Published: January 2015
In recent decades, the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) has become a growing concern in Washington state, the nation, and throughout the world. Many of these AIS â€" notably zebra and quagga mussels â€" can inflict serious damage on native fish populations, the aquatic environment, and public infrastructure such as dams and irrigation systems.
A 2010 report by the Independent Economic Analysis Board prepared at the request of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council concluded that an infestation of zebra or quagga mussels in the Columbia River drainage system could cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year in damages and mitigation.
In 2005, state lawmakers established the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention and Enforcement Program (AIS program) to â€�"prevent the introduction or spread of these aquatic invasive species into our state waters.â€ This report describes the actions taken â€" and challenges faced â€" by the stateâ€™s AIS program to meet that mandate during the 2011-13 biennium.
The AIS program is administered through a cooperative agreement between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington State Patrol. Creation of the AIS program consolidated and formalized the AIS work the department had been conducting since 1998, and is now codified under Chapter 77.135 RCW. The current program is funded primarily through a $2 fee on annual recreational watercraft registrations. Of that amount, $1.50 supports prevention actions and $0.50 supports enforcement actions under the AIS program.
To meet its legislative mandate, the program partners with a number of state and regional AIS-prevention organizations, including the Washington Invasive Species Council, the national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Forceâ€™s Western Regional Panel, the 100th Meridian Initiativeâ€™s Columbia River Basin Team, and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region alliance.
Since 2007, WDFW has reported to the Legislature on the status of the AIS program every biennium, as historically required under RCW 43.43.400(4) and RCW 77.12.879(4). This report for the 2011-13 biennium, is posted on the departmentâ€™s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais/.
Highlights of 2011-13 biennium
- Watercraft inspections: The AIS team inspected more than 27,373 watercraft for aquatic invasive species during the biennium. Of that number, 83 were found to be carrying aquatic invasive species â€" including 19 with zebra and quagga mussels. All those watercraft were decontaminated. As in previous years, no zebra or quagga mussels were detected in Washington waters during the 2011-13 biennium.
- Tsunami debris: On June 15, 2012, members of WDFWâ€™s AIS team responded to reports of a boat at Long Beach that was ultimately found to have 30 non-native marine species aboard. The 21-foot skiff was the first of dozens of pieces of debris â€" ranging from barnacle-encrusted floats to a 65-foot dock â€" to reach the Washington coast after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the eastern coast of Japan in March 2011. Under the multi-agency Washington State Marine Debris Response Plan, the AIS team had the primary responsibility for assessing and controlling risks from invasive species that washed ashore with the tsunami debris.
- New Zealand mudsnails: The AIS team investigated and documented six new infestations of these invasive mudsnails â€" five in King County and one in Clark County. In each case, the team organized stakeholder meetings with agencies, tribes, and other concerned parties to determine how best to contain â€" and potentially eradicate â€" those infestations. Previously the only confirmed infestations in Washington state were at the mouth of the Columbia River and in Olympiaâ€™s Capitol Lake.