Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)

Aquatic Invasive Species are non-native plants, fish, invertebrates and microbes. These species tend to spread rapidly in new areas, out-compete resident species, and cause ecological or economic harm and harm to human and pet health. Minnesota DNR’s Guide to Aquatic Invasives or MN Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center for examples.

In an effort to stop these aquatic hitchhikers, North St Louis Soil & Water Conservation District first implemented a watercraft inspection and decontamination program in 2016 on Lake Vermilion in partnership with the Vermilion Lake Association. This program, generously funded by St. Louis County AIS Prevention Funds, has since grown. In 2021 watercraft inspections and decontaminations were conducted at Bear Island, Birch, Burntside, Crane, Ely, Gilbert-Pit, Kabetogama, Pelican, Shagawa and Vermilion Lakes. Our program’s expansion and efficiency would not be possible without support from St. Louis County, Lake Representatives, Resort Participants, and collaboration with DNR and other Watercraft Inspection Programs from across the state.

Watercraft inspectors are trained by the DNR and are authorized to deny launch if your watercraft is contaminated with Aquatic Invasive Species. As authorized agents of the DNR, it is required that you have your watercraft inspected before landing and upon departure, if an inspector is present.


What if your watercraft is considered to be contaminated? Before launching your watercraft on any body of water, you can clean your boat. You may also use one of our free boat decontamination stations. Staff at the decontamination stations are trained and certified by the DNR on the high-temperature rinse and high pressure spray unit.

How can you help Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers?

By following simple procedures each time you leave the water, you can stop aquatic hitchhikers.

  • CLEAN watercraft, trailer, motor, and water-related equipment. REMOVE visible aquatic plants, mussels, other animals, and mud before leaving any water access.
  • DRAIN water-related equipment (boat, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, motor) and drain  bilge, livewell and baitwell by removing drain plugs before leaving a water access or shoreline property. Keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft.
  • DRY watercraft and water-related equipment or the recommended 5 days. Micro plant particles and zebra mussel veligers can survive in small amounts of water and be transported to new water bodies if not given the proper dry time.
  • DISPOSE of unwanted bait, including minnows, leeches, and worms, in the trash. It is illegal to release bait into a waterbody or release aquatic animals from one waterbody to another. If you want to keep your bait, you must refill the bait container with bottled or tap water.
  • Habitattitude – Adopt a conservation mentality. Protect our environment by not releasing unwanted fish and aquatic plants from your aquarium, backyard pond or water garden. If you have an undesirable aquatic plant or fish species in your aquarium or water garden, it is important not to release these plants or animals into the environment. While most of them will die, some survive. And they have the potential to create negative impacts on our natural environment.
  • Read on the latest research at Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center! There are nearly three dozen AIS — about an equal number of plants, fishes, invertebrates, and microbes — that MAISRC currently considers high-risk for Minnesota and in need of research into their detection, prevention and control. Learn more about these priority species by watching the video below.


Answers to Common AIS Questions

  • AIS can be stopped; waterfowl do not spread zebra or quagga mussels.
    • The spread of AIS follows the highways not the flyways. There is no evidence or reliable research that water in the bill of a pelican or a cormorant spreads AIS. There are no known infestations contributed to by this vector.
  • Inspections lower the risk of AIS transfer.
    • Everyone is responsible to protect our water resources. Inconvenience does not trump being a responsible boater.
  • Introducing a new invasive to a waterway only compounds issues.
    • There are many other aquatic invasive species on their way to Minnesota that can be more devastating than zebra mussels. Quagga mussels can out-compete zebra mussels for food and live in much deeper depths of water. Hydrilla is like milfoil on steroids. In addition, the impact of individual AIS becomes more complex with each invasive in a water body. Once a water body has one invasive, it becomes more important to keep any other AIS out.
  • Inspections are necessary between launches, even in non-infested waters.
    • It is impossible to know which lake may already be infested, therefore it is necessary to assume all water bodies may be infested. It takes 2-3 years after an infestation to discover a colony of mussels.
  • Decontamination is worth the time.
    • On average, ballast tank decontamination will take about 30 minutes. The outdrive (lower unit) of an engine will take about 10 minutes. Decontaminating an average boat without any tanks or live wells could take less than 30 minutes.
North St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District

505 3rd St N, Ste A,
Virginia, MN 55792
Office Hours: 8:30 - 4 Monday-Friday and by appointment

Upcoming Board Meetings

Wednesday, October 18th at 10:30 a.m.
This meeting will be held in-person at the SWCD office. A link is available to join virtually by contacting Anita at least 2 hours prior to the meeting. The public is welcome to attend.

View Meeting Schedule »
Minnesota Clean Air and Water Legacy Amendment