US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



FINAL REPORT: Biota Survey for Devils Lake, ND


U.S. government work.


This biota survey was undertaken to help address recognized data gaps about aquatic biota of concern in Devils Lake, North Dakota. This effort stems from a collaborative process that involved interested jurisdictions that could be affected by the operation of the State of North Dakota's Devils Lake outlet. These jurisdictions include the State of North Dakota, the State of Minnesota, the Province of Manitoba, and the federal governments of Canada and the United States. The purpose of this biota survey is to provide additional information regarding the presence of targeted aquatic biota of concern in Devils Lake. To assure scientific integrity, the results must be viewed and evaluated in relation to the following caveats:

  • The participants recognize that no sampling method is guaranteed to provide evidence of every single species present in a prescribed area. However, additional information is always useful, and the current survey provides an updated picture of Devils Lake's biota relative to previous studies.
  • Data collection efforts were focused primarily on detecting the presence or absence of a targeted list of biota of concern that all jurisdictions recognized to be of most concern and do not represent a comprehensive survey of biota in Devils Lake.
  • This effort did not survey and did not alleviate existing data gaps in the knowledge of the Sheyenne River, Red River and its tributaries, Lake Winnipeg or other parts of the Nelson River system, nor does it represent a risk assessment.
  • The present fish parasite and pathogens survey was based on samples at one point in time. The occurrence and prevalence of certain fish pathogens may be variably affected by life history characteristics and environmental factors at other times of the year, especially those that cause or increase stress in fish.
  • Due to the fact that the present survey represents results from a single time period, the survey results should inform, but not be the sole determinant of, the process to design and construct a more advance filtration system and/or disinfection system for the Devils Lake outlet that may be required to prevent the potential transfer of biota of concern from Devils Lake to the receiving waters through the operation of an outlet.

The list of targeted biota of concern included:

  • Aquatic macrophytes of concern - flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), curly leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), and brittle naiad (Najas minor).
  • Aquatic invertebrates of concern - rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus), zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina spp.), spiny water flea (Bythotrephes cederstroemi), an exotic daphniid (Daphnia lumholtzi) quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum), and an "exotic" amphipod (Echinogammarus ischnus).
  • Fish of concern – striped bass (Morone saxatilis).
  • Sampling was conducted from July 26 to July 30, 2005, utilizing agreed-upon methods for sampling aquatic biota of concern and for selecting sites to sample throughout the lake. This survey was based upon a rapid and cursory evaluation approach developed by the participating jurisdictions.
  • None of the target aquatic invertebrates or macrophytes of concern were recorded or collected during this survey. This may be because they are not present in Devils Lake. However, due to seasonal community composition shifts, some species of concern may not have been detected either because the sampling was during the summer or because they occur in low abundance.
  • Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed fish from Devils Lake for pathogens and parasites following the National Wild Fish Health Survey protocols.
  • Over 300 fish from seven species were examined and tested from Devils Lake using the protocols of the National Wild Fish Health Survey. Antigen of Renibacterium salmoninarum, causative agent of bacterial kidney disease, was detected in all fish species by the enzyme-linked
  • immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Confirmation tests were conducted on a total of 21 fish representing seven different fish species and failed to confirm the presence of this agent. Gyrodactylus hoffmani was initially identified as a species of concern, but was not found during this survey. Striped bass was listed as a fish of concern, but no specific sampling occurred during this survey. However, over 11,000 hours of sampling (2000-2004), with 50,000 fish netted, and over a million angler hours a year, have failed to yield a single record of a striped bass since 1993.
  • We also report on other aquatic biota found during the course of this effort. The results of this effort must be considered in light of the applicable caveats listed above. Additionally, the limitations of the effort as it relates to detecting seasonal variations, if any, of Devils Lake biota must be recognized when evaluating the results since sampling only occurred during the summer period. All of the information gathered in this report should inform discussions about long-term monitoring efforts.

Coordination Team

The following personnel were involved in the coordination of the July 25-30, 2005 biota survey and preparation of this report:

  • Dr. Kevin Cash, Environment Canada
  • Mr. Randall Devendorf, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – St. Paul District
  • Dr. Jeffrey Fisher, U.S.Department of State
  • Dr. William Franzin, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Mr. Mike Noone, North Dakota State Water Commission
  • Ms. Lee Pfannmuller, State of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Mr. Mike Sauer, North Dakota Department of Health
  • Mr. Terry Steinwand, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
  • Mr. Dwight Williamson, Manitoba Water Stewardship
  • Dr. Dave Wright, State of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Mr. Bryan Arroy, Council on Environmental Quality