Washington State Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention and Enforcement Programs: 2012 Report to the Legislature


Published: April 2012

Pages: 76

Author(s): Larry LeClair, Jesse Schultz, Allen Pleus, Sgt. Carl Klein and Captain Bill Balcom

Executive Summary

In 2005, the legislation established the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention and Enforcement Programs (program). The program is co-managed by the Fish and Enforcement Divisions of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (department), and in collaboration with the Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) enforcement liaison in the Commercial Vehicles Division. This report is submitted to the legislature for meeting the requirements of both Chapter 43.43.400(4) and 77.12.879(4) RCW and describes the challenges faced and actions taken to implement the program. The program is primarily funded through dedicated fees on resident recreational watercraft as provided through ESSB 5699 (2005 c 464). Although the program addresses a wide variety of priority aquatic invasive species, the greatest focus has been on zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga (D. bugensis) mussels.

As evidenced elsewhere, the environmental, economic, and social/human health impacts of zebra and quagga (zebra/quagga) mussel infestations can be catastrophic. Zebra/quagga mussels are nonnative ecosystem changers that are drastically altering aquatic communities in the Great Lakes and other watersheds. Potential human health risks include the contamination of municipal water supplies, increased occurrences of blue-green and other toxic algae blooms, and the concentration of contaminated sediments (up to 300,000 times ambient levels) which can then be dispersed into the food chain. They are freshwater bio-foulers that can quickly reduce or stop flows in hydroelectric and water supply systems, plug water cooling systems in watercraft motors, and create physical hazards to fish and humans.

A 2010 report by the Independent Economic Advisory Board prepared at the request of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council concluded that a zebra/quagga mussel infestation will eventually occur somewhere in the Columbia River drainage system, and; that there is a substantial economic risk (hundreds of millions of dollars annually) if the mussels become established. For instance, costs to mitigate for zebra/quagga mussels at hydropower facilities within the river basin would be substantially greater than those incurred at other infested sites around the country due to their comprehensive fish passage facilities. They further concluded that it would be a good economic investment to improve prevention programs to delay infestations for as long as possible.

Notably, the Columbia River basin and the Pacific Northwest in general, comprise the last large river or regional drainage basin in the continental United States that remains free of zebra/quagga mussels. This is due in large part to a combination of effective prevention measures and luck. Within the Pacific Northwest, the highest risk for introductions of zebra/quagga mussels and other AIS is through hitchhiking on recreational and commercial watercraft transported from other parts of the United States and Canada that are infested. There is also a growing threat of interstate transportation through ballast water discharge if freshwater ports in California become infested.

Unfortunately, while the threat of zebra/quagga mussels and other AIS increases, the resources available to prevent infestations have decreased over the past four years due to budget cuts and reductions in revenue sources used to support preventive measures. In addition, it has been recognized that limited regulatory authorities would not be sufficient to contain or eradicate a zebra/quagga mussel infestation if it happened today. Recommendations are provided for establishing the resources needed to address this critical threat.

The following is an overview of some of the program’s key accomplishments and challenges.


  • Since 2008, early detection monitoring for zebra/quagga mussels has been conducted at a total of 229 unique sites (142 in eastern Washington and 87 in western Washington) representing 91 different water bodies statewide with thus far no positive detections.
  • Since 2006, the department has responded to 37 incidents of watercraft entering Washington that were contaminated with zebra/quagga mussels. Many of these were found during routine inspections by the WSP at one of their five Port of Entry weigh stations.
  • Since 2008, a total of 2,955 watercraft inspections at mandatory AIS Check Stations have been conducted at 53 unique sites of which 97 (3.5%) watercraft were infested with AIS.
  • Since 2009, a multi-stakeholder work group has been formed to replace prohibited crayfish with native crayfish species for use in statewide grade and middle school science curriculums with expected full implementation for use in statewide K-12 science curriculum.
  • Since 2005, the program has participated in many outreach and education events that are geared toward engaging and informing the public on AIS issues.
  • The program has worked cooperatively with the shellfish aquaculture industry by providing guidance on how to best minimize the risk of infestations in culture facilities and to prevent the spread of AIS through shellfish transportation.


  • State laws guiding control of invasive animal species are scattered throughout Title 77 RCW, creating jurisdictional uncertainty for the department and other agencies that regulate invasive species.
  • Approximately 40% in budget reductions between FY07 and FY12 through loss of:
    • Tunicate funding (~$160,000/yr);
    • Federal funding (ballast water, Atlantic salmon, and general AIS management (from ~$150,000/yr to a projected $26,000/yr);
    • General state funds ($32,000/yr green crab monitoring); and
    • AIS Prevention and Enforcement Program direct funding (~$89,000/yr) in implementation of 15.9% indirect costs.
  • AIS Prevention account allocation for FY13 was cut $133,000 due to concerns over maintaining an adequate reserve to cover low revenue months and reduction in annual watercraft registrations.


Recommendations on how to better fulfill the intent of chapter 464, Laws of 2005 are provided herein as requested under RCW 77.12.879(4). These recommendations have been developed by the department and the Washington State Patrol (WSP) in response to the information provided in this report and in consultation with the Washington Invasive Species Council and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Committee. Specific recommendations include:

1. Provide Additional AIS Enforcement Account Supplemental Spending Authority for 2013-15 Biennium.

New AIS inspection and decontamination stations around the state are needed to fill a critical gap for centralized and convenient locations where the public can bring their watercraft to be inspected and decontaminated before launching into a Washington water body, or certification of being AIS-free before travelling to another state. The funds are from positive closing reserves since fiscal year 2006 in both AIS Enforcement Account Funds 09M and AQU8, which have been maintained up until now to determine the appropriate fund balance to cover expenditures during low revenue months (see Section 2.1.3 and 2.1.4). Department analysis of monthly revenues and expenditures shows that a base fiscal year closing fund reserve of $55,000 for Fund 09M and $15,000 for Fund AQU8 would be sufficient. This results in the remaining reserve balance of ~$255,000 which the department and WSP will be requesting for supplemental spending authority during the 2013 legislature. Staffing of the stations could be funded through concepts such as those in recommendations 3 and 4, or through a fee for use system.

2. Revise and Enhance the Department’s AIS Statutes on Policy and Authority Levels.

A unified statutory chapter for aquatic invasive species under Title 77 RCW would greatly benefit the department’s ability to prevent, contain, control, and eradicate nonnative organisms from causing harm to state waters. A single AIS chapter would be part of a strategic plan to help organize existing and proposed new legislative directives for regulatory consistency and accountability, and to provide the tools necessary for effective rapid response. This is needed because current state laws guiding control of invasive animal species are scattered throughout Title 77 RCW, creating jurisdictional uncertainty for the department and other agencies that regulate invasive species. Since 1998, statutes have been added or modified under multiple chapters without a clear program nexus. The department requests would be similar to authorities currently used by the Department of Agriculture for addressing noxious weeds and pests. Revising and enhancing the department’s AIS statutes is supported by the Attorney General’s Office, the Washington Invasive Species Council and the Puget Sound Partnership.

3. Increase the AIS Prevention and Enforcement Account Fees for Resident Watercraft Registration.
Enhancement of the department’s early detection, inspection, decontamination, rapid response, and education/outreach capacity is critical to filling prevention and enforcement gaps. The need to improve the program is supported by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Economic Advisory Board July 2010 findings that current efforts to prevent the threat of a zebra/quagga mussel infestation are underfunded. Recreational watercraft are one of the primary known pathways for the introduction and spread of AIS nationally. A moderate increase in resident watercraft registration fees to at least $5 (consistent with Oregon and Idaho fees) is recommended to substantively improve the level of protection necessary to prevent introductions, conduct early detection monitoring, or rapidly respond to a zebra/quagga mussel or other AIS infestation.

4. Address Need for New AIS Prevention and Enforcement Program Revenue Sources Based on Invasive Species Pathways.

Spreading the funding share to include non-resident, non-motorized, and commercial boaters among others broadens and diversifies an invasive species user-pay funding base. This will help to ensure consistency and effectiveness in AIS prevention and enforcement and will help the program reach full AIS rapid response and management capabilities. For example, current AIS program actions are funded only by revenues from resident recreational watercraft owners (AIS Prevention and Enforcement Accounts) even though the statutes regulate all watercraft including commercial, nonresident, and non-motorized watercraft such as canoes and kayaks designed for navigation on waters of the state. The AIS Prevention and Enforcement Program should be based on a fee system where all user/pathways are paying a fair share of their invasive risks.

5. Address Increasing AIS Risks from the Recreational and Commercial Watercraft Hull Fouling Pathway.

Addressing hull fouling is timely to fill management and regulatory gaps and to also ensure that the state’s transition from the use of copper-based anti-fouling paints (2011 c 248) is accomplished without increased risk of AIS invasion. This is important as most scientific studies place hull fouling as having a higher AIS introduction and spread risk than any other pathway in both fresh and marine waters. In addition, new regional and international laws are being adopted for larger commercial vessels that will eventually eliminate toxic paints that are currently used to manage hull fouling growth and replace them with less- or non-toxic paints that will result in more hull fouling. Non-toxic hull paints will increase hull fouling prompt watercraft owners to clean their hulls more frequently, thus increasing the risk of introducing AIS or other contaminants into the environment if hull cleaning stations aren’t regulated to contain and treat hull cleaning debris. Further, more frequent hull cleaning is being pushed by rising fuel prices and concerns about harmful atmospheric emissions contributing to climate change due to inefficient fuel use. The department and the Department of Ecology have already been approached by both vessel paint manufacturers and local hull cleaning operators for regulatory guidance on in-water cleaning. Long-term funding for addressing hull fouling could be added through recommendations 4 and 5 above. In the short-term, the department is working to collect baseline risk and management information through development of an RFP under the Environmental Protection Agency’s marine and nearshore protection and restoration grant program.

Suggested citation

LeClair, L., J. Schultz, A. Pleus, C. Klein, and B. Balcom. 2012. Washington State Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention and Enforcement Program: Report to the Legislature. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Patrol. Olympia. April 2012.