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Great Lakes Article:

Zebra mussels discovery alarms officials
Boaters are asked to help keep the pests out of Oregon

Statesman Journal
Published June 7, 2004

 

Talk about stopping a terror threat at the border.

One of the most feared invasive, non-native species in North America — the zebra mussel — was found recently at a Idaho-Washington truck weight station.

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently stopped a large boat at the border. The boat was being pulled on a trailer cross-country by a commercial vehicle.

Inspectors found that the boat contained living zebra mussels and ordered it sterilized.

Since they arrived in the Great Lakes in 1986 in ballast water dumped from European ships, the encrusting, fingernail-sized mollusks have spread to 22 states from Virginia to Kansas.

It costs the government millions of dollars to fight zebra mussels from clogging intake and outfall pipes, damaging boat engines and smothering and outcompeting native shellfish and wildlife.

On May 11, Washington Fish and Wildlife officials got an alert from a Washington State Patrol officer at the Interstate 90 Port of Entry east of Spokane.

James Spencer, a state police vehicle inspector, reported finding the mussels attached to the trim tabs of a 38-foot boat on its way from Tennessee to Washington’s coast.

“Our nuisance species detection training paid off,” said Capt. Mike Whorton of Fish and Wildlife regional enforcement who took the original call from Spencer.

The thing that scares Pacific Northwest officials is all of the recreational boats that don’t have to stop at the stations for commercial traffic.

“We have potentially the same problem here in Oregon. Boats are one transporter of zebra mussels,” said Randy Henry, an information representative for the Oregon State Marine Board. “Oregon boaters who trailer their boats to infested waters east of the Rocky Mountains, or out-of-state boaters visiting Oregon, are one concern.

“Brokers carrying boats to Oregon for sale or show are another.”

Zebra mussels can spread by hitchhiking on boats and other water-based recreational equipment, and the larvae can survive for extended periods in bilges and ballast tanks.

Federal agencies and private organizations across the United States have formed partnerships to educate the public about the problem with the goal of preventing further spread.

One message from the group: It is a violation to transport noxious aquatic weeds and prohibited species, like zebra mussels.

“We simply ask that people take reasonable steps to keep their boats clean and free of any plant or animal material,” Henry said. “Zebra mussels aren’t the only nuisance species we are worried about.

“Several aquatic plants, such as hydrilla, can be transported by boats and pose a serious risk to our waterways. The steps to preventing their spread are easy.”

And officials are asking for help in tracking down or spotting potential problems.

“We also want people to keep their eyes open,” Henry said. “If you see another boat with what may be zebra mussels attached to the craft, let the operator know they must be removed.

“If you can’t locate the operator, call a local marine officer who can. Zebra mussels are one visitor Oregon doesn’t want to see.”

With the help of Spokane Police Officer Brian L. Baldwin, Spencer detained the boat hauler until Whorton and Mike Sprecher, a Fish and Wildlife officer, arrived to collect information and make arrangements to send the boat to a decontamination site at a Bellingham marina.

“Unfortunately, smaller boats don’t have to stop at commercial ports like this one did,” Whorton said, “and we fear zebra mussels or other invasive plants and animals may be slipping by us.”

 

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