A law created earlier this year that gives state officials more authority to inspect boats was being utilized for the first time as a highway checkpoint near Mitchell.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks on Thursday set up along Interstate 90 directing boaters who were traveling to and leaving from the state’s water bodies to ensure aquatic invasive species (AIS) weren’t traveling along.
B.J. Schall, GF&P fisheries biologist from Sioux Falls, said the AIS rule compliance check was held for about seven hours near Mitchell. At least 40 boats were inspected and there were no citations issued. Stations were set up to check both eastbound and westbound traffic.
The compliance checks, he said, will be held in high boat traffic areas throughout the state to prevent spreading of AIS such as zebra mussels, rusty crawfish and curly pondweed, among others. Schall said officials will be conducting checks throughout South Dakota about four times per week from now until Labor Day. Some locations will be held daily.
“One of the things we’ve been telling boaters is for them to get through the inspection process quickly is to clean, drain and dry their boat,” he said, “making sure they don’t have any plants, animals or mud on the outside of their boat when they leave the lake.”
“They also should make sure that they’ve pulled all their boat’s plugs — that’s one of the major areas they would be ticketed for. And, don’t move lake water. That includes lake water affiliated with bait.”
A series of three signs directed traffic Thursday to the inspection area. Schall said some people drove past without getting checked, but a GF&P conservation officer pulled them back to go through the mandated checkpoint.
“Even if they have something as simple as a kayak or paddleboard, they still have to exit for the inspection,” he said.
The emphasis to check boats is due in part from the discovery of zebra mussels in Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case — sections of the Missouri River — in the summer of 2019. Schall said once zebra mussels enter a reservoir, “it’s almost impossible to eradicate them.”
Other water bodies in the state with confirmed zebra mussels are Lewis and Clark Lake, the Missouri River below Gavins Point Dam, McCook Lake in Union County and Lake Yankton.
Earlier this year, the legislature enacted House Bill 1033, which allows GF&P inspection stations at “any location within the state including instate borders, highways and other roads, locations adjacent to or near public waters, and at department offices.”
During an inspection, one of three types of checks could occur, Schall said. A 1-2 minute risk assessment and visual inspection; a more thorough 5-minute inspection due to higher risks; or a full decontamination could be required if any AIS is found on the watercraft.
The contamination checks have been ongoing since early June at some lake access areas across South Dakota. Schall said at least two people and a conservation officer will typically be at each checkpoint location. Failure to comply with the checks is a Class 2 misdemeanor and an $85 fine, and a second violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"Compliance with these regulations is a key factor to ensure the best possible future for the state’s fisheries and water recreational resources," said GF&P regional conservation officer program manager Dale Gates in a press release.
For more information on AIS and South Dakota’s laws, go to sdleastwanted.com.
— The Mitchell Republic's Matt Gade contributed to this report.