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The Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota is restricting fishing bait from other states for fear of non-native critters like the zebra mussel, but officials acknowledge enforcement could be a problem.

"We really count on people being honest," said Terry Steinwand, fisheries chief for the state Game and Fish Department.

Under the rule taking effect today, anglers must get a $200 license to bring live bait such as minnows, leeches, worms and nightcrawlers across state lines. The rule was approved by the department and Gov. John Hoeven.

Officials want anglers to buy all their bait in the state in order to prevent the spread of nonnative fish and pests such as the zebra mussel, which has been found in more than two dozen states and has caused extensive damage in the Great Lakes region.

Another worry is a small fish called the rudd, a notorious egg-eater that can carry a tapeworm parasite. The rudd has been found in South Dakota.

"Once they're established, it is almost impossible to get rid of them," Steinwand said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials did not immediately know how many states restrict the import of live bait. Two of North Dakota's neighbors, Montana and Minnesota, have had such restrictions for years.

The percentage of anglers who bring in out-of-state live bait is low, Steinwand said. He said he does not expect the new rule to boost business much for the state's 300 licensed bait vendors.

Montana has an absolute ban on imported live bait fish, aside from some exceptions on two reservoirs shared with Wyoming. It was prompted by the unintentional introduction of fish such as northern pike, predators that are damaging the state's trout fisheries, said Jim Peterson, fish health coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"I suspect there are minnows that are being imported illegally," Peterson said. "Once they have them in the state … it's pretty tough to know where those minnows came from. But people in general are trying to do the right thing."

Montana's maximum punishment for the misdemeanor is a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, but Peterson said officials would probably not try to jail violators.

North Dakota's new regulation carries a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

Minnesota bans imports of live bait but fines vary from county to county, said Roy Johannes, fisheries program consultant for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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