SPIRIT LAKE — An Iowa Department of Natural Resources official says boaters and anglers play a key role in preventing the spread of invasive species that harm fish and native plants in lakes and rivers.

Mike Hawkins is a fisheries biologist who manages the DNR office in Spirit Lake.”The primary way that aquatic invasive species spread is to hitchhike a ride down the roadway and that’s usually on a boat, on a trailer,” Hawkins says. “…Any way that that organism – a plant or an animal — can hitchhike a way down the road and stay alive is how we’re moving these around into different lakes.”

Thoroughly cleaning boats and other items that come in contact with lake or river water is key, according to Hawkins. “That means taking off all the vegetation that might be on it, making sure that your bilges don’t have any water in them and live wells, bait buckets — things like that,” Hawkins says. “If folks can dry their vessel at least five days between water bodies, that’s ideal.”

If that’s not possible, a thorough power washing with hot water is recommended. The state fine is $500 if you’re caught transporting invasive species from one body of water to another. State regulations say all lake or river water is to be drained from a boat before it moves off the dock or shore. That includes buckets with fishing bait.

“If you’re taking bait along or taking it home, it needs to be in well water and most bait shops will fill your bait bucket with their well water before you leave,” Hawkins says. “Can’t be taking lake water down the road.”

Last year, highly invasive Eurasian watermilfoil was found growing in five lakes in Dickinson County and in Lost Island Lake in Palo Alto County. The plant can form thick mats and kill off native underwater plants that fish use as food. It’s an impediment to boating, too.