Proposed new rules designed to help stem the spread of invasive zebra mussels will have a big impact on boaters in Tarrant and 16 other North Texas counties.The proposed regulations by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would require boaters to drain all water from their vessels before leaving any public waters in the 17 counties centered around Dallas-Fort Worth.Ralph Duggins, a Fort Worth attorney who is the vice chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, said zebra mussels pose a growing threat to Texas waterways.Were trying everything we can try to prevent them from spreading. Its probably going to be inevitable but its worth a try to stem it, he said.We started a program several years ago that was educational but what is coming out now is ramping up that effort, Duggins added.Paul Wirta, president of North Texas Bass Anglers, said the new regulations could help slow the spread of zebra mussels.Invasive species are something that anglers really need to pay attention to, we need to police ourselves better and help educate others, he said.A lot of people hop from lake to lake and thats how we have invasive species in lakes and thats probably how zebra mussels spread. It seems more and more that we are faced with all sorts of invasive species, Wirta said. Changing operationsThe wildlife commission is expected to take action on the proposed change at its Nov. 7 meeting in Austin. Three public hearings on the proposal will be held in North Texas in October.The rules would apply to all types and sizes of boats, whether powered or not, as well as personal watercraft, sailboats or any other vessels, said Ken Kurzawski, project manager for the TPWDs inland fisheries section.We are going to have to change the way we operate, he said, noting that the rules would be in place in 23 lakes over 300 acres in size in the 17 counties. The agency already requires boaters to clean, drain and dry their crafts at lakes Texoma, Lavon, Ray Roberts, and Lewisville.We took a look at the Dallas-Fort Worth area and we are trying to create a buffer zone by extending it through whole counties. We think this will help to really slow down the spread, Kurzawski said.The proposed rule change will apply on all public waters in Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hood, Jack, Kaufman, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Stephens, Tarrant, Wise and Young counties.The regulations would require the draining of live wells, bilges, motors and any other receptacles or water intake systems.In addition, live fish could not be transported in water that comes from the lake where they were caught; personally caught live bait could only be used in the lake where it was caught; and no off-site fishing tournament weigh-ins would be allowed if live fish are being transported off a body of water in one of the affected counties.Anglers would be allowed to transport and use commercially purchased live bait in water provided they have a receipt that identifies the source of the bait. The regulations would be enforced by Texas game wardens, Kurzawski said, noting that failing to drain a boat could result in a citation.The goal isnt to ticket people, its to make people more aware of what the rules are. The regulation puts some teeth into it to get their attention, he said.Filter feedersZebra mussels became established in Texas in Lake Texoma in 2009. Last year, they were found in Lake Ray Roberts and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. This summer they were found in Lake Bridgeport on the West Fork of the Trinity River and in Lake Lewisville. The rapidly reproducing mussels, originally from Eurasia, pose a serious economic and recreational impact to water systems, Duggins said. Zebra mussels were first found in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, Mich., and are currently known to have infested 29 states.They can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors left in infested waters by covering boat hulls, clog water-cooling systems, annoy boat-dock owners by completely covering anything left under water, and make water recreation hazardous because of their sharp edges, according to TPWD.Zebra mussels are filter feeders, which means they compete with baitfish such as shad for available forage. Any impact on baitfish in turn can affect their predators game fish such as bass, striped bass and catfish. Zebra mussels are also very harmful to native mussel populations because they will colonize on their shells and essentially suffocate them.Duggins took notice on a recent trip to Grand Lake in Colorado where he saw the state game and fish department checking every boat coming and going from the lake.They are getting ahead of the game with these efforts. You cant put your boat in the water unless you get it checked. If you dont you get cited, he said.I think states are waking up that its a lot cheaper to spend money on the front end than to let the mussels get into the water supplies and then have to spend untold amounts of taxpayer dollars to deal with it, Duggins said.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp