Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

As Zebra Mussels Spread in Texas, Boating Rules Will Apply Statewide

Zebra mussels attached to native mussels.

Photo by USGS

Zebra mussels attached to native mussels.

Update: Fishing and boating enthusiasts take note: you’re probably going to need a little extra time as you head out on the lake this year. Rules to prevent the spread of the invasive zebra mussel will be going into effect statewide.

“All boats operating on public fresh water anywhere in Texas be drained before leaving or approaching a lake or river,” according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWDB).

The mussels have spread rapidly since 2009, and now “the Highland Lakes are in the cross hairs, as are many of the public waters in Central Texas,” says Brian Van Zee, Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries Division regional director, in a statement.

The rules will go into effect July 1.

Original story, Jan. 24, 2014:

As invasive zebra mussels were found in yet another Texas lake this week, state regulators are expanding rules urging boaters to completely drain their vessels after using public waters. The rules also place restrictions on transporting live fish and bait. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department voted unanimously Thursday to require to extend the rules to an additional 30 counties in North and Central Texas, including the Austin area.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species that attach to boats and can damage motors and water systems. They’re small, only growing up to 1.5 inches, and can be hard to spot. They also spread easily, with just one mussel having the potential to produce up to a million microscopic larvae, according to Texas Invasives. As the mussels have spread, fears have grown that they could do more than hurt props: the invasives could clog vital water intakes for drinking water, power plants and manufacturing.

Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Dick Scott warned that it might be necessary to consider extending the rules even further – across all of Texas – to protect those resources. “This cannot be overplayed, because this will be a serious economic impact on the state of Texas if we don’t act on it,” Scott said at the meeting.

Ralph H. Duggins, vice-chairman of the commission, asked staff to put together a proposal to extend the boating rules statewide “as soon as possible.” Duggins said the invasive mussels pose “an extraordinary risk” to “our state, our water systems and our businesses.”

The rules originally applied to 17 North Texas counties. Now they’re being expanded along the I-35 corridor to try and beat the mussels before the spread further. “The Interstate Highway 35 corridor, which traverses the basins of the Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers, facilitates relatively easy movement of vessels by large numbers of boaters and anglers,” the commission writes, so it’s the route by which the mussels are most likely to spread.

The mussel is originally from Eurasia, and has traveled across Europe, “where it is considered to be a major environmental and industrial menace,” the department writes. It first showed up on our shores in the late 1980s, and within a decade “it had colonized in all five Great Lakes and the Mississippi, Tennessee, Hudson, and Ohio river basins.” The department says that once the invasives establish themselves, “they are impossible to eradicate with the technology available today.” And you can’t eat them, either.

The rules will have the greatest impact on fishing, but some exceptions for tournaments and guides have been carved out. “We are asking the fishing population to put up with some inconvenience so we can put with some inconvenience so we can try and stop these mussels,” said Duggins. “And I’m sorry for that. We’d really rather not have to do that.”

The rules will go into effect for the new counties by the end of February or early March.


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