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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WDFW check stations find and decontaminate a record number of mussel-infested boats in 2020

Wire reports

SPOKANE – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic invasive species (AIS) unit in 2020 detected more boats than ever fouled with non-native organisms.

WDFW is the lead agency for statewide management of invasive species. The aquatic invasive species program runs watercraft check stations in Spokane and Pasco, looking for organisms attached to boats like Zebra and Quagga mussels, aquatic plants, or those found in standing water like fish and amphibian diseases. If these species invade ecosystems beyond their natural historic range, it can negatively impact water quality, power and irrigation systems, native wildlife, and recreational opportunities. Currently, the Columbia River basin is the last major watershed in the U.S. that is not infested by zebra and quagga mussels.

With still a month to go in 2020, WDFW has inspected more than 32,000 watercraft at the two stations already this year. Almost one-third of the inspected boats came from waters in other states that are known to be infested with aquatic species that pose a threat to Washington waterways. Staff checks revealed 25 watercraft carrying invasive mussels.

In addition, WDFW staff decontaminated 632 watercraft of invasive aquatic plants and 168 that had standing water in some part of the boat; 112 of which were last on waters known to be infested with aquatic invasive species.

“Each year we find more boats with invasive mussels and other aquatic invasive species coming into our state,” said Captain Eric Anderson, WDFW’s aquatic invasive species enforcement manager. “If invasive mussels take hold in Washington, it’s estimated that it would cost more than $100 million each year to keep our power and water infrastructure running, in addition to potentially catastrophic ecological damage.”

Other aquatic invasive species program highlights from 2020 include installing a permanent watercraft decontamination unit at the Spokane check station and a permanent structure at the Pasco station that serves as an office for AIS staff. An onsite building allows for year-round operations, even in inclement weather, which is important as Pasco is the state’s primary intercept point for watercraft coming out of Lake Powell, Havasu, Mojave and the lower Colorado River system; all waters known to be infested with mussels. As part of a coordinated western state effort, as well as working with PUDs and Tribes within Washington state, WDFW has been successful in intercepting many contaminated boats.

In addition, WDFW and partnering agencies are checking water bodies for signs of invasive species. It was also a huge year for that effort, with staff at WDFW, Chelan PUD, Douglas PUD, Grant PUD, and the Spokane Tribe completing almost 5,000 surveys, looking for northern pike, Zebra and Quagga mussels, and New Zealand mudsnails.

With 8,000 lakes; 70,000 miles of streams; approximately 3,500 miles of shoreline; and 19 deep water ports in Washington, the work to prevent aquatic infestations is a widespread and challenging task. WDFW is asking for $2.8 million in additional funding from the state legislature this upcoming biennium to cover maintenance-level and essential baseline prevention and enforcement costs, in balance with COVID impacts.

“When we invest in prevention, we’re able to avoid new problems and keep our waters safe from invasive species,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “It’s far easier and less expensive to prevent these invaders from establishing than to get rid of them once they take hold. Preventing them means we don’t have to close waterways to recreation, spend millions to clean them up or watch our native plants and animals get pushed out. It will take all of us – boat owners, people who recreate on the water and all levels of government – to be vigilant and make sure we are doing our part to clean our boats, vehicles and gear. Preventative efforts require continued support and more resources so we can take action in more parts of the state.”

How Boaters Can Help: clean–drain–dry requirements.

  • Clean: When leaving the water, clean all equipment that touched the water by removing all visible plants, algae, animals, and mud. This includes watercraft hulls, trailers, shoes, waders, life vests, engines, and other gear.
  • Drain: Pull your plug or otherwise drain any accumulated water from watercraft or gear, including live wells and bilge, before leaving the water access area.
  • Dry: If transporting watercraft from outside Washington State, clean and drain everything before starting the journey. Once home, let all gear dry fully before using it in a different water body.

Avoid Fines: The penalty for transporting aquatic invasive species in Washington State can range from a $95 fine to a class C felony. Boat owners should call the Aquatic Invasive Species hotline at 1-888-WDFW-AIS (1-888-933-9247) before their trips for guidance on if they need free decontaminations for their boats or trailers.

WDFW also reminds operators of watercraft not registered in Washington State, seaplanes, and commercial transporters of specified vessel types, that they must buy an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit. These permits are valid for one year and may be purchased for $24 online or from any of WDFW’s authorized license dealers.

For more information on aquatic invasive species in Washington, visit the WDFW website. For more information on all invasive species in Washington, visit the Washington Invasive Species Council website.

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