Scary Starry Stonewort stories spun Pelican Lake activist calls on lawmakers for aquatic invasive species funding; hefty fines for illegal boat, equipment transport

Photo by Tom Hintgen State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, left, and State Rep. Bud Nornes held Town Hall gatherings for constituents Jan. 3 in Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids and Perham.

Dramatic increases in fines–plus aggressive inspections of Great Lakes freight vessels–were urged  in an effort to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species.

New dangers are posed by a frightfully prolific algae: Starry Stonewort.  And lake activists are fearing that the alien invader would far overshadow the threat from  zebra mussels.

Instead of a “slap of the wrist” for illegally transporting boats or equipment to Minnesota lakes–violators should be fined heavily. 

“There’s too much to lose,” said Dave Majkrzak, Pelican Lake, who outlined his concerns at the Jan. 3 legislative town meeting with Republican State Rep. Bud Nornes and State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen.  

Illegally transporting agriculture produce like apples or bananas can cost thousands of dollars in fines. Similarly stiff penalties should face violators when it comes to the potential of transporting invasive aquatic species, said Majkrzak. 

Agriculture and tourism are the two top industries in Otter Tail County, noted Majkrzak. Infestations of recreational waters are a potentially crippling blow to the lake region economy, he said. 

“We can’t afford to be wrong,” said Majkrzak, on issues that are critical to water quality.  He called on legislators to increase funding for the fight against invasive species. 

Lakeshore property values, which generate tens of millions of dollars for the counties, townships and schools, are not rising at the rate they have in the past.  On Mille Lacs, for example, some property values have actually declined–which in part may be attributed to invasive species. 

There are at least 29 invasive species in Minnesota waters–virtually all of them making their way to the state from the Great Lakes.  Majkrzak urged the legislators to take a tougher stance on Great Lakes inspections and marine policy. 

Starry stonewort is among the “exports” from the Great Lakes and beyond. 

Controlling the spread is currently limited to “harvesting by hand,” said Majkrzak. In one instance, lake activists are spending $300,000 to treat only 200 acres–and the efforts are only aimed at “controlling” the invasive algae–not eliminating it. 

Starry Stonewort impacts include: 

• Dense mats at the water’s surface inhibit water recreationists.

• Overtakes habitat and outcompetes native aquatic plants, potentially lowering diversity.

• Provides unsuitable shelter, food, and nesting habitat for native animals.

There are no easy answers, said Sen. Ingebrigtsen. Calls for “quarentine” on infested lakes are politically charged, he added. 

“If you even mention quarentine to an outdoors sportsman, and they’ll grab you by the neck,” said Ingebrigtsen.