Aquatic invasive species pose an ongoing threat to Washington's environment and economy. Anyone who uses Washington's waters – for work or play – can help stop the spread of these non-native species.
Invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, European green crab and New Zealand mudsnails, are often spread by boats, trailers and other means of transportation. Once non-native species become established in a new environment, where their natural enemies are missing, these invaders can spread rapidly.
Invasive species can damage irrigation and water systems, clog hydroelectric dam intakes, disrupt efforts to recover endangered salmon stocks, and out-compete native and commercially grown species. Non-native species also affect recreation, potentially reducing fish populations for anglers and forcing the closure of waterbodies for boaters and others who enjoy Washington's waters.
Both marine and freshwater can harbor invasive species. One of the most well-known invasive species are zebra and quagga mussels. Zebra and quagga mussels have caused billions of dollars in economic and ecological damage to the Great Lakes, and have spread throughout North America. Quagga mussels are present in Lake Mead (Nev. and Ariz.) and Lake Havasu, Calif., which greatly increases the risk of introduction into Washington state.
Readily observed examples of aquatic invasive species in the inland marine waters of Puget Sound include tunicates, oyster drills, varnish or dark mahogany clams, and cordgrasses.
Freshwater invasive species in Washington include New Zealand mudsnails, Asian clams, Red Swamp crayfish, and Eurasian water milfoil.
Preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in Washington is challenging and unpredictable. Discovery and continued findings of potentially invasive species on Japanese tsunami marine debris is a good example of a new threat to the state's coastal waters. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks anyone who visits state waters to take simple steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Penalties for transporting aquatic invasive species in Washington include up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Who needs to buy an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) boat sticker or permit?
- Washington residents automatically pay an annual fee of $2 into the Department's AIS program when registering their boats. A valid registration sticker serves as proof of payment.
- NEW: WDFW requires operators of non-resident boats, seaplanes, and commercial transporters of vessels to purchase an AIS prevention permit.
When should boats in Washington state be inspected for aquatic invasive species?
- Boaters bringing watercraft from outside Washington are urged to call the department's AIS hotline (1-888-WDFW-AIS) before entering the state to determine whether a free boat inspection is needed.
- AIS inspections are required during the boating season at mandatory check stations. These can be along roads or at boat launches.
- Boat owners must take steps to prevent the spread of AIS by cleaning, draining and drying their boats after every use.
- Local jurisdictions may have their own watercraft AIS fee and inspection programs. More information on the Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish programs is available online.
- More information about boating and AIS can be found in the Washington Watercraft Passport, which is free and available to the public.