Zebra mussels have been stealthily hitching rides between Texas rivers and lakes for several years, but new rules to combat their spread take effect today. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is requiring that boats be drained and checked for mussels and prohibiting transfer of personally-caught live bait between water bodies.
Zebra mussels, invasive species that clog and damage underwater equipment, were introduced to Texas in 2009. They’ve been established in seven lakes statewide and found in several other water bodies since.
“Although they only grow 1.5 inches in size, they can colonize and clog water intakes and pipelines and cause numerous other problems for water infrastructure,” Tim Birdsong with the TPWD Inland Fisheries Division said at a hearing of the Texas House Natural Resources Committee last week.
The new rule will be enforced by TPWD game wardens. Boaters found with Zebra Mussels can be fined up to $500, with repeat offenders eligible for up to 180 days in jail.
“If you have any plugs in your bilges or live wells, any water that you would have taken up from the water body that you’re on, they would check to see that that’s all drained before you leave that lake,” said Ken Kurzawski, TPWD spokesman.
Zebra Mussels could cause over $9 million in maintenance costs to Texas’ 23 hydropower plants if they become established in those water bodies, Birdsong said. The mussels have been established in the Great Lakes for years and have cost an estimated $40,000 yearly to remove from pipes and intakes there.
Zebra Mussels, native to Russia and surrounding areas, were first documented in the US in 1988.