SPOKANE -- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officers have shifted from warnings to issuing citations in an effort to keep Washington's waters free of an invasive species that threatens native fish and wildlife.
The state’s first citations for illegally transporting zebra mussels were issued earlier this month to two out-of-state trucking companies hauling large boats to the Pacific coast. Live zebra mussels were found attached to boats being transported by a hauler from Ontario, Canada, and another from Iowa. The zebra mussels were spotted during Washington State Patrol commercial vehicle inspections at a Washington-Idaho port-of-entry weigh station east of Spokane.
Zebra mussels have been prohibited in Washington since 2002, but officers are taking stronger action against contaminated vessels now that zebra mussels and a subspecies known as Quagga mussels have shown up in other western states.
In the recent detections here, State Patrol officers who had been trained by WDFW on invasive species inspection spotted the tiny mollusks and contacted WDFW. WDFW issued the trucking companies gross misdemeanor citations for unlawful importation and transportation of the prohibited aquatic animals, and arranged for decontamination of the boats at marine facilities on the coast.
“We hope these citations, which can result in fines up to $5,000, will raise awareness that this state looks at invasive species very seriously,” said Mike Cenci, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement. “Once a species like this gets into our waters, it’s very unlikely we can contain it,” he said.
“When I talked with the truck driver and trucking company manager from Ontario, both said they fully understand because they’ve seen what zebra mussels have done to the Great Lakes area,” said Capt. Mike Whorton, who heads WDFW’s enforcement operations in eastern Washington. “One trucking company manager said he would no longer haul vessels that have not passed an aquatic-invasive-species inspection.”
Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are native to the Caspian Sea. They entered the Great Lakes in the mid 1980s in ship ballast water, and have since spread to more than 20 states and two Canadian provinces. The mussels are easily transported on boats and trailers because they can live out of water for up to a month. Once zebra mussels are introduced to a water body they multiply quickly and threaten native fish and wildlife by consuming available food and smothering other species. They also clog water-intake systems at power plants and other facilities. In southern California, Nevada and Arizona, Quagga mussels, have spread recently.
“If zebra mussels get started here they could devastate our fish and wildlife resources, as well as hydroelectric facilities and irrigation systems,” Cenci said.
Intercepting mussel-contaminated vessels at commercial vehicle inspection stations is just a small part of the solution, Cenci noted, because many recreational boats are hauled into the state without inspections. Earlier this year the Washington Legislature expanded authority and funding for random inspections and field checks of all watercraft.
“Any real success in controlling the spread of this invasive species will rely heavily on boat owners taking responsibility for their vessels,” Cenci said. “It’s important that they know what to look for and thoroughly clean their boats.”
For more information on zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/ans/you_can_help.htm