Working with Boaters and Marine Trades for Cleaner Washington Water

Finally, an immigration bill we all can agree on.

If there’s one issue that brings Democrats and Republicans together around sealing the boarders, it’s the issue of nuisance species like zebran and quagga mussels.

And it’s always great to see George Harris, Northwest Marine Trade Association’s President & CEO, use the bully pulpit to educate boating leaders about zebra and quagga mussels. That’s just what he did in a recent newsletter column. Take a look to get his take on this complex issue. Also, stay tuned for more information on a legislative proposal to revamp our state’s invasive species program. Pretty exciting stuff. From George:

NMTA President’s Report – June 2013

All of us as boaters should know what aquatic invasive species are and the threat they pose to our beloved waterways.  Washington state already has its share of aquatic invasive species like milfoil, grass carp, red swamp crayfish , New Zealand mud snails and about 30 others.  Fortunately we are one of a few states that doesn’t have zebra or quagga mussels.  To keep it that way the City of Bellingham last month announced new boat inspections and fees for boaters that use Lake Whatcom that will significantly change how easily boaters can access this popular lake.  The new regulations are intended to prevent the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels.  In April the Bellingham Herald ran a story with details about the new regulations and you can read it by clicking on this LINK.

Last month, Peter Schrappen and I were in Washington D.C. taking part in the American Boating Congress.  A once a year opportunity to meet with recreational boating leaders from all across the country and get up to speed on critical state and federal issues.   I encourage you to read Peter’s recap of ABC in this issue of WaterLife.  While in DC I attended special focus group about boating access hosted by SOBA – States Organization for Boating Access,  Coincidentally the evening before the boating access meeting I received a string of emails from two member businesses in the Bellingham area that use Lake Whatcom who were very concerned about the new access restrictions to the lake.  The city ordinance requires all boats that use Lake Whatcom to be inspected for zebra and quagga mussels and pay a $50 annual fee or $20 per day fee.  During the SOBA meeting I learned what other western states are doing to protect their lakes from zebra mussels.  I’m sorry to report it’s not a pretty picture.

I’ve got some very firsthand experience with zebra mussels from my days on the water and under the water in Lake Michigan in the late 80’s and early 90’s when they first arrived in the Great Lakes.  Those were my college days and I taught scuba diving and worked on a scuba diving charter boat during the summers.  In the late 80’s it was actually exciting to find a few zebra mussels on a dive with students.  They were new, novel and something to take pictures of and talk about.  Little did we know they would carpet our beloved wrecks in only 10 years. For the most part zebra mussels have been a problem for the eastern half of the country and here in Washington we’ve been fortunate to not see these fast growing and fast spreading mussels in our lakes and rivers yet.

Zebra mussels and the ecologically similar quagga mussel arrived from Europe in ballast water and were first reported in Lake St. Claire of the Great Lakes in 1988.  Fast forward to 2013 and they are pretty much in every major lake and river east of the Mississippi.  In 2007 zebra mussels appeared in the southwest US for the first time, probably crossing the Rocky Mountains on board a boat from the Great Lakes.  Click on this LINK  and you can see a time lapse slide show that illustrates their spread across the U.S.  Zebra Mussels are incredibly “durable” and can live in a moist environment out of the water for up to 30 days, which is plenty of time for a trip from Milwaukee to Bellingham in a boat.

Up until the new regulations on Lake Whatcom were announced last month the regulations on boaters and boat transporters have been only at the state boarders where the Department of Fish & Wildlife has been inspecting, ticketing and in some cases quarantining and cleaning boats that have zebra mussels on board.  Allen Pleus and Sergeant Carl Klein with the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) are leading our state’s effort to keep zebra mussels out of our waters.  WDFW participated with the 100th Meridian Initiative in producing an 18 minute video about how to inspect your boat.  The video is available online and you can see it by clicking on this LINK .

Sergeant Klein spoke at NMTA’s 2011 Marina & Boatyard Conference in LaConner about invasive species and again this past March in Tacoma for an in-depth workshop on invasive species policy in Washington state and how these policies can impact boating businesses.  According to Sergeant Klein trailerable boats are the number one “vector” for transporting zebra mussels.  I asked Sergeant Klein about other vectors for transport like animals and specifically ducks.  Although possible, there is no evidence that ducks and geese have successfully moved the mussels from an infested lake to a non-infested lake.  According to Sergeant Klein animal transport has been studied near Olympia with the invasive New Zealand mud snail on a lake with limited boating access.  So far they have not seen the snails in any lakes within a 5-mile radius; therefore birds are not a significant concern.  This means prevention is important and we can’t simply shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we can do.

Seeing the Great Lakes first hand in the 80’s when zebra mussels were first introduced and to see them now is nothing short of shocking.  The impacts to communities and business are real.  A single zebra mussel will filter one liter of water per day resulting in much clearer water.  In the short run that seems like a good thing for a lake – everyone likes clear water – unless you’re a juvenile trout or walleye.  It has certainly improved the visibility for Lake Michigan wreck divers – visibility use to be less than one foot at 100 feet and now it can be over 40 feet at that depth.  The downside is that these wrecks that have been preserved for a hundred years or more are now covered with mussels.

Mussels are everywhere – on the beaches, in water intake systems for drinking water, on marina docks and even in engine cooling systems.  The clear water has changed the food chain and habitat for all types of aquatic life.  Clear water means little to no plankton growth that feeds aquatic insects and juvenile salmon. Zebra and quagga mussels also appear to leave toxic algae alone which promotes their growth that can kill water birds or close a lake due to human and pet health hazards. Light penetrates deeper which creates more vegetation, which creates more habitat for perch and smallmouth bass, which increases predation on juvenile sport fish such as walleye, salmon and trout which creates less opportunity for anglers.  All around bad news!  Northwest salmon which are vital to recreational boating and fishing have enough challenges already and certainly don’t need more predators.  Zebra mussels don’t have many natural predators in North America so there is very little to stop there spread. 

 As an NMTA member you expect our staff and volunteers to keep boating regulations as low and/or reasonable as possible.  That said, at the SOBA meeting last month, I learned a lot about zebra mussel regulation around the country and realized this is a serious and emerging issue for boaters that’s not going to go away.

Going forward we can expect more proposed restrictions related to zebra mussels on boating access in our freshwater lakes and rivers.  NMTA will be at the table to make sure any new regulations are reasonable and consistent across the state.  According to both Allen Pleus and Sergeant Klein reasonable, consistent and well communicated restrictions are the goal of WDFW.  What can you do now?  What do boaters need to know?  According to Sergeant Klein just three things: CLEAN, DRAIN and DRY your boat.  That doesn’t sound too onerous and also great advice for maintaining a boat.

If you have questions about zebra and quagga mussels please contact Allen Pleus or Sergeant Klein directly.  Contact information: 


George Harris, President/CEO of NMTA (