WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

June 15, 2010
Contact: Sgt. Eric Anderson (360) 902-2426 or
Allen Pleus (360) 902-2724

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WDFW conducting boat checks to
stop aquatic invasive species

OLYMPIA — People hauling boats to and from Washington waterways this summer may be stopped by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officers conducting mandatory checks of boats, trailers and gear for aquatic invasive species.

The annual check stations and emphasis-patrol program has begun in several parts of the state and will continue through the boating season. The aim is to keep tiny zebra mussels, quagga mussels and other non-native species out of Washington to protect native fish, wildlife and water systems.

Aquatic invasive species spread by attaching themselves to boats and other water-based equipment. Once established, the non-native mussels and other aquatic invasive species multiply quickly and threaten native fish and wildlife by consuming available food and smothering other species. Besides endangering native aquatic species, they can clog water-intake systems at power plants, irrigation districts, public water suppliers and other facilities.

“These invasive mussels have already spread to other waterways in several western states,” said Allen Pleus, WDFW aquatic invasive species coordinator. “That’s a big concern, because if they get into our waters, they will likely spread rapidly and cause a great deal of damage.

“If these species become established in the Columbia River system it could result in billions of dollars of economic damage to everything from hydro-electric dams to municipal water systems, and put further strain on federally protected species that live there,” Pleus said.

Quagga mussels are present in waters in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California. Zebra mussels are present in Utah and California. Since 2006, WDFW has found these invasive species on more than 20 boats stopped as they were entering Washington.

Importation of aquatic invasive species is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and up to a year in jail. Knowingly bringing such species into Washington is a felony and can result in even greater fines and jail time.

To avoid introducing aquatic invasive species, recreational boaters and anglers should always carefully inspect and clean their boats, trailers and equipment before moving their vessels from one body of water to another, Pleus said.

Boaters should clean off any mud, vegetation and debris, drain any water from where they last boated, and then thoroughly wash and dry their boat and trailer when they get home, according to Pleus.

Besides cleaning boats and trailers, boaters should also be aware that diseases and juvenile stages of some species can be inadvertently transported in bait buckets, live-fish well water and ballast tanks, said Pleus.

Last year, WDFW enforcement officers seized a 24-foot boat in Spokane contaminated with quagga mussels from Lake Mead, Nev. A multi-state tracking effort and tips from alert citizens led to the seizure, said Sgt. Eric Anderson, WDFW aquatic invasive species enforcement coordinator.

After last summer’s close call, Anderson said inspections of boats of all sizes increased.

“This year we will again conduct random road stops of people hauling any size boat,” said Anderson.

Law enforcement officers have the authority to stop and inspect vessels under RCW 77.12.879. Since Washington passed a law in 2002 prohibiting importation of aquatic invasive species, WDFW has worked to educate boaters, provided free vessel inspections and issued warnings. In cooperation with the Washington State Patrol (WSP), WDFW also has focused on inspecting commercially hauled watercraft at the state’s port-of-entry highway weigh stations.

“Our preference is to work with boaters so they understand the importance of keeping these species out of our state, said Anderson. “However, we do have the authority to seize boats for decontamination or forfeiture.”

“It’s up to boat owners and operators to be responsible for their vessels if Washington is going to be successful at keeping aquatic invasive species from spreading to state waters,” said Pleus.

Zebra and quagga mussels 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. Both zebra and quagga mussels are easily transported on boats and trailers because they can live out of water for up to a month.

For more information on all aquatic invasive species and how to prevent their spread, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais.


Quagga mussel
WDFW photo

Zebra mussel
Photo courtesy of the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

More information is available on the USGS invasive mussel website.