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Taskforce urges boaters’ vigilance over Memorial Day weekend against invasive quagga and zebra mussels

May 28, 2010 | 12:10 pm

A chair that was pulled out of Lake Mead is covered with quagga mussels.

A California interagency task force battling the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels is urging boaters to remain especially vigilant this Memorial Day weekend. Anyone who launches their vessel at any body of water must clean, drain, and dry their boats, personal watercraft and any equipment that comes in contact with the water -- both before arrival and after leaving the waterway.

The task force, which includes the California Department of Fish and Game, Department of Boating and Waterways, Department of Water Resources, and state parks, has been leading an outreach campaign to alert boaters and the public to the quagga and zebra mussel threats.

"Quagga and zebra mussels are a serious threat to our aquatic environment and fisheries," said Department of Fish and Game Director John McCamman. "It’s crucial that everyone who uses public waters takes the time to make sure they’re not moving these mussels from place to place. It only takes a few mussels to infest an entire waterway and destroy the ecosystem there."

The mussels are nonnative, fast-reproducing invasive species that will cause serious problems for boaters and water enthusiasts -- ruining boat engines by blocking the cooling system, causing them to overheat; increasing drag on the bottom of a boat, reducing speed and wasting fuel; and jamming a boat’s steering equipment, putting occupants and others at risk.

Mussels spread from one body of water to another by attaching themselves to nearly anything that’s in the water for more than a few minutes. Water in boat engines, bilges, live-wells and buckets can carry tiny mussel larvae (called veligers) to other waterways as well.

To help prevent the spread of mussels, boaters must inspect all exposed surfaces; remove all plants from the boat and trailer; wash boat hulls thoroughly; drain all water, including that in lower outboard units; clean, and dry live-wells and bait buckets; and dispose of baitfish in the trash. Vessels should be kept dry for at least five days in warm weather and up to 30 days in cool weather between launches in different bodies of fresh water. 

“Boat trailers are often overlooked as an avenue for the spread of quagga and zebra mussels and many other aquatic invasive species,” said Lucia Becerra, Department of Boating and Waterways acting director. “About 85% of boaters trailer their boats, so it is critical for them to clean, drain, and dry their vessels.”

Travelers are also advised to contact their destination waterway before leaving home, to learn what restrictions or inspection requirements are in place, as contaminated vessels and equipment are subject to quarantine or impound.

An excellent guide to cleaning vessels of invasive mussels is available at: www.dbw.ca.gov/PDF/BoatingQuaggaGuide.pdf. A toll-free hotline, (866) 440-9530, is also available for anyone involved in activities on lakes or rivers seeking information on quagga or zebra mussels.

Quagga mussels were first detected in the Colorado River system in January 2007 and were later found in San Diego and Riverside counties. They are now known to be in 21 waters in the state, all in Southern California. Zebra mussels were discovered in San Justo Reservoir in San Benito County in January 2008.

For more information about the mussels, the state’s response activities, and what can be done to help prevent their spread in California, visit the DFG website at www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/quaggamussel.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A chair that was pulled out of Lake Mead is covered with quagga mussels. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department

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