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You've heard the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

It certainly applies to invasive plants and animals that threaten, or already exist, in North Dakota’s landscapes and waterways.
bait regulations are in place to reduce the odds of invasive species such as carp from entering a fisheryIt would be difficult to find anyone who would advocate for allowing carp to enter into new waterways or letting a few plants of leafy spurge expand uncontrolled on Conservation Reserve Program or pasture land. Carp can ruin a fishery and spurge will overtake a grassland. In either case, once an invasive species is established, if there is a fix at all, it is an expensive one.

That is the philosophy behind North Dakota’s evolving baitfish and aquatic nuisance species regulations. Currently, fathead minnows, creek chubs and sticklebacks are the only legal live baitfish in most North Dakota waters. The only exception is that white suckers can be used in the Red River.

This bait regulation is meant as another means of protection for the 250-plus managed fishing waters in North Dakota. In addition, the state still manages 20 waters where it is illegal to use any live baitfish.

The final responsibility to use the proper bait is on the angler, but retail and wholesale bait vendors are also a part of this “ounce of prevention” philosophy.

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t imagine any anglers intentionally introducing bullheads or carp into a local fishery, just as no one would fertilize and water leafy spurge. But good intentions aren't always enough. Some of North Dakota’s other laws designed to prevent the introduction or spread of undesirable fish or other aquatic nuisance species include:

  • Baitfish held in a bait bucket or other container may not be released into any North Dakota waters.
  • Bait buckets, or any container used to hold bait, must be free of aquatic vegetation.
  • Neither water nor aquatic bait can be in livewells when entering the state.
  • All legal live aquatic organisms used by anglers – including fathead minnows, salamanders, frogs, crayfish and leeches – must be purchased or trapped in North Dakota. They cannot be imported into the state. The purpose of this regulation is to provide better control against unintentional introduction of aquatic nuisance species.
  • Using game fish or parts of game fish as bait is illegal, except for perch eyes, and trout and salmon eggs.
  • No live baitfish can be imported into North Dakota, but other aquatic bait (leeches) is allowed with a bait vendor’s license, as long as no vegetation is in the water, and the water is potable (treated for drinking) or well water.
  • Retail and wholesale vendors can trap bait only in legal North Dakota water bodies. The following are not legal waters for trapping bait: all rivers and streams; fishing waters or waterfowl areas owned or leased by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Retail vendors are required to have vegetation-free bait tanks.
  • Only North Dakota water from legal water bodies, well water or potable water can be used for transporting live bait in distribution tanks.

For the last few years, individual anglers have not been allowed to bring any live baitfish, even fatheads, into North Dakota, because of their potential to carry hidden undesirable species.

These days, that threat applies to more than just unwanted fish. Bait buckets from out of state could easily carry aquatic nuisance species such as Eurasian water milfoil fragments, zebra mussel larvae, spiny water fleas or several other threats that could invade the state’s clean lakes.

In fact, it is illegal for individual anglers to bring into North Dakota any kind of live bait, including leeches and night crawlers.

It all comes back to North Dakota taking necessary steps to give our fishing waters the best chance of maintaining healthy and viable fisheries, not just in the short term and from the obvious threats, but for generations to come. Reducing the threat from undesirable species on land and water is part of the equation.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:



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