"This isn't just for boaters. It's not just about people who actually use our lakes. This is for everyone."
That was one of the takeaways as Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN-3) hosted a round table discussion about aquatic invasive species with local experts and community leaders in Medicine Lake, Minnesota.
During a recent tour of all 36 cities and towns in his district, Phillips heard that invasive species such as zebra mussels, goldfish, Asian carp, and Eurasian milfoil are major problems for municipalities, businesses and residents throughout the region.
"The more I learn about this issue the more I realize it's not just a local problem, and not just a regional problem, but a national one," said the first-term Congressman who is a recreational boater himself. "I am also beginning to understand there really isn't a centralized effort to combat this growing problem."
John Gunyou is the board chair and District 4 Representative for the Twin Cities' Three Rivers Park District, and he says they are finding invasive species, usually zebra mussels, in about 3% of all the boats they inspect. And that when you multiply that rate over thousands of launches, it's just too many invasive species hitchhiking from lake to lake.
"There has to be a much stronger commitment at so many levels if we are going to solve this. The dollars we receive to educate and enforce are so minuscule in comparison to the size of the problem."
Gabriel Jabbour is a marina owner and boat builder on Lake Minnetonka, the largest lake in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. He said there are 62,000 launches on the lake annually, and thinks the "penalties simply aren't severe enough to punish bad behavior." He also asked about federal funding.
"In order to get funding you need plans," answered Congressman Phillips, who asked everyone in the group if they could reconvene for more rigorous dialogue and debate, something all 10 people at the round table agreed to.
Phillips went on to say he sees this kind of discussion as a beginning, not an end.
"Mandatory inspections, education, more teeth in fines, I think we should be looking at all of those things, and maybe more. I am just starting my education, but I do want to be a stronger advocate on this issue."