from a waterbody.

DISPOSE of unwanted bait in the trash

BUY minnows from a Wisconsin bait dealer. Use leftover minnows only under certain conditions*

*You may take leftover minnows away from any state water and use them again on that same water. You may use leftover minnows on other waters only if no lake or river water or other fish were added to their container.


For more information visit http://www.danewaters.com/ .