Invasion of the zebra mussels: More counties, including Somervell, impose rules on boaters

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

They may be small, but zebra mussels are causing big problems in Texas lakes.

A cluster of zebra mussels. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

A cluster of zebra mussels. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The fingernail-size striped mollusks have been spreading throughout the public waters of Texas for several decades, wildlife biologists said. Their sharp brown clusters clog intake pipes, ruin boat motors and cover anything left under water.

The invasion of the zebra mussels has gotten so bad that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission last month approved expanding the rules requiring anyone leaving or approaching public waters in 30 counties in Central and North Texas to drain, clean and dry their boats.

Somervell County was added to the list of counties affected, as well as Bosque, Comanche, Eastland, Erath and Hamilton. The rules already have been in effect for Hood, Palo Pinto, Parker and 16 other counties.

Under the requirements, anglers and boaters leaving or approaching public waters must take “all reasonable steps” to drain water from boats. That includes live wells, bilges, motors and any other receptacles or water intake systems.

The rule applies to all types and sizes of boats, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said, whether or not they are powered. Thus, sailboats, personal watercraft such as kayaks and any other vessel used on public waters must comply, the department said.

The rules take effect in late February or early March. Transporting zebra mussels is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenses could lead to higher fines and even jail time.

Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries regional director, told the Current the rules would be enforced by TP&W game wardens, as well as local authorities since it is state law.

The mussels last month were confirmed in Lake Lavon in Collin County. Last fall the parks and wildlife department found them in Lake Belton and they are suspected in Lake Worth and Joe Pool Lake. They already have been documented in lakes in Bridgeport, Lewisville and Ray Roberts.

“Unfortunately, zebra mussel larvae, called veligers, are not visible to the naked eye,” Van Zee said. “You could be transporting them on your boat and not even know it. This is why it’s particularly important to always clean, drain and dry your boat and gear before heading to another water body.”

Zebra mussels, like many invasive species in Texas, are not native to the state or to the United States. They originally came from Eurasia and spread across Europe and then to North America in the late 1980s.

Texas Parks & Wildlife said the zebra mussels became established in Lake Texoma in 2009. From there they spread to other lakes around the state, hopping a ride on boats.

“They can expand their range even farther by hitching a ride on trailered boats that have been immersed or moored in waters where they have established populations,” the department said.

Because they multiply so quickly over large areas and lack natural predators, zebra mussels not only can damage boats, but also water supplies if they colonize inside pipelines and restrict water flow or damage intake structures that provide water to homes or businesses. That could make water more expensive, the department said.

Cities, river authorities – including the Brazos River Authority – and regional and municipal water districts are participating in the campaign to stop the mussels’ invasion.

For more information about how to prevent the spread of the mussels and how to drain, clean and dry a boat, see http://www.texasinvasives.org.

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