Boating and fishing law changes in Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act take effect on March 21st.

The law requires Michigan boaters and anglers to be careful not to spread invasive species or introduce a new species to an area which may cause a disease.

In addition to the existing law requiring all aquatic plants be removed from boats and trailers before launching, the changes require boaters to pull plugs, drain water as well as remove plants and debris from all watercraft, trailers and other conveyances, prior to transporting any watercraft over land.

Draining boats and cleaning trailers can limit the spread of zebra and quagga mussels, which are common in some inland lakes. A more recent invader, the tiny New Zealand mudsnail, can hitchhike from river to river when mud or debris is left on kayaks, canoes and gear.

“Many invasive species move from one location to another with the help of human transportation,” said Kevin Walters, an aquatic biologist with the DEQ. “Plants like Eurasian watermilfoil or starry stonewort can travel from lake to lake on boats and trailers. Just one plant fragment can start a new population.”

Moving fish from one body of water to another can spread fish diseases, like heterosporis, a parasite of yellow perch, and viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, a serious disease that can affect many fish species. Fish diseases also can be spread to new locations when water carrying parasites or infection is transferred via bilges, live wells or ballast tanks.

“It is important to clarify that anglers are allowed to catch and release fish,” said Seth Herbst, the DNR’s aquatic species and regulatory affairs manager. “Anglers who are catching and releasing fish should only release the fish back into the same water or in a connecting body of water the fish could have reached on its own.”

Any baitfish an angler collects can only be used in the waters where it was originally collected. Unused baitfish should be disposed of on land or in the trash, but never in the water.

A simple rules of thumb to help anglers navigate these laws is remember when practicing catch-and-release fishing, return the fish to the water where it was caught.