In an effort to slow the spread of zebra mussels, the destructive invasive species slowly infiltrating Texas lakes, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Thursday approved statewide rules about draining boats before moving them to another lake.
“The hope is that we could prevent the spread, but the reality is it is probably going to be very difficult to achieve that. But we certainly are going to try,” said Ralph Duggins, a local attorney and the vice-chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Boater traffic is thought to be the main way zebra mussels reached Texas, first showing up in Lake Texoma in 2009, after first showing up in Great Lakes nearly 30 years ago.
The mussel “is one of the most problematic invasive aquatic species,” said Duggins, because it clogs public-water intake pipes, boat motors and negatively impacts the natural ecosystem of lakes.
The Tarrant Regional Water District has planned for zebra mussels in the $2.3 billion integrated pipeline that will start bringing more water from the Richland-Chambers reservoir in 2018 and Cedar Creek Lake about two years later.
Lakes that have tested positive for zebra mussels include Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Texoma, Bridgeport Lake Lavon and Belton. Lake Grapevine has had three positive DNA tests for zebra mussels.
Other lakes in the area are tested at least once a year, said Ken Kurzawski, director of regulations and information for inland fisheries for the Texas Department of Wildlife.
The expanded rules
The statewide regulations will go into effect July 1.
Possession or transportation of zebra mussels in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor for the first offense, and is punishable by a fine up to $500.
But Duggins said they have seen good compliance with the law in counties where it is already in effect.
“Fisherman and recreational boaters seem to appreciate the danger and significance of this situation and we are hopeful that we will have voluntary compliance,” he said.
“This issue should be important to everybody because it affects the cost of providing city water and it also affects your ability to use and enjoy your boats and maintenance on your motors, your docks, equipment around your docks,” Duggins said.
The rules require boaters to drain water from all types of vessels, powered or not, and on-board receptacles. It also requires draining live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters.
Live fish, including personally caught live bait, cannot be transported in a vessel in water that comes from the water body where they were caught. Personally caught live bait can be used in the water body where it was caught.
Preventing the spread
One zebra mussel can produce up to one million microscopic larvae, which is one reason it is important for boaters to clean and dry their boats, even if they don’t see any evidence of the mussel.
Boaters should clean their boat, trailer and all gear and then drain all water from the boat, including the motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets, before leaving the lake.
Then, it is recommended to dry the boat for a week or more before entering another body of water, or to wash it with a high-pressure washer with hot, soapy water.